Proper analysis of Mario Draghi’s figures suggests Germany is a major cause of the crisis – not a wage productivity paragon
Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank: his analysis of the euzozone crisis is flawed, argues Andrew Watt. Photograph: Lisi Niesner/Reuters
Over the course of the last week’s tense negotiations over a Cyprus bailout deal, much of the commentary has focused on the role of Europe’s finance ministers. But perhaps closer attention should be paid to Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank. On 14 March Draghi made a presentation to heads of state and government on the economic situation in the euro area. His intent was to show the real reasons for the crisis and the counter-measures needed. In this he succeeded – although not in the way he intended.
Draghi presented two graphs that encapsulate his central argument: productivity growth in the surplus countries (Austria, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands) was higher than in the deficit countries (France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain). But wage growth was much faster in the latter group. Structural reforms and wage moderation lead to success; structural rigidities and greedy trade unions lead to failure. QED.
According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, which reported the affair approvingly, the impact of Draghi’s intervention was devastating. François Hollande, the French president, who had earlier been calling for an end to austerity and for growth impulses, was, according to the newspaper, completely silenced after the ECB president had so clearly demonstrated, with incontrovertible evidence, what was wrong in Europe – or rather in certain countries in the eurozone – and what must be done.
Things are not as they seem, however. Draghi’s presentation contains a simple but fatal error – or should that be misrepresentation? As the note to the graphs indicates, the productivity measure is expressed in real terms. In other words, it shows how much more output an average worker produced in 2012 compared with 2000. So far so good. However, the wage measure that he uses, compensation per employee, is expressed in nominal terms (even if, interestingly, this is not expressly indicated on the slides). In other words, the productivity measure includes inflation, but the wage measure does not.
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By Rebecca Christie, James G. Neuger & Patrick Donahue – Mar 25, 2013 10:24 AM CT
Cyprus dodged a disorderly sovereign default and unprecedented exit from the euro by bowing to demands from creditors to shrink its banking system in exchange for 10 billion euros ($13 billion) of aid.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades agreed to shut the country’s second-largest bank under pressure from a German-led bloc in an overnight negotiating melodrama that threatened to rekindle the European debt crisis and rattle markets.
“It’s been yet another hard day’s night,” European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn told reporters in Brussels early today. “There were no optimal solutions available, only hard choices.”
It was the second time in nine days that Cyprus struck a deal with its euro partners and the International Monetary Fund, capping a tumultuous week that underscored the contradictions of euro-crisis management that has dominated European policy making for more than three years. Cyprus, the euro area’s third- smallest economy, is the fifth country to tap international aid since the crisis broke out in Greece in 2009.
The first Cypriot accord, reached March 16, fell apart three days later when the parliament in Nicosia rejected a key plank, a tax on all bank accounts that sparked the indignation of smaller depositors. Efforts to win an alternative bailout from Russia, which loaned Cyprus 2.5 billion euros in 2011 when the nation was shut out of international markets, failed.
“Nobody knows where we are heading,” said Epifanos Epifaniou, 50, who used to drive a delivery truck in Nicosia and has been unemployed for six months. “People are playing games with Cyprus. We are alone. Nobody is supporting us.”
The euro retreated 0.4 percent, trading at $1.2935 at 2:33 p.m. in Frankfurt, after initially rising as much as 0.5 percent. Stocks gained, with the Stoxx Europe 600 Index rising 0.5 percent. Italian 10-year bonds erased their decline since last month’s inconclusive election.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel lauded the agreement as lawmakers in her coalition embraced the package, which should go to a vote in Berlin in the coming weeks. The agreement goes a “long way” toward satisfying Germany’s Bundestag, Christian Democratic lawmaker Norbert Barthle said in an interview.
The breakthrough came after Anastasiades bartered with officials including EU President Herman Van Rompuy, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde. It was then sealed by the finance ministers, some of whom went out to dinner while the talks were ongoing.
With the ECB threatening to cut off emergency financing for tottering banks as soon as today, Cyprus’s leaders engineered another way of shrinking the island’s financial system.
The revised accord spares bank accounts below the insured limit of 100,000 euros. It imposes losses that two EU officials said would be no more than 40 percent on uninsured depositors at Bank of Cyprus Plc, the largest bank, which will take over the viable assets of Cyprus Popular Bank Pcl (CPB), the second biggest.
Cyprus Popular Bank, 84 percent owned by the government, will be wound down. Those who will be largely wiped out include uninsured depositors and bondholders, including senior creditors. Senior bondholders will also contribute to the recapitalization of Bank of Cyprus.
The squeezed banking industry will likely lead to a “sharp drop” in Cyprus’s gross domestic product this year and next, according to Reinhard Cluse, a London-based economist at UBS AG. As a result, the euro group’s debt-to-GDP ratio target of 100 percent by 2020 “must be doubted,” he said.
The Cypriot Finance Ministry said in a January presentation that bailing out the country may push debt to a peak of about 140 percent of GDP next year.
“Cyprus’s sovereign debt problems will remain an issue of concern — for European policy makers and for the markets,” Cluse wrote in a note to clients today.
Banks in Cyprus, which have been shut for the past week, will remain closed until further notice. Lawmakers in Cyprus voted last week to impose capital controls to prevent a run on deposits when they reopen.
The union representing Cypriot banking workers said today the Mediterranean island is faced with a “painful compromise,” according to a statement posted on its website. It urged employees to be ready to return to work when banks reopen.
“This solution we reached tonight doesn’t have the downsides that the solution of last week did,” said Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chairman of the euro ministers’ panel. He said the deal was beyond the range of “political possibilities” a week ago.
The Cypriot parliament won’t have to vote again because it has already passed laws on bank restructuring, officials said. On the creditors’ side, legislatures in Germany, Finland and the Netherlands may hold votes to approve loans to Cyprus from the European Stability Mechanism, the 500 billion-euro rescue fund.
Klaus Regling, managing director of the rescue fund, said approval by creditor governments in mid-April will pave the way for the first payouts to Cyprus in early May.
Lagarde said she will recommend that the IMF provide loans, without giving a figure. “There might have been a bit of friction here and there,” she said of the talks.
The next step lies with the ECB, which needs to keep funds flowing to solvent Cypriot banks to enable them to open. While Draghi and Executive Board member Joerg Asmussen left Brussels without commenting to reporters, a statement by the ministers said the bank will channel liquidity to Bank of Cyprus “in line with applicable rules.”
The seizure of larger deposits may spark tensions with Russia, the source of an estimated $31 billion in holdings in Cypriot banks according to Moody’s Investors Service. A Cypriot mission to Moscow last week failed to yield an alternative to the European-sponsored bailout.
Still, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to discuss restructuring a 2011 loan to Cyprus, Russian news service RIA Novosti cited a spokesman as saying.
The effort to go after insured deposits, while abandoned, may have harmful repercussions, said Moody’s in a note early today. “Policy makers’ recent decisions raise the risk of deposit outflows, capital flight, increased bank and sovereign funding costs and broader financial-market dislocation throughout the euro area in the future,” Moody’s said.
In a replay of tensions over aid for Greece at the outset of the crisis, European governments had wrangled over aid for Cyprus for nine months, exposing holes in the revamped economic management system that was built in three years of emergency policymaking, often at all-night summits.
A tightening of Europe’s budget-deficit restrictions and new rules to penalize countries with unbalanced economies or asset bubbles failed to stop the rot in Cyprus, which makes up less than 0.2 percent of euro-region output.
Hundreds of protesters massed outside the floodlit presidential palace in Nicosia late yesterday, one group brandishing a banner that said: “It’s capitalism, stupid.”
Protesters during an anti- bailout rally in Nicosia, Cyprus, on March 24, 2013. Photographer: Petros Karadjias/AP Photo
March 25 (Bloomberg) — International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde says the so-called troika of the European Central Bank, European Commission and IMF is “doing fine” when asked by reporters about its future backing of bailouts. She spoke earlier today alongside Olli Rehn in Brussels following an emergency meeting of euro-area finance ministers, who agreed to a 10 billion-euro ($13 billion) bailout for Cyprus. (Source: Bloomberg)
March 22 (Bloomberg) — Bloomberg Television’s Ryan Chilcote reports on how the Russian population living and banking in Cyprus could be affected by the current crisis. He speaks from Limassol, Cyprus, on Bloomberg’s “The Pulse.” (Source: Bloomberg)
March 25 (Bloomberg) — As Cyprus dodges a disorderly default and unprecedented exit from the euro currency by winning a 10 billion-euro ($13 billion) bailout, Cypriots are finding cash hard to come by. Bloomberg Television’s Ryan Chilcote reports from Nicosia. (Source: Bloomberg)
March 25 (Bloomberg) — Christopher Pissarides, the head of Cyprus’s economic policy council, talks about the island nation’s bailout package and the outlook for its future membership of the euro zone. He speaks from Nicosia with Guy Johnson and Francine Lacqua on Bloomberg Television’s “The Pulse.” (Source: Bloomberg)
March 25 (Bloomberg) — Stelios Platis, managing director of MAP S.Platis, talks about Cyprus’s deal with the European Union to shrink its banking system in exchange for a 10 billion-euro ($13 billion) bailout. He speaks from Cyprus on Bloomberg Television’s “Countdown.” (Source: Bloomberg)
March 25 (Bloomberg) — Nicholas Papadopoulos, Cypriot lawmaker and chairman of the parliamentary finance committee, discusses the consequences of the nation’s 10 billion-euro ($13 billion) bailout. He speaks in Nicosia with Ryan Chilcote on Bloomberg Television’s “The Pulse.” (Source: Bloomberg)
March 26 (Bloomberg) — Philippe D’Arvisenet, chief global economist at BNP Paribas SA, talks about Europe’s sovereign debt crisis and the outlook for the euro. Cyprus dodged a disorderly sovereign default and unprecedented exit from the euro by bowing to demands from creditors to shrink its banking system in exchange for 10 billion euros ($13 billion) of aid. D’Arvisenet speaks in Singapore with Haslinda Amin on Bloomberg Television’s “On the Move.” (Source: Bloomberg)
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Netherlands’s finance minister and president of the Eurogroup, center, speaks as Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, left, and Olli Rehn, economic and monetary affairs commissioner for the European Union, listen during a news conference following the Eurogroup meeting in Brussels on March 25, 2013. Photographer: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg
Cyprus Popular Bank, 84 percent owned by the government, will be wound down. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
The revised accord spares bank accounts below the insured limit of 100,000 euros. It imposes losses that two EU officials said would be no more than 40 percent on uninsured depositors at Bank of Cyprus Plc, the largest bank, which will take over the viable assets of Cyprus Popular Bank Pcl, the second biggest. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg