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LONDON (MarketWatch) — The European Central Bank, with its staunch opposition to sovereign debt restructuring in Europe, is making a bad situation worse. By threatening to withdraw support for banks in countries such as Greece if they restructure their debts, the ECB is practically inciting runs on banks.
The argument that Greek state paper could no longer be used as collateral in such cases hardly justifies such a potentially destabilizing step. The ECB is effectively the lender of last resort to such banks. If depositors believe it is about to pull out, then they will withdraw money from the banks — and we will face a self-fuelling downward spiral.
The debt problem of peripheral Europe is structural. It cannot be solved by piling debt on debt. There is an analogy to a Ponzi scheme, under which more money is continually paid in to keep the pyramid-like edifice from collapsing. The debt/GDP ratio increases over time because new loans are given to pay old debt and to finance the remaining fiscal gaps.
With regard to the fear of contagion to other countries, explicit debt relief for the most-badly hit EMU members may actually relieve the pressure on Spain and others — as long as the money used today to pay bondholders is channelled directly to recapitalize and sanitize the banking system.
There is a good argument for taking necessary decisions on debt restructuring sooner rather than later. Further “muddling through” is a recipe for disaster. Unless a proper program of coordination and adjustment combined with debt relief is decided soon, Europe faces the risk of becoming the next emerging market.
There is an analogy to a Ponzi scheme, under which more money is continually paid in to keep the pyramid-like edifice from collapsing.
By threatening to withdraw support for banks in countries such as Greece if they restructure their debts, the ECB is practically inciting runs on banks.