Mario Monte, the Italian Prime Minister, made some market supporting statements last week which must have sounded familiar to readers of this column. Mr. Monte said some things Greeks have long been saying as well, albeit at the top of their lungs while being beaten back by police batons. He said the troika of the IMF, European Union and European Central Bank had been too hard on Greece, demanding drastic change of the Greeks over a period much shorter than appropriate. The short-term disruption of this radical change has been more detrimental than the long-term benefit it aims to achieve, and so indigestible by the Greeks.
As a result, the Greeks have spoken, and finally, European ears are listening.
You might remember a series of articles written here over the last few years on the topic of the impossible austerity plan shoved down the throats of the Greeks. It took more than words though to gain the attention of Greece's European masters. It took more than uprising even. It took the action of Greek voters, who so vehemently opposed austerity as to lift a radical political coalition into a position of influence. With political polls conflicted now as to what could result when a second election proceeds in June, the market has begun to price in a Gr-exit, or Greek exit from the euro-zone. Likewise, Moody's and Standard & Poor's have begun to account for what might follow in Spain, Portugal and Monte's Italy. Suddenly, and not coincidentally, the impossible is possible for Europe.
The idea of offering euro-bonds, a unified action that at least the Germans had ruled unconstitutional, is now being openly and seriously considered. But it took the rise of the "little people," as one politician notoriously labeled them a few years back, to force the hand of power in favor of financial fairness. When Greece's newest political voice, Syriza, said the Europeans were bluffing regarding the required nature of their prescription for Greece, hardly anyone believed them, and yet today it looks as though they were right. U.S., European and Greek stocks found life Monday, with the SPDR S&P 500 (NYSE: SPY) +1.2%, Vanguard MSCI Europe (NYSE: VGK) +0.9% and the Global X FTSE Greece 20 ETF (NYSE: GREK) +6.1% all up sharply.
It reminds me of an interesting political ploy tried by the Greeks not long before. Just days before PASOK's persecuted leader, George Papandreou said the Greeks deserved a referendum before inheriting the weights of austerity, we wrote that the Greek people should determine their own fate. And after the PM had played his poker hand, we said it might not be the political suicide it seemed to be, but instead genius, because it would force the Europeans to show their true hand. That same truth is apparent again today, and it reflects a weaker European position than what they had bluffed they held.
In the end, it looks as though the path was always laid out, but that political patience would have to persevere until the populace of Europe was ready to venture down it. What is happening is a better bonding of Europe, through the catalyst of crisis and the glue of fear. As the region ties itself together, though, I worry it will later more easily drown.
This is because, while I understand the construct of the plan is to solidify the union, I believe fiat currency will be more easily weakened in the process. This is because I see another catalyst ahead that only a fearless visionary might venture to present now, which will unravel this best laid plan. However, this is better the topic of another story.