The Telegraph UK (Link) - Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (November 26, 2010)
The escalating debt crisis on the eurozone periphery is starting to contaminate the creditworthiness of Germany and the core states of monetary union.
Credit default swaps (CDS) measuring risk on German, French and Dutch bonds have surged over recent days, rising significantly above the levels of non-EMU states in Scandinavia.
�Germany cannot keep paying for bail-outs without going bankrupt itself,� said Professor Wilhelm Hankel, of Frankfurt University. �This is frightening people. You cannot find a bank safe deposit box in Germany because every single one has already been taken and stuffed with gold and silver. It is like an underground Switzerland within our borders. People have terrible memories of 1948 and 1923 when they lost their savings.�
The refrain was picked up this week by German finance minister Wolfgang Sch�uble. �We�re not swimming in money, we�re drowning in debts,� he told the Bundestag.
While Germany�s public and private debt is not extreme, it is very high for a country on the cusp of an acute ageing crisis. Adjusted for demographics, Germany is already one of the most indebted nations in the world.
Reports that EU officials are hatching plans to double the size of EU�s �440bn (�373bn) rescue mechanism have inevitably caused outrage in Germany. Brussels has denied the claims, but the story has refused to die precisely because markets know the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) cannot cope with the all too possible event of a triple bail-out for Ireland, Portugal and Spain.
EU leaders hoped this moment would never come when they launched their �shock and awe� fund last May. The pledge alone was supposed to be enough. But EU proposals in late October for creditor �haircuts� have set off capital flight, or a �buyers� strike� in the words of Klaus Regling, head of the EFSF.
Those at the coal-face of the bond markets are certain Portugal will need a rescue. Spain is in danger as yields on 10-year bonds punch to a post-EMU record of 5.2pc.
Axel Weber, Bundesbank chief, seemed to concede this week that Portugal and Spain would need bail-outs when he said that EMU governments may have to put up more money to bolster the fund. ��750bn should be enough. If not, we could increase it. The governments will do what is necessary,� he said.
Whether governments will, in fact, write a fresh cheque is open to question. Chancellor Angela Merkel would risk popular fury if she had to raise fresh funds for eurozone debtors at a time of welfare cuts in Germany. She faces a string of regional elections where her Christian Democrats are struggling.
Mr Weber rowed back on Thursday saying that a �worst-case scenario� of triple bail-outs would require a �140bn top-up for the fund. This assurance is unlikely to soothe investors already wondering how Italy could avoid contagion in such circumstances.
�Italy is in a lot of pain,� said Stefano di Domizio, from Lombard Street Research. �Bond yields have been going up 10 basis points a day and spreads are now the highest since the launch of EMU. We�re talking about �2 trillion of debt so Rome has to tap the market often, and that is the problem.�
The great question is at what point Germany concludes that it cannot bear the mounting burden any longer. �I am worried that Germany�s authorities are slowly losing sight of the European common good,� said Jean-Claude Juncker, chair of Eurogroup finance ministers.
Europe�s fate may be decided soon by the German constitutional court as it rules on a clutch of cases challenging the legality of the Greek bail-out, the EFSF machinery, and ECB bond purchases.
�There has been a clear violation of the law and no judge can ignore that,� said Prof Hankel, a co-author of one of the complaints. �I am convinced the court will forbid future payments.�
If he is right � we may learn in February � the EU debt crisis will take a dramatic new turn. �
Economic Crisis ~ Europe