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Daily Archives: December 15, 2010

Can ECB prevent an European contagion

So far, ECB has been using the wrong tools to fix a very urgent crisis.  Bailout and debt monetization won’t solve the problem.  Either way, it puts too much pressure on Euro.

(click on the graph to play the video; Source: FT)

John Cochrane at U. of Chicago thinks the right approach is to have a bailout with precondition of debt restruction.

If European governments want to bail out their banks, let them do so directly and openly—not via the subterfuge of country bailouts. Then they should face the music: How is it that two years after the great financial crisis, European banks make so-called systemically dangerous sovereign bets, earn nice yields, and then get bailed out again and again?

European bank regulators should announce that sovereign debt is not risk-free, and that their banks need capital against sovereign loans, or they need to buy insurance (credit default swaps) against sovereign exposure. Will taking this step hurt bank profits? Well, yes. Sorry. That game, at taxpayer expense, is over.


The big culprit in all of this is short-term debt. There would be no crises if governments had issued long-term debt to match long-term plans to repay that debt. If investors become gloomy about long-term debt, bond prices go down temporarily—but that’s it. A crisis happens when there is bad news and governments need to borrow new money to pay off old debts. Only in this way do guesses about a government’s solvency many years in the future translate to a crisis today.

There are two lessons from this insight. First, given that the Europeans will not let governments default, they must insist on long-term financing of government debt. Debt and deficit limits will not be enough. Second, the way to handle a refinancing crisis is with a big forced swap of maturing short-term debt for long-term debt. This is what “default” or “restructuring” really means, and it is not the end of the world.