Eurozone scenarios: 'Japanization', defaults or common debt
The eurozone will not succeed to shake off the debt crisis even though bond yields have come down with the ECB's help, a report by HSBC says
Janet Henry, Chief European Economist at HSBC, said in the report that the rally in government bond markets and the slight relaxation in the approach to austerity that have lately taken place in the single currency area "will still not succeed in stabilizing government debt burdens in some peripheral countries any time soon."
"In the absence of a much stronger than expected pick-up in growth, there are three key risks for at least some eurozone member states: 'Japanization'; further debt restructurings of some kind; or debt mutualization," Henry wrote in a report on the eurozone periphery.
"More likely, [the eurozone] will face some combination of all three."
Her report comes just as fears that the Federal Reserve will begin winding down its quantitative easing programme hit the bond markets hard, with yields on eurozone peripheral bonds rising and emerging market currencies plunging.
If growth in the eurozone were to be even slightly higher than expected, the debt burden for troubled countries in the single currency area would ease much more quickly, but this is the least likely scenario, she said.
With unemployment still increasing and investment contracting, domestic demand is expected to fall this year again, while exports depend on expansion in global demand at a rate that is much higher than the one currently being forecast.
Some eurozone countries could muddle through Japan-style low growth, low inflation scenarios in which more and more private sector savings are used to buy government debt and in which, even when a recovery starts to materialize, the banking sector is too undercapitalized to sustain it.
After the 2010-2012 period, "this is looking like an increasingly likely model for some of the member states," she added.
It could happen either because investors, reassured by the ECB's OMT programme, keep buying government bonds to the detriment of other investment or because domestic banks keep buying government bonds because of financial repression and helped by liquidity provided by the ECB.
This would mean that, far from breaking the links between sovereigns and banks, they would be strengthened further.
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But while Japan in a single country, this scenario would contribute even more to the fragmentation of the eurozone ; "the ECB is already grappling with the challenges posed by the fragmentation of monetary conditions in the eurozone," Henry warned.
"The Japanization of large parts of the eurozone would pose permanent difficulties in setting a single monetary policy for an increasingly divergent group of economies."
Conversely, the eurozone could become even more closely integrated a federal system with a large common budget whose disbursement is decided by a unified political process, and where joint bonds would be issued, Henry said.
But she admitted that "unsurprisingly this remains a controversial proposal, particularly in the major creditor countries," noting that "progress on integration has, if anything, stalled over the past year."
However there are some "light" steps taken towards debt mutualization, such as the ECB's bond purchases or the ongoing support packages for troubled countries with softer terms, Henry said.
Another scenario is "simply to accept that we now live in a monetary union in which individual nation states will be prone to default risk from time to time," she said, noting that since the restructuring of Greece's debt last year, European authorities have gone to great lengths to stress that it was "a unique and exceptional case."
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