Benn Steil

Geo-Graphics

A graphical take on geoeconomic issues, with links to the news and expert commentary.

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Showing posts for "Europe"

Bank Valuations Tank as ECB Flubs Its Stress Test

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
european bank valuations before and after stress test

Low market valuations (i.e., price to book ratios) for euro area banks reflect market concerns over their capital cushions, opined the Bank of England just prior to last-year’s launch of the ECB stress tests—the long-awaited results of which were published on October 26.  The tests, “by improving transparency,” said the BoE, have “the potential to improve confidence in euro area banks.” Read more »

The ECB Fails to Stress Banks Over the One Critical Variable It Controls: Inflation

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
ECB Stress Tests Inflation Scenario

Relentlessly falling inflation is bad news for Eurozone banks.  It increases the real (inflation-adjusted) value of borrower debt and the real cost of servicing that debt.  It causes loan defaults, and therefore bank loan losses, to rise.

So with Eurozone inflation, currently at a near-record low of 0.4%, clearly at risk of heading into deflationary territory, what did the ECB say was the “adverse scenario” for this year?  Inflation of 1% – more than twice its current level.  This is indefensible; the ECB’s dire scenario for this year is actually much cheerier than the IMF’s baseline forecast, which pegs inflation at 0.5%.  The country-by-country comparison is shown in the graphic above. Read more »

Can Russia Escape Dollar Dependence?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
Russia investment in BICS

Russian president Vladimir Putin is determined to wean his country off the dollar, or so he says.

In July, after insisting that the international monetary system depended too much “on the U.S. dollar, or, to be precise, on the monetary and financial policy of the U.S. authorities,” Putin signed off on a new BRICS development bank whose initial paid-in capital would be entirely in dollars – unlike the World Bank, where only 10% of paid-in capital was in dollars.  So the new BRICS bank actually creates a new source of demand for dollar assets. Read more »

Notable Quotables From THE BATTLE OF BRETTON WOODS

by Benn Steil
J. M. Keynes, flanked by Soviet delegation head M. S. Stepanov (left) and U.S. delegation head Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (right), addressing delegates at the Bretton Woods conference, July 1944 (Bettmann/CORBIS). J. M. Keynes, flanked by Soviet delegation head M. S. Stepanov (left) and U.S. delegation head Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (right), addressing delegates at the Bretton Woods conference, July 1944 (Bettmann/CORBIS).

“The various currencies, which were all maintained on a stable basis in relation to gold and to one another, facilitated the easy flow of capital and of trade to an extent the full value of which we only realize now, when we are deprived of its advantages.”
- Keynes on the classical gold standard (72) Read more »

Is the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement a Substitute for the IMF?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
BRICS CRA vs IMF borrowing

Russian President Vladimir Putin has hailed the new BRICS contingent reserve arrangement (CRA) as a substitute for the IMF, saying that it “creates the foundation for an effective protection of our national economies from a crisis in financial markets.” But does it? Read more »

Mr. Draghi, Tear Down These Rates!

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
euro area real and nominal lending rates

ECB President Mario Draghi was able to stabilize Eurozone nominal lending rates, which had been climbing dangerously in the periphery countries, with his famous do “whatever it takes” speech in July 2012.  Real (inflation-adjusted) lending rates for nonfinancial businesses, however, have risen steadily since then; in Spain, they are back up to their 2009 euro-era peak, as the right-hand figure in today’s Geo-Graphic shows. Read more »

Ukraine, Greece, and the IMF: Déjà vu All Over Again?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
IMF programs Ukraine and Greece

The IMF approved a $17 billion 24-month stand-by lending arrangement with Ukraine at the end of April.  The Fund sees the Ukrainian economy contracting 5% this year, but is enormously confident that its program will quickly set things right, projecting 2% growth next year and 4%+ growth in subsequent years. Read more »

China’s RMB Fairly Valued, Euro Overvalued, According to Our Geo-Graphics iPad mini Index

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker

The “law of one price” holds that identical goods should trade for the same price in an efficient market. To what extent does it hold internationally?

The Economist magazine’s famous Big Mac Index uses the price of McDonald’s burgers around the world, expressed in a common currency (U.S. dollars), to estimate the extent to which various currencies are over- or under-valued. The Big Mac is a global product, identical across borders, which makes it an interesting one for this purpose. Yet it travels badly—cross-border flows of burgers won’t align their prices internationally. Read more »

French Banks Play Russian Roulette

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
bank exposure to russia

In the fourth quarter of last year, with tensions rising between Russia and the West over Ukraine, U.S., German, UK, and Swedish banks aggressively dialed down their credit exposures in Russia.  But as the graphic above shows, French banks, which have by far the highest exposures to Russia, barely touched theirs.  At $50 billion, this exposure is not far off the $70 billion exposure they had to Greece in 2010.  At that time, they took advantage of the European Central Bank’s generous Securities Market Programme (SMP) to fob off Greek bonds, effectively mutualizing their Greek exposures across the Eurozone.  No such program will be available for Russian debt.  And much of France’s Russia exposure is illiquid, such as Société Générale’s ownership of Rosbank, Russia’s 9th largest bank by asset value ($22 billion).  With the Obama Administration and the European Union threatening to dial up sanctions on Russia, is it time for U.S. money market funds and others to start worrying about their French bank exposures? Read more »

Should the ECB Go on a Bund Buying Spree?

by Benn Steil and Dinah Walker
bund buying

Should the European Central Bank finally join the Fed, the Bank of England, and the Bank of Japan and deliver a good, stiff dose of Quantitative Easing?

Maybe, came the surprise response from the hawkish Bundesbank president on March 25.  But “any private or public assets that we might buy,” Jens Weidmann warned, “would have to meet certain quality standards.” Read more »