Note: This piece has been built on Re-Define's public call for an IMF programme for the Eurozone as published in the FT in 2012.
The IMF, historically the purveyor of crisis management for countries in financial trouble, is stuck in Europe. The IMF has, as today’s Charlemagne column in the Economist points out , become the junior partner in the ‘Troika’ arrangement and is often over-ruled, as was clear from the leaked IMF report on Greece. It was not always so.
The IMF is a body that is used to being in-charge. It has, over several decades, dictated policies to tens of countries that found themselves in a financial pickle. A visit from the IMF was an unpleasant experience and often involved a school-masterly dressing down of a country’s policy-making elite. For example, this image of the then IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus standing, arms folded, over Suharto, appearing to dictate terms on the bailout during the Asian crisis is burned into the collective memory of Indonesians. It was even credited with helping hasten the end of the dictatorship.
As the depressing economic and unemployment picture from the European Commission's growth forecasts makes clear, we at Re-Define have been right to be heavily sceptical of the current strategy being pursued by EU policy-makers.
As we warned in July 2012 in our analysis on Spain, the fiscal multipliers being used were highly underestimated. We warned that on the path being pursued, the Spanish economy and employment would be pulled downwards by a combination of fiscal adjustment and related emergent banking problems. This is exactly what has happened. Our analysis was later confirmed by the IMF, when it issued a Mea culpa on having underestimated fiscal multipliers.
The Spanish bailout has triggered a big ongoing debate on the issue of seniority for public creditors. Certain commentators and market actors claim that it is because the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) sees itself as a preferred creditor that the announcement of a Spanish bailout has led to rising spreads. They say that seniority means that once the ESM comes in, it reduces the effective claims of the private bondholders in the event of a restructuring.
This piece exposes the flaws in this thinking both in the general case and more particularly in the case of Spain. We conclude that if the EU wants to rescue Spain, the trick is not to remove seniority from the ESM but 1) to remove all uncertainties around the future of the Eurozone 2) make conditionality more growth friendly 3) channel the bailout directly to needy banks without going through the sovereign.
Note: This piece appeared as an Op-Ed in the Financial Times and was co-authored by Re-Define MD Sony Kapoor & Advisory board member Charles Goodhart
Whether or not Greece has to leave the eurozone, and whether or not a growth compact is added to the fiscal treaty, there is likely to be a further call – or calls – on the International Monetary Fund for help with funding firewalls to protect the eurozone from meltdown. The IMF should take this opportunity to be more robust than it has been in the past in dealing with Europe’s problems.
This appeared as a Comment piece in the Observer (Guardian) on 11th December
EU leaders promised to stop Europe’s spiral into economic oblivion. They needed to immediately restore confidence in the solvency of Spain and Italy, urgently take steps to kick start growth and credibly commit to changes addressing the institutional weaknesses of the Euro area. They failed on all three fronts and are now almost out of time.
Given the inability of EU leaders to tackle the problems of Greece, a small economy, investors have been losing faith in their ability to support the much larger economies of Spain and Italy that faced economic problems. This has driven up the borrowing costs to unsustainable levels. Unless policy makers can demonstrate how troubled EU economies could meet their borrowing needs at non-penal interest rates, the crisis would continue to deepen.