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Eurozone Banks

Eurozone Banks - Jim O'Neill, probably the most influential thinker at Goldman Sachs (as current head of its asset management division and erstwhile chief economist), has this morning written that "European Monetary Union (EMU) will probably survive, but it is likely to remain very messy".

Which is hardly a ringing endorsement by the world's most powerful investment bank of the most ambitious economic and financial project in Europe of our age.

And, let us not forget, Goldman Sachs is not famous for issuing public statements that rile the world's most powerful governments - which tend to be its customers.

For O'Neill, the issue is about the governance of the eurozone, not about the magnitude of the debts of Europe's financially stretched economies. He points out that the sovereign indebtedness of Greece, Ireland and Portugal is huge relative to the size of their respective economies but almost de minimis in relation to the size of the eurozone as a whole.

Even Spanish debt represents "only" 5.3% of eurozone GDP, he points out.

So if Germany, France and the Netherlands were to properly underwrite the debt of their over-stretched neighbours, Europe would (in theory) have little more difficulty borrowing than the US - whose overall ratio of debt to GDP, at 80%, is more-or-less the same as the eurozone's would be, on a pro forma basis.

The verdict of the markets this morning, following last night's agreement on the structure of a bail-out for Ireland and on a new framework for eurozone financial rescues, is that Germany, France and the Netherlands are a long way from being prepared to properly guarantee the indebtedness of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy.

The prices of Irish, Portguese, Spanish, Italian and Greek government bonds have hardly moved this morning. The implied interest rate that they would have to pay to borrow for 10 years remains way above normal levels, and a mile above what Germany pays: it's 9.12% for Ireland, just under 7% for Portugal, 5.2% for Spain, 4.45% for Italy, and 11.9% for Greece.

Eurozone Banks


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