Europe on the Edge of Abyss, U.S. Housing Market In the Abyss
By: Mike Shedlock
May 31, 2011
Robert Samuelson on Real Clear Politics says Europe at the Abyss
It has come to this. A year after rescuing Greece from default, Europe is staring into the abyss. The bailout has proved insufficient. Greece needs more money, and it can’t borrow from private markets where it faces interest rates as high as 25 percent. There is no easy escape.
What’s called a “debt crisis” is increasingly a political and social crisis. Already, unemployment is 14.1 percent in Greece, 14.7 percent in Ireland, 11.1 percent in Portugal and 20.7 percent in Spain.
Some causes of Europe’s plight are well-known: the harsh recession following the 2008-2009 financial crisis; aging populations coupled with costly welfare states. But there’s also another less recognized culprit: the euro, the single currency now used by 17 countries.
Launched in 1999, it aimed to foster economic and political unity. For a while, it seemed to succeed. In the euro’s first decade, jobs in countries using the common currency increased by 16 million.
It was a mirage. For starters, the euro fostered a credit bubble that led to booms in housing, borrowing and consumer spending. But one policy didn’t fit all: Interest rates suited to Germany and France were too low for “periphery” countries (Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain).
Money poured into the periphery countries. There was a huge compression of interest rates. In 1997, rates on 10-year Greek government bonds averaged 9.8 percent compared to 5.7 percent for similar German bonds. By 2003, Greek bonds fetched 4.3 percent, just above the 4.1 percent of German bonds.
“The markets failed. All this would not have occurred if banks in Germany and France had not lent so much,” says economist Desmond Lachman of the American Enterprise Institute. “It was like the U.S. housing market.” Both American and European banks went overboard in relaxing credit standards.
“Markets Failed” Says Desmond Lachman .