Where's all that bank contagion gone?

How far we have travelled.

It is a very telling measure of how far we have travelled down the path to probable Eurozone survival that contagion, and 'bank' contagion specifically, has become much less of a problem. Despite last month’s chaotic, and briefly almost disastrous, Cypriot bank bail-in, and the horribly inconclusive Italian elections in February, there have been virtually no negative consequences for the fortunes of the wider European financial community. A year or so ago either of these events could have been reasonably expected to have raised real fears that queues would form outside banks all over Europe.
An illustration of this is that the Euro Stoxx Banks index is now trading at around 100, the same level as last October, and way above last year’s low of 73.06, seen in July.

The most important reason for this new-found sanguinity is the European Central Bank’s, (ECB), Damascene conversion under Draghi from Trichet’s Bundesbank poodle to a central bank which is focused on the needs of all seventeen states in the union, the completion of which was epitomised by Draghi’s Clint Eastwood moment last September when he warned the markets that, 'we'll do whatever it takes, and it will be enough' and announced Outright Monetary Transactions. This virtually guaranteed that Eurozone nations would always have access to liquidity, hence breaking the potentially lethal ‘dance of death’ of over-indebted states and their under-capitalised banks, who are in turn laden down with massive investments in their national governments’ bonds.

Of almost equal significance has been Chancellor Merkel's extraordinarily dexterous performance in persuading her people of the manifold benefits of the Euro, (i.e. it's a highly effective export finance scheme for Germany-who are the ultimate, unchallenged Currency War victors), and therefore that bailing-out profligate southern neighbours is absolutely in Germany's interest. I’m happy to predict that this will continue, and indeed go into hyper-drive after she has won September's elections, (hardly in question in the absence of any credible Euro-sceptic opposition), as she will then feel free of the political imperatives that have thus far prevented her from allowing Germany to acquiesce to the issuance of jointly and severally liable Eurobonds, (with all Eurozone nations, including Germany, equally on the hook), and a proper banking union.

These measures will ultimately save the Euro, for another 5 years, say.

Photograph: Getty Images

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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