With Italian 10 year bond rates edging up over 7% again, despite some purchases by the European Central Bank, Citibank’s chief economist Willem Buiter asserts that Europe may have a matter of days before an unnecessary default and a financial catastrophe.

It’s worth watching the full interview on Bloomberg TV here.

A gloomy extract or two:

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“Time is running out fast. I think we have maybe a few months — it could be weeks, it could be days — before there is a material risk of a fundamentally unnecessary default by a country like Spain or Italy which would be a financial catastrophe dragging the European banking system and North America with it. So they have to act now.”

“The only two guns in town, one is only theoretical, and that is increasing the size of the EFSF to 3 trillion. It should happen but it can’t for political reasons. The other one, the only remaining share is the ECB. They may have to hold their noses while they do it, and if they don’t do it, it’s the end of the euro zone.”

“Because after the error of the Bundesbank, they consider central banks purchasing sovereign debt outright to be like swearing in church. It’s just not done. This has been in fact to a certain extent embedded in the treaty which forbids the ECB from lending directly to governments or buying stuff in the primary market. But there is no restriction at all on them buying any amount of sovereign debt at any time in the secondary market, so they can do it.”

“This crisis is the result of the failure to provide the minimal institutional underpinning for a monetary union in the euro area and also a result of the ECB unfortunately being the heir of the Bundesbank and therefore not understanding and rejecting the role of central bank as lenders’ last resort to sovereigns. They certainly are a central bank. They just are a central bank that prefers to fight with both hands behind their back. If they just let go of one hand, that would be enough.”

 

 

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Peter Fray
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