Don't forget the eurozone: Citigroup peg probability of Grexit at 90%

ECB President says he'll do "whatever it takes" to save the euro.

Remember the eurocrisis? It didn't go away, we've just all been nicely distracted by bread and circuses. And while no-one was looking, it's been getting steadily worse.

A research note from Citigroup's chief economist, William Buiter, now puts the chance of a Greek exit from the eurozone at 90 per cent:

We now believe the probability that Greece will leave EMU in the next 12-18 months is about 90%, up from our previous 50-75% estimate, and believe the most likely date is in the next 2-3 quarters. As before, for the sake of argument, we assume that “Grexit” occurs on 1 January 2013, but we stress this is an assumption rather than a forecast of the precise date. Even with the Spanish bank bailout, we continue to expect that both Spain and Italy are likely to enter some form of Troika bailout for the sovereign by the end of 2012. . .

The EA end-game is likely to be a mix of EMU exit (Greece), a significant amount of sovereign debt and bank debt restructuring (Portugal, Ireland and, eventually, perhaps Italy, Spain and Cyprus) with only limited fiscal burden-sharing.

The attention of the world has absolutely been elsewhere; while the mainstream press has moved on to the Olympics, the financial pages have been just as focused on the news from America. But just because there are more novel problems happening in other countries, doesn't mean that any of the underlying problems of the eurozone have been fixed.

Greece is still suffering debilitating capital flight, as people steadily transfer as much of their money to safe havens as possible. The banking systems of the periphery countries – now closer to PIICS than PIIGS, as Greece graduates to a class of its own and Cyprus takes its place – are suffering under their own stresses, and the repeated bailouts push the structural problems underground for ever-shorter periods.

Mario Draghi, the ECB's President, has not be so distracted. At a press conference today, he announced the ECB would do "whatever it takes" to preserve the euro, adding "believe me, that will be enough". And enough it may be, for in the strange world of monetary policy, a committment to action is itself a form of action. If Draghi is believed – and that is a big if – then merely promising to do whatever it takes can be enough to end some of the capital flight and general unease which he has to tackle.

We will see whether expectations have been thus managed.

Mario Draghi, the head of the ECB. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.