April 26, 2009

Debt mounting in Europe

Traders are whispering that some governments are buying their own debt through proxies at bond auctions to keep up illusions – not to be confused with transparent buying by central banks under quantitative easing.
Commerzbank said every European bond auction is turning into an "event risk".
US hedge fund Hayman Advisers is betting on the biggest wave of state bankruptcies and restructurings since 1934. The worst profiles are almost all in Europe – the epicentre of leverage, and denial. As the IMF said last week, Europe's banks have written down 17pc of their losses – American banks have swallowed half.
Central bank holdings have fallen by $248bn to $6.7 trillion over the last six months. The oil crash has forced both Russia and Venezuela to slash reserves by a third. China let slip last week that it would use more of its $40bn monthly surplus to shore up growth at home and invest in harder assets – perhaps mining companies.
Hayman Advisers says the default threat lies in the cocktail of spiralling public debt and the liabilities of banks – like RBS, Fortis, or Hypo Real – that are landing on sovereign ledger books.
A disturbing number of states look like Iceland once you dig into the entrails, and most are in Europe where liabilities average 4.2 times GDP, compared with 2pc for the US. There could be a cluster of defaults over the next three years, possibly sooner.
The G20 deal to triple the IMF's fire-fighting fund to $750bn buys time for the likes of Ukraine and Argentina. But the deeper malaise is that so many of the IMF's backers are themselves exhausting their credit lines and cultural reserves.
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