Register For Our Mailing List

Register to receive our free weekly newsletter including editorials.

Home / 394

Germany will do the minimum to support the euro ... and Europe

Remember the GFC?

In September 2008, UK authorities realised troubled mortgage lender Bradford & Bingley could topple the country’s financial system. Belgium-based giant Fortis faced closure. The French administration of President Nicolas Sarkozy was battling to save Franco-Belgian lender Dexia. The German government of Angela Merkel was preoccupied with rescuing Hypo Real Estate. Then the three biggest Irish banks, whose balance sheets amounted to 700% of Ireland’s GDP, tottered. A panic-stricken Dublin effectively bankrupted the country by guaranteeing the deposits and liabilities of the country’s six largest banks.

Little love lost between leaders

To save Europe’s financial system, the Dutch government proposed each country should establish bank-rescue funds on a common basis by contributing 3% of GDP, which would amount to 300 billion euros. Sarkozy supported the joint measures and invited the leaders of Germany, Italy and the UK to Paris to discuss the idea, which Italy quickly backed.

But Merkel denounced the proposal and threatened to boycott the Paris gathering if it was called a “crisis” meeting. The summit went ahead but failed to agree on joint solutions. Sarkozy blamed Merkel. “You know what she said to me? Chacun sa merde. (To each his own shit).”

Now, German officials denied Merkel used such French. They said Merkel quoted Goethe in German that ‘everyone should sweep in front of his door and every city quarter will be clean’. Whatever Merkel said, both responses describe Germany’s ambivalent attitude towards securing the future of the euro during the GFC and the eurozone debt crisis of 2010 to 2015.

Germany has just done enough in the past

Many times when the euro’s future needed cementing, Germany watered down or refused joint solutions if they imperilled German taxpayers. Berlin vetoed fiscal-transfer solutions, ruled out sovereign debt pooling (eurobonds) and thwarted the proper banking union needed to snap the ‘doom loop’ between banks and governments. Berlin delayed, then constrained, European Central Bank remedies such as quantitative easing. It placed an inadequate cap on the European rescue fund.

From 2010, to deal with Greece’s insolvency, Berlin opposed the default the country needed, inflicted measures that impoverished Greek society and sanctioned bailouts that only rescued foreign banks. In 2011, Berlin imposed austerity across Europe despite the huge social costs inflicted. In 2012, Germany initially disowned ECB president Mario Draghi’s ‘whatever it takes’ comment that saved the euro.

Yet, over these years, Germany always did enough to preserve the eurozone, even at some risk and cost to German treasure. Berlin sanctioned the small rescue fund and authorised baby steps towards a partial banking union. Merkel permitted ECB asset-buying and swung behind Draghi’s whatever-it-takes bluff. In 2020, Merkel probably performed the biggest U-turn of her career when she approved a 750-billion-euro recovery package funded by eurobonds. But the stimulus was a one-off, paltry and delayed.

Confusion about Germany’s intentions for the euro has given birth to the German verb ‘merkeln’, meaning to dither. Germany’s ambivalent attitude and minimalist approach to the euro could be tested again soon enough and possibly before Merkel retires as leader in September after 16 years as chancellor. The covid-19 pandemic has ravaged Europe’s economy, jolted anew by a winter-wave of infections.

Ultimately, the best solution for the currency union in its current state is for it to be enmeshed in a political and fiscal union that would allow German wealth to flow to weaker parts of the eurozone.

But German leaders are unlikely any time soon to take such breakthrough steps for five reasons.

The first is the natural selfishness of sovereign bodies as shown by how parochial Australian states turned during the pandemic.

The second is that Germany’s recent history makes it reluctant to lead.

A third reason is the German view that its neighbours have heaped misfortune on themselves.

A fourth is disquiet that the lax monetary policy of the ECB penalises German savers and subsidises undeserving southerners.

The fifth reason, perhaps the most obscure, is that rising inequality in Germany acts against a consensus that Germany should dispense its resources to save Europe – after all, many Germans think it is they who need help. So expect Berlin to do only the minimum required to hold together the currency union in its present form.

Germany reluctant to drive complete union

To be sure, a big-enough emergency coupled with ‘enlightened self-interest’ could prompt Berlin to take grand steps towards the political and fiscal union the euro demands because if the eurozone fails Germany will suffer too. Debtor countries and other creditor countries, not just Germany, could determine the destiny of the eurozone.

But no euro user approaches Germany’s pivotal position to determine the currency’s fate. Even amid sporadic crises, the eurozone could stumble along as an incomplete currency union for decades yet. Germany has no intention of pulling out – the euro keeps German exports more competitive than would a return to the Deutsche mark.

It’s just that, if need be, German policymakers will find it hard to win their population’s assent to take watershed steps to secure the euro. Thus, keep in mind either of the comments attributed to Merkel in that 2008 emergency meeting next time the eurozone is engulfed in crisis and that while Berlin can take only a minimalist approach towards the euro, the currency’s future will never be guaranteed.

 

Michael Collins is an Investment Specialist at Magellan Asset Management, a sponsor of Firstlinks. This article is for general information purposes only, not investment advice. For the full version of this article and to view sources, go to: https://www.magellangroup.com.au/insights/.

For more articles and papers from Magellan, please click here.

 

RELATED ARTICLES

Greece: Scylla and Charybdis

banner

Most viewed in recent weeks

Lessons when a fund manager of the year is down 25%

Every successful fund manager suffers periods of underperformance, and investors who jump from fund to fund chasing results are likely to do badly. Selecting a manager is a long-term decision but what else?

2022 election survey results: disillusion and disappointment

In almost 1,000 responses, our readers differ in voting intentions versus polling of the general population, but they have little doubt who will win and there is widespread disappointment with our politics.

Welcome to Firstlinks Election Edition 458

At around 10.30pm on Saturday night, Scott Morrison called Anthony Albanese to concede defeat in the 2022 election. As voting continued the next day, it became likely that Labor would reach the magic number of 76 seats to form a majority government.   

  • 19 May 2022

Betting markets as election predictors

Believe it or not, betting agencies are in the business of making money, not predicting outcomes. Is there anything we can learn from the current odds on the election results?

Keep mandatory super pension drawdowns halved

The Transfer Balance Cap limits the tax concessions available in super pension funds, removing the need for large, compulsory drawdowns. Plus there are no requirements to draw money out of an accumulation fund.

Welcome to Firstlinks Edition 455 with weekend update

The resolve of many investors to focus on the long term with their share portfolios is increasingly tested as the list of negatives lengthens. There is a lack of visionary policies during an election campaign and stimulatory spending is contradicting the aims of tighter monetary policy.

  • 28 April 2022

Latest Updates

In praise of our unique democracy and its sausage

For all the shortcomings of our political campaigns, our election process is the best. We are blessed with honest administrators and procedures that we all trust to hand over power peacefully, with a big snag. 

Investment strategies

Is the investing landscape really different this time?

Many market analysts argue that the pandemic has changed everything but we must judge whether the circumstances are as drastic as billed. A quick review of four major events helps decide if this time is different.

Economy

Comparing generations and the nine dimensions of our well-being

Using the nine dimensions of well-being used by the OECD, and dividing Australians into Baby Boomers, Generation Xers or Millennials, it is surprisingly easy to identify the winners and losers for most dimensions.

Retirement

When will I retire? Economic impact of an ageing population

About 39% of the labour force is aged over 45. Intergenerational reports highlight the challenges of an ageing population and the impacts on consumption patterns, dependencies, public finances and economic growth.

The real story behind the crypto crash

The recent sell-off in the crypto market and its trigger - the collapse of the Terra UST coin - has affected many institutions either holding or trading crypto assets, including crypto fund managers.

Investment strategies

Cash is the nightingale, the bird in the hand

The bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and it's an apt metaphor for investment choices. In 2021, as investors hunted in the bush for decent returns, demand overwhelmed supply. Cash is the bird in the hand.

Strategy

Book review of 'Putin’s People' and his motivation for war

Author Catherine Belton argues Putin’s sole ambition is to hold onto power. Her book seeks to understand why Putin invaded Ukraine after he became isolated and out of touch with reality during the pandemic.

Sponsors

Alliances

© 2022 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer
The data, research and opinions provided here are for information purposes; are not an offer to buy or sell a security; and are not warranted to be correct, complete or accurate. Morningstar, its affiliates, and third-party content providers are not responsible for any investment decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the data and analyses or their use. Any general advice or ‘regulated financial advice’ under New Zealand law has been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892) and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. For more information refer to our Financial Services Guide (AU) and Financial Advice Provider Disclosure Statement (NZ). You should consider the advice in light of these matters and if applicable, the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before making any decision to invest. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product’s future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a professional financial adviser. Articles are current as at date of publication.
This website contains information and opinions provided by third parties. Inclusion of this information does not necessarily represent Morningstar’s positions, strategies or opinions and should not be considered an endorsement by Morningstar.

Website Development by Master Publisher.