The IMF announced today that it has reached an agreement in principle on a two-year program (stand-by arrangement) with Ukraine. The headline numbers are $14-18 billion of IMF money and overall financing of $27 billion, which is lower than some had hoped, but don’t be fooled. This is a three-to-six month program, designed to meet Ukraine’s critical near-term financing needs and to get reforms going. Both are essential tasks, and rightfully the focus. The program will be revised (and likely boosted) after elections. It will be at that point that thorny issues like debt restructuring will be addressed.
Over the past year, Europe has enjoyed calm financial markets. At the core of the market’s comfort were two assumptions about policy. First, that the European governments would do just enough to keep the process of European integration moving forward. Second, that the ECB would, in the words of Mario Draghi, do “whatever it takes” to save the euro. The centerpiece of the ECB’s subsequent efforts was expanded liquidity (through long-term repurchase operations and easier collateral requirements for banks to access ECB liquidity) and a commitment to purchase government bonds to support countries return to market (the OMT program). Even many pessimists who fear that Europe is trapped on a unsustainable, low-growth trajectory remain optimistic that Europe will do what it takes to navigate the near term risks. It may be time to question that optimism.