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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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.