Wharton is warning markets to keep a very close eye on Spain right now. That’s because while a Greece or Portugal financial meltdown might be manageable, a Spanish one could have massive negative repercussions for both Europe and the global economy.
This is due to the massive size of both Spain’s economy and debt:
If Spain fails to execute a credible plan to cut its budget deficit, the worries over sovereign solvency will spread quickly beyond the small, peripheral countries currently making the most headlines, experts warn. A Spanish default could herald the breakup of the euro and a rise in retaliatory protectionism around the world.
According to an analysis by consultants at McKinsey, the sum of Spanish government, corporate and household debt relative to the size of the overall economy surpasses all developed countries except the U.K. and Japan. Correcting the imbalance has grave implications for the public purse.
For that reason, observers worry about Spain’s ability to service its debts. Bailouts of Greece and Portugal, if necessary, would be “not inconsequential but manageable,” according to Witold Henisz, a professor of management at Wharton. The EU-led rescues would probably knock tenths of percentage points off of European growth, he adds. It’s a different story with Spain.
The need for a Spanish bailout could drop us into a second phase of the global financial crisis, one where the euro could end and the world could entrench into deadly trade-destroying protectionism:
Italy, for example — facing default as they became unable to fund budget deficits. The viability of the euro currency would come into question, as the union’s stronger members could eventually refuse to prop up weaker members and decide that their destiny would be better served by monetary independence. Spanish officials’ lashing out at indistinct foreign culprits is a precursor of what to expect, Henisz says. The risks of a “spiral into protectionist isolationism” would rise. “Political parties that espouse nationalism and xenophobia could get some serious purchase under these conditions.”
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