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segunda-feira, agosto 06, 2012
Draghi and friends just want your money
By Bill Gross, Financial Times
Psst! Investors – do you wanna know a secret? Do you wanna know what Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Christine Lagarde and Mario Draghi all share in common? They want your money!
They’ve wanted it for years now but you are resisting by holding on to it or investing it at negative interest rates in Switzerland, Germany and a growing number of other countries considered to be European Union havens. They want you to be less frugal and more risk-seeking. They want your money as a substitute for theirs in Spain, Italy and, of course, Greece, but they don’t mention that any more. The example would be too off-putting. “Investors,” they plead, “show us your money!”
The ultimate goal of monetary and fiscal policy in the EU is to re-engage the private sector. The EU needs the private sector as a willing (but not necessarily equal) partner in funding its economy. This often gets lost in the noisy details of all too frequent promises such as the one to defend the euro made by Mr Draghi, European Central Bank president.
Investors get distracted by the hundreds of billions of euros in sovereign policy checks, promises and IOUs that make for media headlines but forget it’s their trillions that are the real objective. Even Mr Hollande in left-leaning France recognises that the private sector is critical for future growth in the EU. He knows that, without its partnership, a one-sided funding via state-controlled banks and central banks will inevitably lead to high debt-to-GDP ratios, rating service downgrades and a downhill vicious cycle of recession.
But private investors are balking – and for what it seems are good reasons – because policy makers’ efforts have been, until now, a day late and a euro short, or more accurately, years late and a trillion euros short. Let’s look at some examples of this.
First, Greek bailouts that included private sector involvement but no official sector involvement, resulting in the inevitable investor conclusion that future programmes for Spain and Italy might resemble the same.
Second, an initial tightening and then a reluctant lowering of ECB policy rates.
Third, a bond purchase programme (securities markets programme or SMP) by the ECB that was too small and prematurely abandoned.
Fourth, fiscal austerity packages for individual countries that accelerated recessionary/depressionary growth paths.
Fifth, public fights among northern and southern EU countries that highlighted the seemingly perpetual dysfunctionality of the eurozone 17 and the EU 27.
Policy makers now face an unprecedented expansion of risk spreads and credit agency downgrades which almost guarantee that sickbed countries can never be discharged from intensive care.
Interest rates over and above each country’s nominal GDP growth rate will inevitably add to a country’s debt as a percentage of GDP, even if budgets are in primary balance.Investors misguidedly focus on 7 per cent yields in Spanish and Italian bond markets as some sort of high watermark – below which swimmers can safely touch bottom. But even at 7 per cent deep, the toes cannot stretch. Maybe even 4 per cent is not shallow enough.
At current yields, growth rates, and deficits, the spread may incrementally add 2-3 per cent to Spain and Italy’s tenuous debt ratios every year. While it is true that both countries can shorten maturity offerings and even accept the benefit of prior terming of their debt stock, eventual drowning will occur even at 4 per cent or higher 10-year yields as long as nominal GDP growth is anywhere close to flat.
Policy makers will solicit the private market’s participation in an effort to get there, by attempting to lead via co-ordinated monetary/fiscal efforts involving the SMP from the ECB and hundreds of billions of euros from bailout funds – the European Financial Stability Facility and ultimately the European Stability Mechanism. But without the private sector’s co-operation, the effort may be futile.
The dirty little secret that sovereign debt issuing nations need to remember most of all is that credit and maturity extension is based upon trust. After all, “credere” is a Latin word meaning just that. After trust has been lost due to half-baked policy measures; after credit agencies belatedly have recognised embedded costs of debt that can no longer insure solvency; after marginal investors have been flushed from the system to what appear to be safer return of principal havens; and after policy makers finally appreciate the fragility of their rigged fiscal and monetary system; after all of that – there is no coming home, there is no going back in the water.
Psst investors: Stay dry my friends!
Bill Gross is founder and co-chief investment officer of Pimco