Ciaran O’Hagan is head of rates research at Société Générale in Paris
Risk aversion has picked up in Europe over the past weeks. The debate over the fiscal and banking outlooks in Ireland needs to be placed in this context. While Irish credit is under pressure, it is also against a backdrop that favours risk aversion.
The flavour of Wednesday’s press alone gives a good idea of the headwinds facing any country wanting to grow itself out quickly from public debt.
The ECB’s chief economist, Mr Stark, is warning of a slowdown in growth, Meanwhile the Bundesbank’s Weber is cautioning that the global financial crisis is not yet over and setbacks in financial markets cannot be ruled out. Behind this talk is of course the cautioning of governments that they need to show long-term commitment towards fiscal consolidation, or else brave the consequences.
Unfortunately several governments are non-existent. Belgium’s mediators warn there will be no announcement in relation to a new government this week, and there is no quick progress in the Netherlands either. Italy’s finance minister affirmed that there’s no autumn emergency. In France, the unions are trying to complicate very necessary – if still modest – pension reforms.
Even what should just be simple procedure is becoming problematic. Comments from the ECB, as reported by government sources in Berlin, suggest ongoing frustration with the IMF over how to deal with the challenges posed by Greece. And Eurostat is reported as saying it is frustrated as it can’t get all the Greek documentation on debt that it wants.
Moreover in Brussels, we have the overriding impression of cacophony from the latest Ecofin and Eurogroup meetings. We had the spectacle of head of the Commission, Mr Barroso, calling on the governments to reform. That absence of reform leads to titles in the press Wednesday like “Europe is Acting as Though it Wants to be Left Behind” (the WSJ) and “Realisation has dawned that sovereign credits cannot survive unless banks are recapitalised (the FT).
Even in AAA land, we read titles like “German banks are in reality the Achilles’ heel of the European banking system” (FT). The Bundesbank’s Weber affirmed that higher capital requirements for banks won’t curb economic growth. However even Mr Weber would probably agree that without strong banks, there will be no robust recovery. Unfortunately Europe won’t allow banks fail, and yet at the same time, many governments treat them as taxable cash cows and excuses for a lame recovery.
Last but not least, Mr Lenihan, the Irish finance minister, extended the guarantee for deposits at domestic banks and laid out plans for the dénouement of Anglo. These were necessary actions. However they unfortunately raise the contingent liability for the Irish state still further.
All this is just in a day’s news. It provides an unfortunate backdrop for any country wanting to grow itself out of public debt quickly. Ireland’s growth rate is probably more elastic than most with respect to global prospects. Unfortunately fiscal consolidation elsewhere in Europe over 2011 and beyond faces strong headwinds. That is helping make investors ever more averse to taking on risk, even among sovereigns, traditionally regarded as among the strongest of all credits.