“‘This is much worse than the East Asia crisis in the 1990s,’ said Lars Christensen, at Danske Bank. ‘There are accidents waiting to happen across the region, but the EU institutions don’t have any framework for dealing with this. The day they decide not to save one of these one countries will be the trigger for a massive crisis with contagion spreading into the EU.’ Europe is already in deeper trouble than the ECB or EU leaders ever expected. Germany contracted at an annual rate of 8.4% in the fourth quarter. If Deutsche Bank is correct, the economy will have shrunk by nearly 9% before the end of this year. This is the sort of level that stokes popular revolt.
“The implications are obvious. Berlin is not going to rescue Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal as the collapse of their credit bubbles leads to rising defaults, or rescue Italy by accepting plans for EU “union bonds” should the debt markets take fright at the rocketing trajectory of Italy’s public debt (hitting 112pc of GDP next year, just revised up from 101pc — big change), or rescue Austria from its Habsburg adventurism. So we watch and wait as the lethal brush fires move closer. If one spark jumps across the eurozone line, we will have global systemic crisis within days. Are the firemen ready?”….
This has the potential to be a real crisis, far worse than in the US. Without concerted action on the part of the ECB and the European countries that are relatively strong, much of Europe could fall further into what would feel like a depression. There is a problem, though. Imagine being a politician in Germany, for instance. Your GDP is down by 8% last quarter. Unemployment is rising. Budgets are under pressure, as tax collections are down. And you are going to be asked to vote in favor of bailing out (pick a small country)? What will the voters who put you into office think?
We are going to find out this year whether the European Union is like the Three Musketeers. Are they “all for one and one for all?” or is it every country for itself? My bet (or hope) is that it is the former. Dissolution at this point would be devastating for all concerned, and for the world economy at large. Many of us in the US don’t think much about Europe or the rest of the world, but without a healthy Europe, much of our world trade would vanish.
However, getting all the parties to agree on what to do will take some serious leadership, which does not seem to be in evidence at this point.