Now that the Eurozone Crisis is over, we can all breathe a little easier. Right? While it’s good to not be loping along from one crisis to the next, the aftermath of the flood that lasted from 2008-2012 in drips and drops is still being mopped up. The hits are just being absorbed by the banks and growth is going to be sub-par through 2014, meaning that the lingering unemployment problem is not going away.
There are two parts left to this clean-up – what comes next and what can we learn? They are both important and will dominate 2014 in Europe and the developed world.
The first problem is that there is still a lot of mess to be cleaned up. Deutsche Bank took the unusual step of pre-announcing their earnings for 4Q13 because they are being hit with a huge loss that was not expected. A large part of that is a one-time hit due to fines and other liabilities making their way onto the book, and that was the focus of most media reports. But even more troubling is the process of writing down loans that are clearly the subject of a partial default. The problems at Deutsche Bank are likely to be repeated throughout the Eurozone – and could easily cross the Atlantic.
This dates to the time when voters of the various nations facing tough austerity demanded that the banks absorb at least some of the losses. It was commonly referred to as a “haircut”, or a little off the top – even though in some cases, especially Greece, the write-down of the value of government bonds exceeded 70%. The press was good at underplaying the amount of money that added up to, given that big banks seemed to be quite culpable in the mess and loaded up with Euros.
But in 2014 there will be a review of the relative soundness of banks throughout Europe, conducted by the European Central Bank (ECB). The losses will have to be realized to make the remaining balance sheet look up to par. That’s a lot of Deutsche Bank’s loss, and that hit will be felt by many other banks in the Eurozone.
This will also trigger any Credit Default Swaps written against those loans. That’s the good news for the European banks, as these were a kind of insurance against potential default. But the underwriters of that insurance were mainly US finance banks, particularly our old friends JP Morgan. 2014 looks like a bad year for finance – and as a result a year for tight credit, at least for big borrowers that rely on big banks.
All of this adds up to a projection for low to dismal growth in 2014 across the Eurozone. Where the US is projected to grow at 2.8%, about what we had for 2013. But Europe is forecast at 1.0%, a rate that will do nothing to help desperately needed job growth. Europe will generally be a drag on the whole world, which should average 3.7% overall. The great convergence between developed and developing nations is expected to continue.
Why is Europe so much slower than the US? The answer appears to be the lingering effects of austerity, the clampdown on government budgets to force them into Euro standards. A review of the policies forced on the 27 member nations from 2008 on shows that the ECB, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Commission shows that they consistently demanded budget cuts, especially in government employees, pensions, and health care – all of which was born by the working populations of those nations. There were almost no tax increases as part of the austerity on either the wealthy or on corporations. This all occurred during a time of tight credit, forced by the ongoing bank crisis.
Compare that to the large budget deficits run in the US at the start of the 2008 downturn, followed by dramatic budget balancing in 2013 brought about by a combination of growth, cuts, and tax hikes. Combined all that with a loose credit policy of low interest and more than a little Quantitative Easing there was a very different experience in the US.
The net growth in the US for 2014 is stark testimony as to which method of handling the crisis worked better.
Europe is still not done with the four years of crisis that plagued them, even if the daily panic is apparently over. Workers are still facing very high unemployment and little hope for a turnaround in the next year. As the crisis is absorbed there will be effects felt all around the world, especially in the financial sector.
But no matter what anyone says, the US did a much better job overall. We are far from perfect, but compared to Europe we look pretty good.