SILVIO BERLUSCONI'S promise to resign has done nothing to calm European bond markets. Italian bond yields are soaring today; both the 2-year and the 10-year are above 7%. There are rumours that the ECB is in the market and buying heavily. If so, it's not having the desired effect. The ECB can't hope to keep yields reasonable through brute force. It will need to make an expectations-changing announcement. Will it? Italy's yields aren't the only ones rising. Markets are ditching Irish, Spanish, Belgian, and French debt too. The 10-year Treasury is back below 2%.
[....]I have been examining and re-examining the situation, trying to find the potential happy ending. It isn't there. The euro zone is in a death spiral. Markets are abandoning the periphery, including Italy, which is the world's 8th largest economy and 3rd largest bond market. This is triggering margin calls and leading banks to pull credit from the European market. This, in turn, is damaging the European economy, which is already being squeezed by the austerity programmes adopted in every large euro-zone economy. A weakening economy will damage revenues, undermining efforts at fiscal consolidation, further driving away investors and potentially triggering more austerity. The cycle will continue until something breaks. Eventually, one economy or another will face a true bank run and severe capital flight and will be forced to adopt capital controls. At that point, it will effectively be out of the euro area. What happens next isn't clear, but it's unlikely to be pretty.
Can this cycle be interrupted? I think so. I think that an ECB guarantee to backstop sovereign debt, coupled with massive purchases to establish credibility and a substantial easing in monetary policy, could change the dynamic, particularly if quickly followed up with a major fiscal commitment from core economies to support bail-out efforts and invest in peripheral economies while peripheral economies focus on substantial labour market, public-sector, and tax reforms. How likely does all of that sound? Could the ECB even commit to the above bold actions without facing debilitating criticism, and perhaps intervention, from national governments?