Last night , Eurozone finance ministers (sort of) agreed a deal to increase the firepower of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF).
Unfortunately, this time it really IS a case of too little too late or perhaps, someone didn’t get his sums quite right. Some of the €440 which the EFSF has to play with has already been allocated to help Portugal and Ireland. There is also the small matter of the EFSF contribution to the next Greek bailout.
Nevertheless, it was agreed that the EFSF will guarantee 20 to 30% of the value of any bond issued by a Eurozone member, allowing the fund’s “assets” to be “leveraged”. That, in effect means that say, €1 billion of EFSF assets can underwrite about €3 billions’ worth of Eurobonds. A dangerous game – especially as the EFSF’s real apacity is so limited.
In reality the EFSF’s capacity might only be between €500 and €700 billion, which is not really even big enough to bailout Italy and Spain. Meanwhile, Greece will run out of cash in two weeks’ time and is already standing in the wings, hands out, awaiting its next €8 billion bailout.
Also embedded in the backdrop to all this accounting wizardry, is a secret Euro report which states that Italy will need to beef-up its austerity measures , otherwise it will soon become insolvent.
The ECB has its own issues, centering around its difficulty in securing support from banks in respect of balancing its sovereign bond purchases. Because banks are so unsure of what is going to hit them next, they wish to maintain liquidity. That means that they are no too keen on even depositing short-term money with the ECB.
When agreeing such initiatives, it is quite normal to “test the water” by soliciting the views of investors. Chris Frankel CFO and Deputy CEO of EFSF said ‘Following extensive discussions with investors covering all types and geographical regions, “a number of them” have given their positive views and signalled their willingness to participate.’
That simply means that institutions which are already government-underwritten will invest in lower-risk bonds as a result of centralised underwriting. Consequently, they will be willing (in theory) to accept lower bond yields.
All of the above is being promulgated as a “done deal” but others believe that the whole arrangement is far to complex and too difficult to understand. It certainly smacks of desperation.
What is really needed is a fund which can operate quickly and simply.
In spite of very strong opposition from Germany, it would seem that the only eventual way forward will be not-only for the ECB to start printing Euros. but to become European lender of last resort.
One thing is definite – the whole thing is hanging by a thread and just one more “Eurosurprise” would be devastating.
And the IMF? Another statement declared: “The 17 Euro Finance Ministers have agreed to work on boosting the resources of the IMF so it can “cooperate more closely” with the European Financial Stability Facility.” Make of that what you will.
One thing is for sure, everything MUST be done to boost the EFSF’s effectiveness and for the “stop-gap accords” to stop. So far, all the temporary “fixes” and retro-crisis-management have failed to protect Italy and Spain from surging bond yields and both Standard and Poors as well as increasingly cynical investors now have France in the crosshairs.
Today is a big day for the Eurozone.
The uncertainty is not helped by statements such as the one from EFSF Chief Executive Officer Klaus Regling who said “It is “impossible to give one number” for the total firepower of the EFSF because market conditions change over time.”
Or ECB President Mario Draghi saying that the ECB’s 18-month- old bond-buying program is “temporary and limited.”
In spite of all the meetings, organisational complexity and communiqués, there are still two vital ingredients missing – a coherent strategy and leadership with direction.