Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why not Earlier?

Mario Draghi presented yesterday one more plan with great promises but short of details (as usual) to save the Euro. Markets are happy, but will this plan follow the fate of the previous announcements? Will the excitement die out in a matter of weeks or days?

The ECB is now finally sending a strong message that they will do whatever it takes to defend the Euro. In many ways this is a game changer and it is difficult to understand why this was not done earlier. When we think about monetary or fiscal policy as stabilizing tools we see them as forces that can make recessions shorter and recoveries stronger. Clearly what we have seen in the last years is a slow moving process towards the inevitable solution, the only way this crisis could be resolved.

Did it really take that long for the ECB and European authorities to realize that this was necessary? Or was this a strategic move to push countries to do reform? My guess is that there is some truth in both. Even today some still believe that ECB intervention is a bad idea. And it is also quite possible that from the beginning some understood that this move had to happen but they wanted to wait until things got worse to extract concessions from the other countries before saying yes.

Will the positive effect of this announcement vanish with time as it has happened with some of the previous ones? I doubt it, there will still be swings in the market mood but this time it can be different. The nature of unlimited intervention by the ECB to support the Euro is very different than any of the previous vague statements about creation of bailout funds without real support and no details on when and how the money would be disbursed. Here we have a statement from the central bank saying that they will do whatever it takes to keep the Euro alive and that they are willing to fight market distortions on bond yields (this is always a very risky statement to make for a central bank).  The same way the Swiss Central Bank has been successful in its recent effort to stabilize the Swiss Franc or the same way the German and French central banks managed to defend the French Franc / German Mark exchange rate during the crisis of 1992/93, central banks can be very powerful when they want.

Of course, the statement of Mario Draghi was very carefully drafted with strong references to price stability and sterilizations of interventions. If this signals a strong level of disagreement within the ECB, one that could potentially lead to an institutional crisis if the plan needs to be implemented at a large scale, then there is a risk that the announcement will not be effective. But it is hard to imagine this scenario. If the announcement has been made it must be that there is enough political support within the ECB (and the Euro area governments) to make this a reality, if necessary. And the beauty of credible statements of unlimited support is that they might work even if the ECB never has to intervene in bond markets.

Antonio Fatás
on September 06, 2012 |   Edit