Europe’s financial distress is dominating the financial headlines and the direction of the markets. While the U.S. enjoyed a three-day holiday weekend, things were deteriorating in Europe, especially in Spain. The crisis that was supposed to be contained to Greece and its unique problems now is spreading to larger countries. You need look no further than Forbes.com today to see a collection of headlines describing what’s happening in Europe.
There’s a piece reporting that a majority of Germans now want Greece to leave the euro. They’d rather suffer the chaos of the unwinding than spend some of their money to do some kind of a bailout. I think a Greek exit from the euro is unlikely unless the countries decide they no longer want a European monetary union. If Greece leaves, the gates open for others to leave. There’s no reason for other countries, such as Spain, to submit to austerity or take losses. They’d have an incentive to exit the euro.
Despite this, people are planning for Greece to exit the euro and for other extreme events. Britain is taking a look at its immigration policies in case the depression and continuing crisis in Greece causes a fresh exodus from that country. Insurers and other companies are looking at their businesses and preparing contingencies for either a Greece exit from the euro or a collapse of the euro.
There’s also a very interesting piece explaining why Spain’s situation is different from Greece’s. It isn’t simply that Spain is a bigger economy and more important to the European Union. The problems in Spain largely are caused by local governments being unable to pay the loans they’ve taken from banks. Catalonia, in particular, is a major cause of the need to bail out major bank Bankia last week.
There are a lot of moving parts in the European financial crisis now, and policymakers simply aren’t keep up with them or planning ahead. They continue to focus on the last problem instead of the ones coming down the road. That’s why the dollar continues to gain against most currencies. The euro, which held up well through most of the crisis, now is steadily declining. There appears to be an exodus of capital from Europe, as reported by The Financial Times. Government bonds in the U.S. and Germany are safe havens while investors are selling other assets. Economic data in the U.S. and elsewhere doesn’t really matter, because the situation in Europe threatens the global economy.
The Spanish financial sector is falling apart. What began with a real estate bubble in the Iberian nation now threatens the integrity of the Eurozone as a whole, despite myopic markets freaking out about Greece lately, forgetting that there is more to this puzzle than the Hellenic Republic.
On Friday, failed bank Bankia’s new management huddled together to try to figure out how much money they actually need to shore up their troubled institution. Media reports indicate that number will be between €15 and €20 billion ($19 to $25 billion), more than all the money the federal government has committed to the emergency bailout facility they called FROB.
At the same time, local finances are still deteriorating. Now, Spain’s richest autonomous region, Catalonia, has come out publicly asking the state to honor its commitments and fork over some more cash in order to meet monthly payments. Artur Mas, president of the region, is calling for the creation of “hispanobonds,” backed by all regions in order to meet debt and deficit payments. Catalonia has more than €13 billion ($16.3 billion) to refinance this year, according to the FT.