It’s official: The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) plan announced at the EU summit on October 27th is essentially dead prior to arrival.
As a consequence, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy appear to be betraying signs of throwing in the towel on the Euro project as it exists today. They appear to be actively contemplating ways to engineer an orderly breakup of the Euro.
As financial market participants gets wind of their intentions - albeit tentative - expect financial markets to accelerate the unfolding of events. The entire Euro edifice could collapse before the New Year.
EFSF Chief: The Insurance Plan Is Dead Prior To Arrival
When the Chief of the EFSF is pessimistic about the capacity of the EFSF to be leveraged to an extent that is adequate to the task at hand, then you might as well kiss the whole thing goodbye.
In a little noted article in Thursday’s FT, Klaus Regling, head of the EFSF essentially admitted that the plan agreed upon at the EU summit on October summit to use the EFSF as collateral for a first-loss insurance scheme is essentially dead.
As I predicted would occur in an article of mine several weeks ago entitled “Europe’s Inane Idea: Fake Brady Bonds,” the EFSF chief has acknowledged that there is no interest on the part of investors to purchase PIIGS bonds with a first-loss guarantee of only 20%.
Regling believes that a first-loss guarantee of 30% may be required to garner any interest.
Personally, I have serious doubts that there would be sufficient interest. Any issuance that actually requires a 30% loss guarantee in order to be viable simply has an implicit default risk profile that will be unable to garner sponsorship of sufficient size.
Since there are only about 250 billion euros available for the EFSF first-loss insurance scheme, that means that, even assuming 30% were sufficient, the mechanism would only be adequate to cover about 800 billion euros worth of debt issuance by Italy and Spain -- and any other euro area country that needed funding.
It has been estimated that roughly two trillion euros of funding are needed to simply merely meet projected roll-over and fresh financing needs through mid 2013. Therefore, the 800 billion projection is totally insufficient to the task at hand.
If $800 billion in guarantees are all that Europe can come up with, Europe would probably better off wasting precious resources on this scheme at all.
That is why the EFSF first-loss guarantee proposal seems to be dead on arrival. The plan is totally insufficient, and therefore is unlikely to be implemented at all.
I believe that this realization is thoroughly discouraging the Eurocrats that are charged with structuring the EFSF insurance facility and selling it to investors. These Eurocrats are relaying their pessimism back to Merkel and Sarkozy in real time. This in turn, is prompting Merkel and Sarkozy to begin to contemplate “exit strategies.”
Because Merkel and Sarkozy are unwilling or are unable to support the only viable option available to them that is to fund bond purchases via the ECB, they appear to be engaging in preliminary speculations regarding a possible exit plan. The problem is that there is no viable exit plan that would not entail a total economic and financial disaster.
It will be impossible for Merkel, Sarkozy and other European leaders to prepare an exit strategy without their intentions being leaked to the press. Financial markets will therefore unravel any and all plans that they contemplate before they can even commit them to paper.
As soon as markets realize that the original EFSF scheme is being abandoned and that the entire Euro project will be restructured, the Euro will be crushed, the European banking system will become insolvent and global financial markets will freeze up.
Sarkozy is already openly musing about a “two-speed” Europe. He envisions a group of countries that will quickly move towards tight fiscal and economic integration and another group of countries that will remain fiscally and monetarily independent.
Sarkozy has stated that he believes that a tight federation is impossible for a large group of economically, politically and culturally disparate countries. The implication is that the group of 16 nations that currently comprise the Euro is probably too large to be manageable.
At the same time, Merkel is already dreaming about a “New Europe.” Exactly what Germany’s Chancellor means by this is ambiguous. However, it is clear that Merkel has in mind much tighter fiscal and economic integration. In this regard Merkel must know that several current Euro members may be unable or unwilling to join in such a tight federation.
The problem with Sarkozy’s and Merkel’s musings is that they are completely irrelevant and even counterproductive to the current task at hand. The issues that they are touching on were issues that needed to have been resolved at the inception of the Euro. At this point, the question is how the damage can best be undone, not to debate what should have been.
Merkel and Sarkozy will soon learn that an orderly break-up of the Euro is not possible. Even the slightest hint that a breakup is being contemplated will cause a global financial disturbance that is so great that any perceived benefits of a break-up will be completely overwhelmed by the costs that will be imposed by the market.
By the same token, Merkel and the Germans are unwilling to do what it takes to save the Euro.
Thus, a situation is fast approaching where a crisis is becoming unavoidable. European leaders cannot break up the Euro without incurring unacceptable costs. At the same time, the costs of saving the euro seem prohibitive. The result of this configuration of choices will likely be paralysis that will lead to outcomes that will be dictated by panicked financial markets rather than carefully planned policies.
Markets will move must faster than the Eurocracy can agree on anything of substance. As detailed here, various markets that have served as leading indicators in the past appear to be getting ahead of the curve already.
In the absence of aggressive intervention by the ECB, I believe that Europe could find itself in the midst of a full-fledged crisis before New Year. This accelerated timing could be averted through a series of aggressive and shrewd actions by European leaders and the ECB. However, investors should prepare for this potential eventuality before New Year.
Under such circumstances I would expect the S&P 500 index (SPX) to ultimately fall to the area between 950 and 1,020 within a matter of just a few months. I expect the Nasdaq Composite (IXIC) to fall to the area around 1,850-2,000. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) should ultimately decline to an area between the 9,000 and 10,000 level.
Given the magnitude of the risks faced on a six-month time horizon, in my view, it makes little sense for investors to purchase or hold even very attractive equities such as Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) or Pepsi (NYSE:PEP). Investors will probably be best served by raising cash and letting the current highly dangerous situation play itself out. I believe that investors that raise cash now and wait for the storm to pass will likely be highly rewarded for their patience and discipline.
Disclosure: As detailed previously, am long January puts on a variety of cyclically sensitive equity indices. I am also short QQQ.