Friday, June 18, 2010

Soros: Europe faces recession, stagnation

LONDON: Europe faces almost inevitable recession next year and years of stagnation as policymakers’ response to the eurozone crisis causes a downward spiral, billionaire US investor George Soros said on Tuesday.

Flaws built into the euro from the start had become acute, Soros told a seminar, warning that the crisis had the potential to destroy the 27-nation European Union.

The lack of a correction mechanism or of a provision for countries to leave the eurozone could be a fatal weakness, he said.

Germany had imposed its criteria on how a 750 billion euros rescue mechanism for the eurozone should be used and was imposing its own standards – a trade surplus and a high savings rate – on the rest of Europe, Soros said.

“But you can’t be a creditor country, a surplus country, without somebody being in deficit.

“That’s the real danger of the present situation – that by imposing fiscal discipline at a time of insufficient demand and a weak banking system, by wanting to have a balanced budget you are actually ... setting in motion a downward spiral,” he said.

Germany would do relatively well because the decline in the euro had boosted its economy, he told the seminar on the eurozone crisis organised by two think-tanks, the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Centre for European Reform.

“Germany is going to smell like roses but (the rest of) Europe is going to be pushed into a downward spiral, stagnation lasting many years and possibly worse than that,” he said.

“In other words, I think a recession next year is almost inevitable, given the current policies,” Soros said, later clarifying that he meant a recession in Europe as a whole.

“If there is no exit, (it) is liable to give rise to social unrest and, if you follow the line, social unrest can give rise to demand for law and order and (sow the) seeds of what happened in the inter-war period,” he said.

Political-will to forge a common fiscal policy in Europe was absent and since Europe was liable to move backwards if it did not advance, “the crisis of the euro could actually have the potential of destroying the European Union,” he said.

European banks had bought large amounts of the sovereign bonds of weaker eurozone countries for a tiny interest rate differential, Soros said.

“That’s one of the reasons why the banks are so over-leveraged and why the German and the French banks own Spanish bonds,” he said.

“Now ... they have a loss on their balance sheets which is not recognised and it reduces the credibility of those banks, so the banking system is in serious trouble.

“The commercial paper market, for instance, in America is now refusing to lend to European banks so there is even a funding crisis and the ECB (European Central Bank) has to step in and the banks are unwilling to lend to each other,” he said. — Reuters

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