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Sergio Cesaratto

Gli scenari del teatrino europeo

2010
Il 16-17 dicembre si riunisce in Belgio il Consiglio dei leader europei. Quali sono gli scenari che lEuropa ha di fronte? Alla irrisolta crisi di solvibilit della Grecia si in questo autunno aggiunta quella dellIrlanda e a ruota il contagio, che si manifesta con un aumento dei tassi di interesse sui titoli pubblici, arrivato anche allItalia via Portogallo e Spagna e ora persino alla Germania. Quali sono le prospettive? Abbiamo di fronte tre scenari: 1) tamponare con un po di liquidit la situazione dei paesi periferici chiedendo loro di aggiustare i propri conti con sacrifici interni;. 2) anticipare la rottura e gestirla evitandone gli aspetti pi dolorosi, per quello che si pu; 3) attaccare i problemi alla radice nella direzione di costruire una unione politica ed economica funzionante. La crisi europea assomiglia alle molte delle crisi debitorie nei i paesi in via di sviluppo il cui ultimo clamoroso caso stato il default dellArgentina nel 2002. In pillole, la costituzione dellUnione monetaria europea (UME) nel 1999 ha favorito flussi di capitale a buon mercato dai paesi centrali dellEuropa (Germania e Francia in primis) a quelli periferici, i famosi PIGS. La politica monetaria della BCE stata al contempo improntata a bassi tassi nominali di interesse essendo ritagliata sulla Germania, per compensare le sue politiche di moderazione fiscale e salariale che poco sostenevano domanda e produzione. I flussi di capitale hanno determinato un boom edilizio e lindebitamento delle famiglie in Spagna e Irlanda, e del settore pubblico in Grecia. Ledilizia un volano delleconomia questi paesi sono infatti cresciuti assai, e cos i loro salari nominali e prezzi. Questo ha implicato che i tassi di interesse reali[1] diventassero, in quei paesi, assai bassi, stimolando ancor di pi la domanda. La produttivit i questi paesi cresciuta pi che in Germania, ma qui i salari nominali crescevano meno della produttivit, nella periferia essi aumentavano pi della produttivit, sicch essa perdeva competitivit. La Germania e il suo entourage (Austria, Paesi Bassi ecc) guadagnava cos in termini di esportazioni nette verso la periferia sia perch la domanda in quei paesi cresceva molto, che per la loro perdita di competitivit. Nei fatti le esportazioni di capitali dai paesi centrali finivano per finanziare lacquisto di prodotti dai medesimi paesi. Ma se questo accade per una serie di anni, i paesi periferici finiscono per cumulare un forte debito estero. Inizialmente questo era, in Spagna e Irlanda, solo privato, ma ad esso si aggiunto, una volta scoppiata la crisi, quello del settore pubblico che si indebitato a sua volta per soccorrere le banche nazionali indebitate con quelle dellEuropa centrale. Se i paesi creditori a un certo punto ritengono che i debitori non possano restituire il debito, possono smettere di rifinanziarglielo, e i debitori dichiarano la bancarotta (default). Una soluzione a questa situazione implica: a) nel breve periodo assicurare a questi paesi liquidit sufficiente e a buon mercato per non fallire; e b) nel medio periodo risolvere il loro problema di solvibilit stimolando il loro output ed esportazioni. Esaminiamo dunque i tre scenari. 1. Nel primo scenario, gi in opera, gli aiuti europei e una timidissima BCE tamponano la crisi di liquidit sostenendo i titoli dei paesi debitori qualora i mercati non vogliano pi farlo o lo farebbero solo a tassi esorbitanti, ma lo fanno in misura insufficiente senza davvero incidere sui tassi usurai che tali paesi si trovano a pagare (i quali aggravano il debito). Al contempo la deflazione fiscale e salariale loro richiesta determina una caduta del loro PIL, con conseguente caduta delle entrate fiscali, sicch il riaggiustamento dei conti una fatica di Sisifo (per non parlare dei sacrifici sociali che ci comporta). Tradizionalmente aggiustamenti

dei conti interni sono stati accompagnati da una svalutazione della moneta, che rilanciando le esportazione ne ha compensato i danni sul PIL. Ma ora le monete nazionali non ci sono pi! Per giunta la stessa Germania si fa campione della deflazione, e ci aggrava la crisi della domanda aggregata a livello europeo e globale. I mercati tutto questo lo sanno, e per questo il fallimento dei paesi periferici e della moneta unica allordine del giorno. Se fanno fallimento i paesi debitori, faranno anche fallimento i paesi creditori (USA inclusi) e questa sarebbe la madre di tutte le crisi. 2. Una rottura ordinata dellUME, con la fuoriuscita dei paesi periferici, affare complicatissimo (Blejer and Levy-Yeyati 2010; Eichengreen 2010). Il fatto centrale di cui tener conto che il debito esterno di tali paesi continuerebbe a esser denominato in euro. Misurato nelle nuove valute locali, che cadrebbero di valore, e di molto, rispetto alleuro, il valore di quel debito aumenterebbe, per cui esso dovrebbe certamente subire quello che si chiama un haircut (un taglio dei capelli), cio essere rinegoziato (ci si accorda che una parte non viene restituita, e il resto restituito in tempi pi lunghi). Ma se i mercati subdorano questa eventualit, la speculazione si scatenerebbe determinando un immediato disordinato default. Allora la decisione di una rottura dovrebbe essere segretamente presa prima che i mercati sospettino qualcosa dunque un po prima che il sistema crolli di suo -, in un consesso che non pu escludere, tuttavia, USA, Cina e Giappone, almeno, oltre ai principali paesi europei. Nei tempi di Wikileaks tenere il segreto non facile! Il vantaggio di riacquisire la propria moneta sarebbe nel rilancio delle esportazioni, ma misure per impedire che si scateni una forte inflazione interna sarebbero necessarie. Non sarebbe invece necessario stampare preventivamente nuove banconote, le attuali gi sono contraddistinte per paese (una S dopo il numero di serie individua per esempio quelle italiane). Misure drastiche di controllo dei capitali sarebbero ovviamente necessarie. Se fosse la Germania (e forse una recalcitrante Francia) a lasciare, ci costituirebbe di per s un taglio ai debiti esteri denominati in una moneta, leuro, che svaluterebbe rispetto al nuovo Deutsche Mark. Se poi ci che rimane dellUME si sfasciasse, tutti si tornerebbe alle monete nazionali e il debito estero sarebbe denominato in quelle, il che sancirebbe un haircut di fatto. 3. Linefficacia del primo scenario, e la drammaticit del secondo, potrebbero col tempo far addivenire a soluzioni pi ragionevoli. Con riguardo ai problemi di sostenibilit a breve, una pi incisiva azione della BCE nel sostenere i titoli di stato e la europeizzazione di parte dei debiti (come proposto, fra gli altri, da Tremonti) assicurerebbe i mercati consentendo un loro rifinanziamento a costi contenuti. I problemi strutturali dovrebbero essere poi affrontati invertendo la moderazione fiscale e salariale tedesca di modo che tale economia perda un po di competitivit e al contempo rilanci la domanda interna [2]. Daltronde solo operando con misure opposte a quelle che hanno caratterizzato sinora lUME se ne possono invertire le tendenze. Questo appare al momento inaccettabile alla Germania che fonda il proprio modello di crescita su disciplina interna ed esportazioni con in mente lespansione nei paesi extraeuropei. Se dio veramente acceca chi vuole perdere, nel meeting del 16-7 dicembre i paesi europei decideranno piani draconiani di rientro dal debito pubblico a cui nostro paese arriver senza un governo che possa autorevolmente opporsi a tale follia.
[1] Il tasso di interesse reale la differenza fra il tasso di interesse nominale e il tasso di inflazione. Se prendiamo 100 in prestito al tasso nominale del 5%, e il tasso di inflazione del 4% (per cui ci che restituiremo fra un anno vale il 4% di meno in termini di potere dacquisto), il tasso reale che effettivamente paghiamo 1%. [2] Un obiettivo accettabilissimo per i tedeschi sarebbe di accettare che i salari nominali crescessero in quel paese al tassi di crescita della produttivit pi il 2% che il tasso di inflazione obiettivo della BCE.Il

16-17 dicembre si riunisce in Belgio il Consiglio dei leader europei. Quali sono gli scenari che lEuropa ha di fronte?

Leaving the euro: Whats in the box?


Mario I. Blejer Eduardo Levy-Yeyati 21 July 2010 Rumours of Eurozone break-up are mounting. This column argues that exiting a strong currency for a weak one poses almost unthinkable challenges, from the redenomination of contracts and the imposition of bank restrictions to the restructuring of external debt and limiting of capital mobility. Lessons from Argentina illustrate just how radical the changes would need to be. The turmoil in Europe is not abating. True, some calm has returned to the markets after the initial storm, but tenacious misgivings about the euro project in general are growing, driven by disenchantment with the policy responses and a realisation of the magnitude of the problem. Something that was unthinkable six months ago is happening today. There are, still few indeed, but undeniable mounting calls for euro exit and not only from euro sceptics across the Atlantic (see Feldstein 2010, Financial Times 2010, and Baldwin 2010 for a summary of the debate on Vox.) While faint exit pleads could be heard in Germany, as a way to avoid bearing the cost of the bailout, the louder calls are coming from the economies under pressure and looking to regain competitiveness, with Greece in front of a potentially larger number of countries willing or forced to give up the single-currency project.

Switching from a strong to a weak currency


But the process of launching a new, weaker, national currency to substitute a stronger one as legal tender is, to be sure, a very complex one. What do we know about this process? Eichengreen (2007) provides an analysis of this event but when it comes to hard facts the answer is simple. We know virtually nothing. Indeed, it is unclear whether those toying with this type of solution have analysed the preconditions and consequences of such a move since there is not much precedent for an episode of this kind in recent economic history. Abandoning a battered currency in favour of a stronger one (dollarisation in the jargon) has been more frequent, and is probably easier in comparison (see for example Levy Yeyati and Sturzenegger 2002). Creating or reintroducing a national currency with the deliberate intention to weaken it relative to the existing one (and to all other world currencies, for that matter) is an altogether different and much more complicated endeavour, particularly if this has to be done in times of distress and mistrust of domestic policies.

Argentina 2002
The closest, although certainly not identical, precedent to this course of action is Argentines exit from a currency board arrangement to float a weakening peso in 2002, an event that has important common aspects with the case in point. While still far, in many respects, from a new drachma or a new peseta, the episode nonetheless offers some interesting pointers as to what the whole affair involves.

At the risk of generalising and omitting, the Argentine lessons can be summarised under four categories. If a country is willing to seriously entertain the idea of introducing a new, weaker, currency (which for simplicity we could call the peso), it needs to be willing to deal with: the peso-ification of contracts, the imposition of heavy restrictions to commercial bank operations, an external debt restructuring, and the use of capital and exchange controls at least temporarily. Crucially, all of these four types of tribulations, which come on top of the potential inflationary consequences that follow any normal devaluation, need to be tackled jointly and up front, as they are likely to be anticipated by agents and markets. Exit costs can only grow larger if the decision process is protracted and marred by improvisation and half-baked patches. Below we briefly discuss why these four issues are an almost inescapable consequence of leaving the strong currency:

Peso-ification contracts

or

redenomination

of

The new currency needs to create its own transactional demand and requires a legal framework that makes it the sole legal tender and unit of account. This requires the forced redenomination of all contracts in the economy. Regarding prices and wages as well as other flows of funds the redenomination may not create very serious disruptions. The redenomination of accumulated stocks, however, particularly those arising from domestic financial contracts, becomes an extremely thorny issue. On the one hand, if the new currency succeeds in achieving a real devaluation (i.e., this if the pass-through of the nominal devaluation to inflation is reasonably low), the forced peso-ification of financial contracts results in heavy and asymmetrical balance sheet effects. In particular, the losses experienced by domestic euro debtors would more than offset the gains from a more competitive economy and make the whole euro exit strategy self defeating (see Frankel 2005). On the other hand, the peso-ification of bank deposits and credits could have a massive redistributive impact (benefiting net bank debtors and hurting net deposit holders) and could bring up violent social and political reactions. It would also immediately trigger a bank run, as depositors run to protect their savings by switching them back into hard currency. Indeed a bank run may be unavoidable and precede the exit, as the Argentine case illustrates. The Argentinean bank run started in early 2001, nine months before the abandonment of the currency board arrangement. This is because the mere expectation of an exit is enough to fuel a deposit run, as well as a credit crunch, in anticipation of the inevitable peso-ification (see Levy Yeyati et al. 2010).

A deposit freeze
To counter the deposit run and to avoid massive bank failures until the economy is out of the woods, a temporary deposit freeze would be needed. Crucially, to minimise the damage, the

freeze needs to be selective, excluding sight and savings deposits needed for everyday transactions. Argentina, again, is a good example albeit negative. The gate dropping on all deposit withdrawals in November 2001 (the so-called corralito) was a misguided choice that caused a liquidity crunch that only contributed to the downward spiral in economic activity and market sentiment. This misguided policy was the immediate cause of the government collapse. By contrast, the deposit restructuring in January 2002, that peso-ified and froze only term deposits, slowed down the run thereby preserving the payments system. Needless to say, these options were (as they always are) desperate measures to cope with a terminal crisis, and suffered from many shortcomings that are inevitable when policy is made in a crisis. But even the most careful preparations may not prevent the financial panic surrounding an anticipated conversion.

An external debt restructuring


This is the flipside of the peso-ification of domestic financial contracts. External debt under international law cannot be redenominated by the government but, following the pesoification of state revenues and expenditures, it becomes very difficult to service on its original terms. Therefore international debt relief could come through a negotiated debt exchange. Importantly, however, such a restructuring is not restricted to the sovereign. Corporate euro debtors would suffer the same balance-sheet shock and, with the government unable to fund a bailout, would be forced to renegotiate their liabilities. In Argentina that was a painful and protracted but essentially successful process. Firms restructured their debts under the umbrella provided by the combination of sovereign default and capital controls that inhibited debt servicing abroad. In this way, bankruptcies were avoided but the access to international markets by the corporate sector remained impaired for many years. Besides this distinction, however, the main lesson from the Argentine experience is that it is unrealistic to conceive a euro exit without a debt default.

Capital and exchange-rate controls


Euros (and other reserve currencies) will be precious in the event of a euro exit. Financial uncertainty fuels capital flight just at the time when the country needs to fund a narrowing but still sizeable current-account deficit. This scarcity of euros will probably be exacerbated by a loss of access to international capital markets. As a result, traditional restrictive measures such as the obligation to surrender export proceeds to the central bank, often coupled with capital outflow and exchange-rate controls, are necessary. All of these measures were launched in Argentina in early 2002 and contributed to stabilise the transition. In fact, it may not be possible to enforce the redenomination of contracts nor the deposit freeze without capital controls; without them all settlements would immediately move abroad. Again, the lesson here is that conceiving a euro exit while maintaining full convertibility is probably wishful thinking.

The euro difference: Harder currency board arrangement

than

Argentinas abandonment of its hard peg has some similarities but also marked differences with the current situation regarding euro exit. Leaving the currency board arrangement was actually simpler than the introduction of a new currency in that the currency board arrangement never eliminated the use of the local currency for transaction purposes, the basis of the demand for money. In Argentina, the devaluation caught people with pesos in their wallets, and the need for liquidity supported a steady demand for pesos all through the first quarter of 2002 when it depreciated by 300% (see De la Torre et al. 2003). By contrast, a new drachma or a new peseta would need to create from scratch a demand for a currency born weaker by design. Could it work? Everything is possible but, as noted, there are no real precedents and, just judging from the costs involved in redistributing wealth through the redenomination of contracts, imposing bank restrictions, restructuring external debt, and limiting capital mobility, it is certainly not the easiest way out.

References
Baldwin, Richard (2010), A re-cap of Vox columns on the Eurozone crisis, VoxEU.org, 10 May. De la Torre, Augusto, Eduardo Levy Yeyati, and Sergio Schmukler (2003), Living and Dying with Hard Pegs, Economia, 43-107. Eichengreen, Barry (2007), "Eurozone breakup would trigger the mother of all financial crises", VoxEU.org, 17 November. Feldstein, Martin (2010), Let Greece Take a Holiday from the Eurozone, Financial Times, 17 February. Financial Times, Dis-membering the euro, 14 July, Lex. Frankel, Jeffrey (2005), Contractionary Currency Crashes in Developing Countries, IMF Staff Papers, 52(2). Levy Yeyati, Eduardo, Maria Soledad Martinez Peria, and Sergio Schmukler (2010), Market Discipline under Macroeconomic Risk, Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking. Levy Yeyati, Eduardo, and Federico Sturzenegger (2002) (eds.), Dollarization: Debates and Policy Alternatives, MIT Press. This article may be reproduced with appropriate attribution. See Copyright (below).

The euro: love it or leave it?


Barry Eichengreen 4 May 2010 Originally posted 17 November 2007, this Vox column is more relevant than ever arguing that adopting the euro is effectively irreversible. Leaving would require lengthy preparations, which, given the anticipated devaluation, would trigger the mother of all financial crises. National households and firms would shift deposits to other Eurozone banks producing a

system-wide bank run. Investors, trying to escape, would create a bond-market crisis. Here is what the train wreck would look like. The world economy is continually changing, but one constant is dissatisfaction with the euro. Toward the beginning of the decade, the main complaint was that the euro was too weak for booming economies like Ireland. Now the complaint is that it is too strong for growthchallenged countries like Italy. To be sure, the source of the current problem is external. It stems from the fall of the dollar, reflecting a combination of economic and financial problems in the United States, and the insistence of the Chinese authorities that the renminbi should follow the greenback. But that does nothing to defuse the complaints. The negative impact is being felt by all euro-area members. But some countries where growth was already stagnant, such as Italy, are least able to cope. Already in June 2005, following two years of euro appreciation, then-Italian welfare minister Roberto Maroni declared that the euro has to go. Then-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi followed by calling the euro a disaster. But this earlier episode of appreciation pales in comparison with what has happened since. And if the dollar depreciates further and the US falls into a full-blown recession both of which are more likely than not calls like these will be back. So is the euro doomed? After seeing the number of euro-area countries rise from 10 in 1999 to 15 at the beginning of 2008, will the process shift into reverse? If one country leaves the euro area by reintroducing its national currency, will others follow? Will the entire enterprise collapse? The answer is no. The decision to join the euro area is effectively irreversible. 1 However attractive the rhetoric of defection is for populist politicians, exit is effectively impossible although not for the reasons suggested in earlier discussions. A first reason why members will not exit, it is argued, is the economic costs. A country that leaves the euro area because of problems of competitiveness would be expected to devalue its newly-reintroduced national currency. But workers would know this, and the resulting wage inflation would neutralise any benefits in terms of external competitiveness. Moreover, the country would be forced to pay higher interest rates on its public debt. Those old enough to recall the high costs of servicing the Italian debt in the 1980s will appreciate that this can be a serious problem. But for each such argument about economic costs, there is a counterargument. If reintroduction of the national currency is accompanied by labour market reform, real wages will adjust. If exit from the euro area is accompanied by the reform of fiscal institutions so that investors can look forward to smaller future deficits, there is no reason for interest rates to go up. Empirical studies show that joining the euro-area does result in a modest reduction in debt service costs; by implication, leaving would raise them. But this increase could be offset by a modest institutional reform, say, by increasing the finance ministers fiscal powers from Portuguese to Austrian levels. Even populist politicians know that abandoning the euro will not solve all problems. They will want to combine it with structural reforms. A second reason why members will not exit, it is argued, is the political costs. A country that reneges on its euro commitments will antagonise its partners. It will not be welcomed at the table where other European Union-related decisions were made. It will be treated as a second class member of the EU to the extent that it remains a member at all. Political costs there would be, but there would also be benefits for politicians who could claim that they were putting the interests of their domestic constituents first. And politics have not

rendered countries like Denmark and Sweden that have steadfastly refused to adopt the euro second-class EU member states. The insurmountable obstacle to exit is neither economic nor political, then, but procedural. Reintroducing the national currency would require essentially all contracts including those governing wages, bank deposits, bonds, mortgages, taxes, and most everything else to be redenominated in the domestic currency. The legislature could pass a law requiring banks, firms, households and governments to redenominate their contracts in this manner. But in a democracy this decision would have to be preceded by very extensive discussion. And for it to be executed smoothly, it would have to be accompanied by detailed planning. Computers will have to be reprogrammed. Vending machines will have to be modified. Payment machines will have to be serviced to prevent motorists from being trapped in subterranean parking garages. Notes and coins will have to be positioned around the country. One need only recall the extensive planning that preceded the introduction of the physical euro. Back then, however, there was little reason to expect changes in exchange rates during the run-up and hence little incentive for currency speculation. In 1998, the founding members of the euro-area agreed to lock their exchange rates at the then-prevailing levels. This effectively ruled out depressing national currencies in order to steal a competitive advantage in the interval prior to the move to full monetary union in 1999. In contrast, if a participating member state now decided to leave the euro area, no such precommitment would be possible. The very motivation for leaving would be to change the parity. And pressure from other member states would be ineffective by definition. Market participants would be aware of this fact. Households and firms anticipating that domestic deposits would be redenominated into the lira, which would then lose value against the euro, would shift their deposits to other euro-area banks. A system-wide bank run would follow. Investors anticipating that their claims on the Italian government would be redenominated into lira would shift into claims on other euro-area governments, leading to a bond-market crisis. If the precipitating factor was parliamentary debate over abandoning the lira, it would be unlikely that the ECB would provide extensive lender-of-last-resort support. And if the government was already in a weak fiscal position, it would not be able to borrow to bail out the banks and buy back its debt. This would be the mother of all financial crises. What government invested in its own survival would contemplate this option? The implication is that as soon as discussions of leaving the euro area become serious, it is those discussions, and not the area itself, that will end.

Footnote
1 For details, see The Breakup of the Euro Area. Barry Eichengreen. NBER Working Paper No. 13393.