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.


Register here to receive the Firstlinks weekly newsletter for free

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

Three steps to planning your spending in retirement

What happens when a superannuation expert sets up his own retirement portfolio using decades of knowledge? He finds he can afford much more investment risk in his portfolio than conventional thinking suggests.

Finding sustainable dividend stocks on the ASX

There is a small universe of companies on the ASX which are reliable dividend payers over five years, are fairly valued and are classified as ‘negligible’ or ‘low’ on both ESG risk and carbon risk.

Among key trends in Australian banks, one factor stands out

The Big Four banks look similar but they are at fundamentally different stages as they move to simpler business models. Amid challenges from operating systems, loan growth and neobank threats, one factor stands tall.

Why mega-tech growth are the best ‘value’ stocks in the market

They are six of the greatest businesses ever and should form part of the global portfolios of all investors. The market sees risk in inflation and valuations but the companies are positioned for outstanding growth.

How inflation impacts different types of investments

A comprehensive study of the impact of inflation on returns from different assets over the past 120 years. The high returns in recent years are due to low inflation and falling rates but this ‘sweet spot’ is ending.

How to manage the run down in your income in retirement

The first of five articles on modern retirement income products that aim for an increasing pension that lasts for life and on average should not decline in real terms. They are not silver bullets but worth a look.

Latest Updates

Superannuation

Retirement income promise relies on spending capital

The Government has taken the next step towards encouraging retirees to live off their capital, and from 1 July 2022 will require super funds - even SMSFs - to address retirement income and protect longevity risk.

Superannuation

How retirees might find a retirement solution in future

Superannuation funds need to establish a framework that offers retirees a retirement income solution that lasts a lifetime. It will challenge trustees to find a way to engage that their members understand and trust.

Investment strategies

Dividend investors, your turn is coming

Dividend payments from listed companies, depended on by many in retirement, have lagged the rebound in share prices over the past year. Better times are ahead but sources of dividends will differ from previous years.

Investment strategies

Four tips to catch the next 10-bagger in early-stage growth

Small cap investors face less mature companies with zero profit that need significant capital for growth. Without years of financial data to rely on, investors must employ creative ways to value companies.

Investment strategies

Investing in Japan: ready for an Olympic revival?

All eyes are on Japan and the opportunity to win for competing athletes. After disappointing investors for many years, Japan is also in focus for its value, diversification and the safe haven status of its currency.

Fixed interest

Five lessons for bond investors from the Virgin collapse

The collapse of Virgin Australia not only hit shareholders, but their bond investors received between 9 and 13 cents in the $1. A widely-diversified portfolio can tolerate losses better than a concentrated one.

Investment strategies

The 60:40 portfolio ... if no longer appropriate, then what is?

The traditional 60/40 portfolio might deliver only 1.5% above inflation in future without diversification benefits. Knowing an asset’s attributes rather than arbitrary definitions is better for investors.

Retirement

Two factors that can transform retirement investing

Retirees want better returns but they have limited appetite to dial up their risk exposure in order to achieve it. Financial advice and protection strategies in portfolios can enhance investment outcomes.

Sponsors

Alliances

© 2021 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.