March 25, 2012

Eurozone Unsustainable Debt could bring Germany to leave the Euro

Eurozone crisis can has been temporarily frozen by the ECB but is on track to come back home with a revenge. There are many signs that the ECB intervention could have actually made things worst in exchange for some months of relative calm on the markets. Let us not forget that as far back as September 2011, PIMCO’s Co-CIO, Mohamed El-Erian (one of the most connected of the financial elite) noted that French Banks were running REAL leverage levels of almost 100-to-1.

El-Erian said French banks are a particular cause for concern, noting that "credit markets now put their risk of default at levels indicative of a BB rating, which is fundamentally inconsistent with sound banking operations." He adds that bank equity now trades at a 50% discount to tangible book value on average, while the ratio of market capital to total assets has fallen to 1%-1.5%, compared with 6%-8% for "healthier banks."

The ECB managed to swap out its Greece debt into new debt. But it won’t be able to do this with the remainder of PIIGS’ debts. Instead, the ECB plans on shifting any of the losses from these debts onto the individual EU national banks:

ECB Balance Sheet Jumps Above €3 Trillion
The mix of bond purchases and loans has exposed the ECB and the 17 national central banks that make up the euro to losses in the event of defaults or bank failures. Last month, the ECB was forced to swap its €50 billion Greek bond portfolio for new bonds to shield the banks from potential losses in the event of any forced write-­downs.

If banks that have borrowed from the ECB can't pay the money back and the collateral they have posted falls in value or becomes worthless, the ECB would be on the hook for losses. Most of these losses would be spread across national central banks according to their size, meaning Germany's Bundesbank would face the largest exposure.

Germany is certainly aware of this since it has already put up a firewall that would allow it to walk out of the Euro at any point. Obviously it doesn’t want to, but when the ECB will try to shift the losses from its PIIGS exposure onto Germany’s shoulders, Germany will have no choice.  The reality is that the ECB is far too small to cover the astonishing amount of debt a look at the chart below gives an idea of what kind of figures we are talking about.

A solution would be for the ECB to start printing money but it is blocked form doing so from Germany who made clear will walk away from the Euro rather than trigger an hyperinflation.

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