As the euro debt debacle unfolded, Germany benefited from a reputation as safe haven: yields on its 10-year bonds dropped below the rate of inflation while yields spiked in other countries. So when it offered €6 billion in 10-year bonds at a record low yield of 1.98%, it expected them to fly off the shelf. They didn’t. “Disaster,” the media screamed worldwide. But….
My German contacts want to keep the euro. They’ve gotten used to it. They like it in their wallets. It’s so convenient for cross-border travel and commerce. And it has been strong. But now that the European bailout fund has descended into irrelevance, they fret about the euro’s future. They want it saved. And they’re increasingly willing to pay a price.
The ink wasn’t dry yet on the European bailout fund when it paid $1.3 billion to bail out Proton Bank in Greece. Turns out, Proton had siphoned off $1 billion in a scheme of fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, and offshore front companies. Galling: the Bank of Greece knew of the criminal activity before the bailout. And then a bomb exploded….
Timothy Geithner, already out on a limb, said today that Europe’s response to the debt crisis is “obviously not fast enough.” But he hasn’t been listening. Europe is responding fast, or at least Germany is. In the opposite direction. The massive cornerstone of support for the euro, German exporters, just cracked: “We need a common market, not one currency.”
Judging from the stream of rumors and energetic denials, German bureaucrats, experts, and politicians are furiously working on dozens of projects that all deal with the debt crisis, and they go off in as many directions. But at the end, there is what they call in their inimitable German a Worst-Worst-Case-Szenario.
For months, rumors China would use its foreign exchange reserves to bail out the Eurozone with the stroke of a plastic pen goosed financial markets. But China has a list of demands. German industry refuses to cede ground. People shudder at becoming dependent on money from the communist regime. Clearly, the debt crisis isn’t deep enough yet.
No country is economically more dependent on the survival of the euro than Germany: the export powerhouse thrived because Eurozone countries could borrow unlimited amounts of euros to buy German goods. But now that the gravy train has stopped in front of a mountain of unmanageable sovereign debt, Germany finds itself at war—with itself.
Participants in the G-20 meeting in Cannes thought it would be a relaxed affair of photo ops, handshakes, and fancy dinners, interrupted by rubber stamping the Grand Plan of bailing out Greece, bondholders, and European banks. But then Giorgios Papandreou, prime minister of Greece, fired his bazooka. And the Greek extortion racket was back on.
Real estate in Cyprus has been popular with foreigners—they own 100,000 homes in a country with 803,000 people. Turns out, it’s Cyprus’ national sport sponsored by dumb money. Now the underlying title-deed scandal is unraveling the finances not only of expat owners, but also of the banks and the government … who are hushing it up.
The German parliament has a historic opportunity to say no to the bankers: it gets to vote on expanding the European bailout fund to €1 trillion, though it had just been expanded to €440 billion. Since no one has any money, it will be in form of leverage, the very mechanism that has wreaked so much havoc already.
Berlusconi, waiting for money.