A picture tells a thousand words. The chart above shows just how grave the situation in Spain is. Europe is in crisis and the euro is in danger of falling apart.
Things have become so serious that President Obama has intervened and has asked British Prime Minister David Cameron to travel to Berlin on Wednesday and put an ultimatum to Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel: "act before it is too late".
It looks like following such pressure that she has finally blinked and altered her former "stone walling" policy. It looks like Spain will be granted a bank bailout without giving up the type of sovereign authority demanded of Ireland and Portugal and Greece.
According to news reports:
1. " Brussels' officials are examining the possibility of paying bailout funds directly to the Spanish banking rescue fund rather than to the Spanish government. And Germany’s Angela Merkel is looking for a way to enable Spain’s reluctant premier Mariano Rajoy to access eurozone rescue funds while not having to impose new economic reforms."
2. "Unnamed German officials told Reuters that contingency plans were under way, with lawyers studying treaties, for ways to provide funding without a full-on programme."
3. "Derek Scally of the Irish Times reports that British Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to raise the issue with chancellor Angela Merkel when he travels to Berlin today. Mr. Cameron is expected to pass on to the German leader the central message of a phone call he had yesterday with US president Barack Obama on “an immediate plan for the solution of the crisis and restoration of market trust”.
This departure by Merkel, if it proves to be true, will be a game changer. Confirmation will be great news for world stock markets.
It looked like the Spanish banking system was on the verge of collapse. Spanish officials were refusing to request an IMF/EU bailout along the lines forced on Greece et al even though the bond market had effectively closed its doors to Madrid. The premier Mariano Rajoy was of the opinion that additional austerity that such a bailout would demand would cause political and social chaos throughout the Iberian Peninsula. With the bond market defunct Spain's only alternative would have been to print its own currency. This recourse would only have been possible if Spain left the euro. Such an unthinkable possibility motivated George Soros to state the following at the Festival of Economics at Trento Italy last week:
"It is impossible to predict the eventual outcome. As mentioned before, the gradual reordering of the financial system along National lines could make an orderly breakup of the euro possible in a few years time and, if it were not for the social and political dynamics, one could imagine a common market without a common currency. But the trends are clearly non-linear and an earlier breakup is bound to be disorderly. It would almost certainly lead to a collapse of the Schengen Treaty, the common market, and the European Union itself. ( It should be remembered that there is an exit mechanism for the European Union but not for the euro.) Unenforceable claims and unsettled grievances would leave Europe worse off than it was at the outset when the project of a united Europe was conceived.
But the likelihood is that the euro will survive because a breakup would be devastating not only for the periphery but also for Germany. It would leave Germany with large unenforceable claims against the periphery countries. The Bundesbank alone will have over a trillion euros of claims arising out of Target 2 by the end of the year (see note below), in addition to all the intergovernmental obligations. And a return to the Deutschemark would likely price Germany out of its export markets not to mention the political consequences. So Germany is likely to do what is necessary to preserve the euro - nothing more. That would result in a eurozone dominated by Germany in which the divergence between the creditor and debtor countries would continue to widen and the periphery would turn into permanently depressed areas in need of constant transfer payments. That would turns the European Union into something very different from what it was when it was a "fantastic object" that fired people's imaginations.
It would be a German empire with the periphery as the hinterland."
Today it looks like Angela Merkel has heeded Mr. Soros' advice and gone for the "least worst" option. Should she manage to convince her political backers to allow future bank bailouts without sovereign interference Spain will probably agree to stay within the euro. Such a mechanism would also suit Italy should the need arise. The only problem now is that the fund required to solve this problem will need to be in the magnitude of 2 - 3 trillion euros. This is why I think President Obama and David Cameron have decided to get directly involved. The game now is only open to high rollers and the stakes could not be higher. We certainly are living through historic days.
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