A View from the Trenches, November 18th, 2010: " The EU under the game theory perspective"
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: november-18-2010
A quick note to finish the week…We think we are entering a new stage in the dynamics of the Eurozone, and that the ongoing negotiation between Ireland and the European Union as well as the weakness in the Euro prove that the comment we made on September 9th was appropriate. We wrote:
“…Another interesting perspective is that which finds strength in the Euro, from the fact that peripheral countries can now access the European Financial Stability Facility, which is now effectively operational. We actually see it the other way: Precisely because the weak countries will access this facility, the break of the European Monetary Union will be accelerated, as the rich countries are faced with true costs; costs which until now were being piled under the big rug (the balance sheet) of the ECB…” (www.sibileau.com/martin/2010/09/09 )
Since November 4th, the Euro has embarked on a very defined downward trend. Counter intuitively, this should not occur. Ireland does not need to access the market before June 2011 and if it required funding, the European Union is ready to sign the cheque. Therefore, what is behind the weakness?
To understand this issue and our previous comment, we need to see first that Europe has first and above all an institutional problem. Secondly, one can use the Game Theory approach. We are not well versed in this approach. We studied the theory while as undergraduate students and thanks to the extraordinary advancement of mathematics, we know it has evolved tremendously since John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern first published in 1944 the famous “Theory of Games and Economic Behavior”. We are very reluctant to use formal approaches to human action but we think the particular negotiations that are currently taking place can be easily analyzed under this method. Here are what we think can be premises:
1.-Ireland’s financial position, just like any other peripherals, deteriorates with the passage of time. However, as it does not require funding until June 2011, its position vs. time is stronger than that of Portugal or Spain (i.e. the first “derivative” of loss vs. time is lower for Ireland. But not the second. By 2011, everyone is on the same leveled field ).
2.-Ireland knows (1) above (i.e. has perfect information) and uses this upper hand to better negotiate the terms of the inevitable bailout. However, if it waits too long, the advantage is lost.
3.-Portugal, Spain and Italy know (i.e. have imperfect information) that once Ireland gets help via the EFSF, spaces will fill quickly. There isn’t simply enough room for everyone. The EFSF cannot be but for exceptions. Otherwise, there is no catch! An EFSF for everyone can simply not be AAA rated: A bank that lends with leverage cannot honor all deposits at once. Furthermore, keep in mind that there are no defined pan-European taxes supporting draws under the EFSF, but a promise from each respective EU member to get those funds somehow (Another important aspect here is that the IMF is contributing an additional 50% , which a friend and reader pointed to us is simply another important source of debt monetization).
Therefore, once Ireland draws under the EFSF, a race will start by Portugal, Spain and Italy to win the next seat, to be the next in line to draw, before the window closes. Be ready. All kinds of tricks and influences will be played at this point.
4.-Core EU members (i.e. Germany, France, Netherlands) know that the puck must stop somewhere, before their own solvency is compromised. If it is compromised, the only way out is a blanket, wide monetization of government debt by the European Central Bank, a massive currency crisis, assuming the EU monetary union doesn’t break. What are they doing about it? Ms. Merkel has been pushing to for the creation of a debt crisis mechanism, in which an “orderly” bankruptcy is carried out and whereby sovereign bondholders take a haircut. This is simply a wrong and absurd idea, which if implemented, it will only accelerate the demise of the monetary union. On this note, we think it is worth reading UBS Tommy Leung’s recent comments (UBS EU Credit Stategy – Daily Morning Walk, November 16th, 2010: “A glaring contradiction”) where he reflects upon this issue. Mr. Leung observes that this mechanism would discriminate between sovereign debt issued prior and after 2013, effectively creating a two-tiered EU sovereign debt market. This actually goes against the natural solution for Europe, which is a unified bond market! In this scenario, bonds issued prior to 2013 would be structurally senior to those issued from 2013 on. Mr. Leung further asks how would this be consistent under Basel III, where banks holding these bonds assign a zero risk-weight to them. Clearly, if a restructuring mechanism is considered, the possibility of default cannot be ignored. Mr. Leung leaves the topic here, but we don’t. If default cannot be ignored, the arbitrage within the EU financial system will be immediate, with depositors shifting their savings from the banks holding the subordinated bonds to those holding the senior bonds. This can only deteriorate the balance sheet of the European Central Bank.
Where does all this leaves us? What can core EU members do? Nothing! Absolutely nothing. What will they do? Force more fiscal discipline on the other peripheral countries. But as we saw in point 3, once Ireland access the EFSF, these countries will have a strong incentive to fill in the last seat available. In other words, they will seek to show they can’t survive without it.
The US cannot react to this, as it is too concerned with its own problems. The latest performance of municipal debt is very telling in this respect. How can China react? By holding lower amounts of Euros as reserves and shifting that allocation to gold, slowly but steadily.
Lastly, we want to bring collective attention to the recent pressure the Fed is facing. Not only is there internal dissent regarding QE2, but also on Tuesday, as everyone must know by now, an open letter to the Fed was published by the Wall Street Journal, criticizing this latest move. Now, at our desk, we always have Bloomberg TV turned on and yesterday we noted how guest after guest was asked by different news anchors whether the Fed should not reconsider its dual mandate. Once an answer was given, the Bloomberg anchors replied asking whether Mr. Bernanke would likely resign on such change, noting that this is a possibility, given the new Republican majority in Congress. Are we thinking too much here? Were we watching a press op unfold or was this pure coincidence?
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