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Restoring Stability and Confidence in European Sovereign Debt Markets. Joseph E. Stiglitz Global ARC London, May 18, 2010. Unprecedented Instability. Putting the future of the euro into question Raising the possibility of sovereign wealth defaults in Europe Key Questions:

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restoring stability and confidence in european sovereign debt markets

Restoring Stability and Confidence in European Sovereign Debt Markets

Joseph E. Stiglitz

Global ARC

London, May 18, 2010

unprecedented instability
Unprecedented Instability
  • Putting the future of the euro into question
  • Raising the possibility of sovereign wealth defaults in Europe

Key Questions:

  • The origins of the problem
  • The adequacy of the responses
the origins of the problem
The origins of the problem
  • Part of the unfolding economic crisis
    • A bubble in the U.S. and in many European economies
    • That helped sustain global growth
    • But which itself was not sustainable
    • Based on excessive leverage
      • On flawed models of risk
      • On flawed incentives structures
      • In some instances, on practices that bordered on fraudulent
It was predictable—and predicted—that when the bubble broke, there would be serious consequences
    • A financial crisis
    • An economic crisis (a deep and long recession/downturn)
  • Governments came to the rescue
    • Saving the banks and the financial system
    • Stimulating the economy
Keynesian economics worked
    • A financial collapse was prevented
    • A depression was prevented
    • Automatic stabilizers played a big role
  • But all of this came at a great cost
    • Unprecedented (peacetime) deficits
    • In effect, debts were transferred to the government
historical pattern
Historical pattern
  • After financial crises, there are often sovereign debt crises
  • Hope that this time things would be different
    • Most crises are in developing countries, with limited ability to raise taxes and high debt-to-GDP ratios
    • But European crisis shows that that is not the case
    • Greece had high debt and deficit
    • But many of the countries in Europe face similar problems
  • Slow recovery means that it will be difficult to reduce deficit
    • Recognition of this leading to financial instability
slow global recovery
Slow global recovery
  • With the exception of Asia
  • But strong growth in Asia will not suffice to restore growth in Europe and US
anemic growth prospects mean unemployment will not return to normal for years
Anemic growth prospects mean unemployment will not return to “normal” for years

Projected annual percentage change in GDP

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook, April 2010

slow us recovery
Slow US recovery
  • Continuing residential foreclosures
    • Administration admits previous programs haven’t worked
    • Haven’t dealt with ¼ mortgages underwater
    • Likely to keep consumer spending depressed, contribute to bank weaknesses
  • Unfolding problem in commercial real estate
  • Record level of bank closings
    • Tip of iceberg: shows weaknesses in banking system
  • Small- and medium-sized enterprises can’t get access to credit
    • Banks constrained both by supervisors and balance sheet
    • Borrowers constrained by lack of collateral (decrease in real estate values)
  • Fiscal stringency in state and local governments
bank lending collapse 2
Bank lending collapse (2)

Source: OECD, Economic OutlookNo. 86, 19 November 2009

reducing the deficits will be difficult
Reducing the deficits will be difficult
  • Even if economies had no “structural deficit”—that is, at full employment, they would be in balance—with a weak economy, there will be large deficits
  • Cutting back government spending (or raising taxes) will weaken the economy further
  • So improvement in fiscal position will be smaller than hoped
  • Problem similar to Argentina’s “death spiral”
  • Poor performance leads to higher interest rates, increasing deficit
growing government debts
Growing government debts

Sources: IMF, World Economic Outlook, April 2010 [CAN, FR, DE, IT, UK, US]; eurostat, teina220, April 2010 [GR, PT, ES]

Though there are some things that Greece can do to offset contractionary effects of reduced spending, much depends on what happens elsewhere
    • Whether German tourists spend more money on Greek vacations
    • Which depends in turn on what happens in Germany
an example of multiple equilibria
An example of “multiple equilibria”
  • If markets had confidence in Greece, interest rates would be low, and with low interest rates, Greece would be able to service its debt
  • But if markets lack confidence in Greece, interests rates will be high, and with high interest rates, there will be trouble servicing the debt
    • Justifying the high interest rates
Distinction between Brazil and Argentina
  • Brazil faced a crisis in 1998, it faced the same “multiple equilibria problem”: it managed its way through that crisis—and now has a low debt-to-GDP ratio and managed its way through this crisis
  • There was probably no way that Argentina could meet its debt obligations, especially given the fixed exchange rate with the dollar
  • Europe (Greece) is more akin to Brazil
the euro framework s confidence problem
The euro framework’s confidence problem
  • Problem was recognized at the time of the creation of the euro
  • Euroland did not satisfy the conditions for an “optimal” currency area
  • Especially disturbing was the lack of a common fiscal framework
    • Providing assistance to countries in adverse circumstances
    • There was a solidarity fund for new entrants into EU, but no solidarity fund for stabilization
    • An institutional deficiency which would eventually have to be addressed
Test of euro would come when there was a large shock
    • Had taken away two crucial instruments of adjustment (interest rates, exchange rates)
    • But had put nothing in their place
  • As the crisis in Greece became evident in January, Germany was slow to respond
    • Only when the threat of “contagion” became imminent was there an effective response
not just a matter of profligacy
Not just a matter of profligacy
  • Spain had a budget surplus before the crisis
  • Spain had only a 60% debt-to-GDP ratio
  • Spain had better bank regulation (at least in some dimensions) than the US and most other countries
  • Yet today, Spain stands at the precipice
    • Huge deficit (exceeds 10% of GDP)
    • 20% unemployment
    • More than 40% youth unemployment
the response
The Response
  • Combined European and IMF support
  • Ensuring that Greece and (at least some) other European countries can roll over their debt and finance their deficits
  • The question is: Will it work?
  • Market response: Risk of default has gone down considerably, but is still significant
  • Question: Why hasn’t the trillion-dollar rescue done a better job at restoring confidence?
structure of rescue may be self defeating
Structure of rescue may be self-defeating
  • Heavy demands on austerity, structural reforms
    • Akin to old-style IMF programs
    • Many suggest that they must do this to avoid charges of a double standard
  • But these programs have often been ineffective
    • Austerity (especially when pursued by many countries in Europe simultaneously) may be self-defeating
europe faces a dilemma
Europe faces a dilemma
  • The effect of cutting back spending and/or raising taxes could be massively contractionary
  • The improvement in the deficit will be minimal
  • The small improvement will exacerbate pessimism
further reasons for skepticism of the program
Further reasons for skepticism of the “Program”
  • “Structural” reforms partially misplaced
    • Impact effect of wage cuts will be to further reduce aggregate demand
    • Across-the-board wage and price cuts are not a feasible substitute for devaluation
  • Political resistance in some countries likely to be high
    • European democracies may be less likely to accept “dictated terms” (Iceland)
    • Already high unemployment in some countries (Spain)
but are there alternatives
But are there alternatives?
  • Europe will benefit from the weak euro
    • Europe is winning the contest of which currency is the “ugliest”
    • New form of competitive devaluation
    • Given overall global weakness, weak euro will not suffice to restore prosperity or even a modicum of normalcy
  • And there appear to be no other tools to restore prosperity
    • Monetary policy has limited effect
    • Trade policy is not an option
With EU average debt level at 73% of GDP, is fiscal policy an option?
    • Yes, if money is spent on high return investments, e.g. in education, technology, and infrastructure
    • Generating stronger growth in the short run and longer run
    • Generating higher tax revenues
    • Even with limited returns (5-6%), long term debt/GDP ratio will be reduced
    • Should not focus on short run deficit (deficit fetishism)
    • But on a country’s balance sheet—liabilities and assets
    • On should take a long term perspective
thinking the unthinkable
Thinking the unthinkable?
  • Are there enough funds to bail out PIGS plus Italy?
    • Not certain…
    • Bailouts are effectively (temporary) transfer of funds from the stronger countries
      • If bailouts restore confidence, they are not really bailouts, just temporary provision of liquidity
      • Lenders will be repaid
    • But even the stronger countries must effectively borrow to finance bailout
    • Another example of a transfer of liabilities
    • Raising questions of the viability of the entire project, if the downturn lasts long and, as a result, deficit reductions are less successful
      • What matters is not just efforts, but outcomes
    • If markets share these qualms, interest rates may remain high
      • Reinforcing pessimistic perspective
then what
Then what?
  • A default?
    • Part of modern capitalism
      • Financial markets often misjudge creditworthiness
    • Important to give countries/companies/individuals a fresh start
      • Nineteenth-century models (Dickens debt prisons, military force to impose debt repayment) thing of the past
      • IMF often viewed as a modern version of military might by developing countries
      • But European democracies are less likely to accept such stringent terms
Default less likely immediately
    • Many countries still have a large primary deficit
    • Default would choke off ability to borrow to finance deficit
      • Thus they would face austerity in any case
    • But once primary deficit is reduced, incentives change, especially if (a) there are large external payments and (b) severe and unpopular conditionalities are imposed
      • Defaults are disruptive
      • But Argentina showed that there is life after default — averaged 8.5% growth for six years (2003–2008)
budget deficits forecast
Budget deficits forecast

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook, April 2010

Risk of contagion
    • Investors reassess likelihood of other countries defaulting
    • Recognizing this, the rest of Europe has and will be forced to come to assistance
    • But will Germany provide more assistance if a trillion dollars doesn’t work?
the dissolution of the euro
The dissolution of the euro?
  • The circumstances of different European countries are markedly different, both with respect to fiscal and trade deficits and with respect to debt
  • Limited “solidarity” to share burden of adjustment
    • Without exchange rate and interest rate mechanisms, there is a need for large fiscal assistance
    • What is required may be more than those who are capable of providing it are willing to give
eu government debts
EU government debts

General government consolidated gross debt as a percentage of GDP, 2009 (eurostat)

current account balances
Current account balances

Source: IMF, World Economic Outlook, April 2010

the dissolution of the euro1
The dissolution of the euro?
  • Inconsistent macro-frameworks
    • Focus has been on countries with too high deficits as the “problem”
      • Concerns are legitimate
      • Especially as one focuses on long-term problems (aging of population)
      • These long-term problems have continued to fester, but the crisis has diminished the ability of countries to deal with them
      • Markets have recognized this
surpluses are the problem
Surpluses are the problem
  • But equally, countries with too high trade surpluses are a problem
    • Surpluses mean that they are producing more than they are consuming
    • Contributing to an insufficiency of aggregate demand
    • Imposing macro-economic costs on others
  • Keynes recognized this
    • Wanted to impose tax on surplus countries
    • Part of original Bretton Woods initiative
    • US refused
trade deficits and surpluses
Trade deficits and surpluses
  • If euro were set so that on average, Europe has a trade balance, if part (Germany) has a trade surplus, others have trade deficit
  • Trade deficit requires financing (may be hard to get) and contributes to weak national aggregate demand
  • If exchange rates were flexible, they would adjust to “punish” trade surplus economy, equilibrate system
    • US is complaining that China is not adjusting its currency, contributing to global imbalances
    • The euro in effect is doing the same for Germany
three alternatives
Three alternatives
  • Europe finishes the euro agenda:
    • Germany recognizes the problem, Europe establishes an effective fiscal and macro coordination framework, and it works
  • The euro comes to an end
    • Weak countries do a cost-benefit analysis and decide that the costs exceed the benefits
      • Market fundamentalist philosophy that underlies much of the EU project is viewed as wrong
      • Can legitimately blame lack of sufficient solidarity to make project successful
Strong countries decide it is not worth subsidizing weak countries
    • Probably myopic view
    • Germany would find it hard to maintain surpluses
    • Critical part of its economic model
3. Muddling through/brinkmanship
  • Strong countries provide just enough assistance and critical level of conditionalities (enforcement of conditionalities) to keep euro together
    • But because the money is provided reluctantly, late, and in minimal amounts with maximum conditionalities, overall costs may be higher than if an effective program were designed initially
    • Especially because judgments will differ—some market participants will think amount insufficient
      • Resulting in higher interest costs
the implication
The Implication
  • Europe and the world are likely to be going through a period of high volatility
    • Confidence in sovereign bond markets of certain countries will not be easily restored
  • Which in itself will contribute to weak recovery
  • Managing risk will be especially difficult
  • Market opportunities based not just on underlying economics, but on political judgments
    • For me, remedying the institutional deficiencies that were apparent at the creation of the euro would be the best course of action
    • But it is not clear that this will be the course undertaken
      • At least until all other courses have been tried