Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why the euro crisis is not yet over

by Martin Wolf

Financial Times

February 19, 2013

Is the eurozone crisis over? The answer is: “yes and no”. Yes, risks of an immediate crisis are reduced. But no, the currency’s survival is not certain. So long as this is true, the possibility of renewed stress remains.

The best indicator of revived confidence is the decline in interest-rate spreads between sovereign bonds of vulnerable countries and German Bunds. Irish spreads, for example, were just 205 basis points on Monday, down from 1,125 points in July 2011. Portuguese spreads are 465 basis points, while even Greek spreads are 946 basis points, down from 4,680 points in March 2012. Italian and Spanish spreads have been brought to the relatively low levels of 278 and 362 basis points, respectively. (See chart.)

Behind this improvement lie three realities. The first is Germany’s desire to keep the eurozone intact. The second is the will of vulnerable countries to stick with the policies demanded by creditors. The third was the decision of the European Central Bank to announce bold initiatives – such as an enhanced longer-term refinancing operation for banks and outright monetary transactions for sovereigns – despite Bundesbank opposition. All this has given speculators a glorious run.

Yet that is not the end of the story. The currency union is supposed to be an irrevocable monetary marriage. Even if it is a bad marriage, the union may still survive longer than many thought because the costs of divorce are so high. But a bad romance is still fragile, however large the costs of breaking up. The eurozone is a bad marriage. Can it become a good one?


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