Wasn’t it just last week that the euro posted its 9-month high against the dollar? Now it’s showing some hesitation at the 1.4000 handle, as some naysayers are speculating that the euro might not be so hot after all.
No United Front
Our first stop is Belgium. It seems like it’s gonna be hot in Brussels on Thursday and Friday when the European leaders get together to talk about tweaking the European Union’s fundamental treaty.
Huh? What’s going on?! You see, Germany is pushing to change the Lisbon Treaty (which basically outlines the house rules for EU-member countries) to include a system that can handle future financial crises.
The Germans are worried that if the Lisbon Treaty isn’t changed, the EU may end up in a limbo once again when another Greek-style debt crisis surfaces.
Although the plan looks good on paper, it seems that France is the only economy that is seeing the glass half full. The remaining members of the 27-country union see that an amendment could spell a political disaster for the region.
Highlighting the flaws in the EU’s cooperation even further is the rift in the European Central Bank (ECB). A few days ago, ECB member and Bundesbank president Axel Weber opposed the central bank’s bond buying program by describing it as a failure.
French Retirement Riots
Going back to France… Just last week the Senate approved a proposed bill that would raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. According to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, this legislation would not only ensure pension benefits for future generations but also help trim government debt. This was met with violent protests from the youth, who believed that changing the retirement age robs them of their birthright to generous social benefits.
These protests, mostly in the form of oil refinery strikes, eventually resulted to a gasoline shortage in the nation. Several airlines cancelled their flights to France, putting a dent on the French tourism industry. Heck, the riots got so violent that it prompted Lady Gaga to cancel her concert in Paris last week. I guess she couldn’t keep a p-p-p-poker face amidst all that chaos, eh?
It looks like France will have to do more than j-j-just dance before everything’s gonna be okay. For one thing, the gas shortages and oil blockages are estimated to have wiped out around 0.2% of economic growth. On top of that, approximately 1,500 jobs have been lost on a daily basis since the strikes began in early October.
I bet those protesters weren’t too pleased that the bill was already approved. More riots, perhaps? I can only imagine how much more damage these can do to the euro zone’s second largest economy.
The Ghost of Greece’s Sovereign Debts
Markets are getting goosebumps over Greece’s sovereign debt, and no, it has nothing to do with Paranormal Activity 2. Yesterday, Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of bond market hotshot Pimco, predicted that Greece is likely to default on its debts within three years. Uh-oh.
Recall that at the end of 2009 the newly-elected Greek government exposed a budget deficit twice the amount that the previous administration had declared. This prompted the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to give a ginormous 110 billion EUR bailout package last May on the condition that the Greek government raise its taxes on fuel, alcohol, and cigarettes and cut public sector wages and pensions.
Apparently El-Erian thinks that even after a few months, Greece’s employment and growth levels will still remain unsustainable, and the country could end up with debts deeper than its pre-bailout levels. Yikes!
While the euro has recovered from the pip deeps against its major counterparts within a few weeks, the concerns that plunged the currency still exist and are now threatening to topple its fragile recovery. Unless the euro zone countries get their act together on time, then we just might see another round of euro bears partying like it’s 2012.