Photo: AP Images
Make no mistake about it. Spain – and the EU – is screwed.Despite news Monday that markets responded positively to the announcement that “the results of the Spanish bank stress test, which were released after the close of European markets on Friday, showed that troubles in the sector were no worse than feared,” Spain currently sits on a political, financial, and economic precipice that threatens the stability of not only the country, but the entire region and European Union itself.
And it looks as if the country will refuse to formally “ask” for help.
In short, Spain looks like it’s getting ready to play the blackmail game – to force the European Union into a terrifying financial and economic game of chicken, with the goal being a potentially unlimited bailout for Spain that comes with it minimal EU/IMF oversight.
First, a look at the facts/mess on the ground:
- Debt Total: It came out last week that “the Spanish government said the effort to clean up an ailing banking system will widen its budget gap and increase its debt load,” meaning that “Spain’s debt-to-GDP ratio will rise to 85.3% in 2012 and to 90.5% in 2013.” While this number “pales” in comparison with Greece’s debt totals (approximately 166% of the country’s GDP), it is a terrifyingly immediate number for the EU’s 4th largest economy.
- Bond Pricing: While October bond yields have hovered around 6%, in 2012, Spanish bonds flirted with and exceeded the “magical” 7% yield number that inevitably sets the financial world on edge, suggesting the Spanish economy is on the brink of collapse.
- Toll of Crisis: Spain’s unemployment number officially hit 4.7MM, or 25% of the entire populace, in September, a statistic that makes it “the highest in the industrialized world.” Meanwhile, 50% of the country’s youth remains jobless, a statistic sure to panic anyone familiar with the historical effects of mass (exceptionally male-dominated) youth unemployment.
- Political Turmoil: Politically, Spain is currently engulfed in complete and total chaos. Riots rage in the streets of the country’s largest cities, while Catalonia “speaks openly of” and debates the merits of national independence from Spain. In short, as the financial and economic noose tightens externally, internal strife and repeated protests against (arguably ineffective) austerity measures further threatens any potential gains that could be made
Moving forward: in September, the ECB pledged “to make unlimited purchases of government bonds to drive down debt-servicing costs in weaker euro-zone nations,” with the stipulation that “the ECB would only help countries that signed up to and implemented strict policy conditions, with the euro zone’s rescue fund also buying their bonds, and preferably with the IMF involved in designing and monitoring the conditions.” The implication here, then, is that within this scenario, the IMF would, essentially, treat Spain like Jamaica – a second (or third) world country in which the international organisation comes in and plays “financial daddy” in exchange for assistance. Consequently, should Spain overtly and officially request a European Union-funded/coordinated bailout, the Spanish citizenry would find itself answering to the world’s financial overlords, i.e. the IMF, ergo rendering Spain’s political and economic will essentially impotent. Obviously, the Spanish leadership understands this politically untenable reality and has responded accordingly, hinting at but never outwardly requesting a specific amount from the EU.
So we find ourselves here: as the world markets sit tenuously, awaiting Spain’s official request (one that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made clear is unwelcome), Spanish leadership has decided to play a game with financial chicken with the EU and, essentially, the global economy. Everybody sees the numbers, understands what’s happening: as its economy spirals out of control, Spain refuses to formally request an IMF-supported bailout from the European Union, because the country’s leadership realises what massive chaos such a bid – and the ensuing involvement from the IMF leadership – would cause for the country. So Spain continues spiraling downward, the EU (and world markets) watches from the sidelines, , and the financial and economic game of chicken continues, with each side simply waiting to see who will “blink first.”
Regardless of how and when Spain and the EU tackle this immediate issue, the Spanish crisis – and the ensuing “game” of economic chicken testing the wills and stomachs of leaders within the region – has shown us that the European Union is, as we know it, essentially over. Will the coalition of governments completely collapse? Most likely not. But it will, inevitably, evolve into a smaller, tighter, more politically-and-economically unified organisation that will no longer find itself held captive by underperforming/failing economies that have been leeching off superior-performing ones (such as Germany) for years.
In short, look for a simple “adios Spain” from the European Union. This game of financial chicken and economic irresponsibility has gone on long enough.
Margaret Bogenrief is a partner with ACM Partners, a boutique crisis management and distressed investing firm serving companies and municipalities in financial distress. She can be reached at [email protected]
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