June 25, 2024

Spain and Italy Turn Against Greece Over Reform Efforts

Gloomy investors on Monday drove down Europe’s stock indexes by about 2 percent, while the euro fell nearly 1 percent against the dollar, touching a two-month low.

Meanwhile, yields rose on 10-year Spanish and Italian bonds, reflecting a market perception that the risks are rising that those two indebted nations might be following the downward spiral of Greece. Greek 10-year bonds reached a record 16.8 percent as investors demanded a high premium for holding them.

On Wall Street, major stock indexes were also down more than 1 percent, in part over the uncertainties in Europe.

The markets seem to reflect the growing discord within the 17-member euro zone currency union, barely a year after European governments came together with a 750 billion euro ($1 trillion) safety net for debtor-nation members. Tensions also remain over whether to restructure Greece’s debt and force bondholders to take losses.

It is clear that the bailout package and the austerity terms imposed on Greece have deepened its recession and added to its already substantial debt burden. The debate now is whether making more cuts and recharging a program to privatize many formerly government-run agencies and social services in Greece will be enough to persuade a reluctant Europe to lend the country another 60 billion euros.

“It looks like a real unraveling — everyone is taking their own position and as a result cooperation has become an impossibility,” said Paul De Grauwe, an economist in Brussels who advises the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso.

The discord has become increasingly apparent since Greece’s financial decision makers were summoned to secret talks at a Luxembourg castle by their currency partners this month.

The Greeks probably knew that a tongue-lashing over the country’s stumbling financial overhaul effort was coming. What they probably did not expect was that beleaguered Spain and Italy, as opposed to economically robust Germany, would take the lead in upbraiding them.

The meeting, on May 6, showed that the disagreements in the euro zone were not just between richer northern countries like Germany and the less wealthy south.

Struggling countries like Spain and Italy fret that any Greek failure on spending cuts might cause investors to conclude that those two countries have no better growth prospects than Greece — even as their own austerity programs cause social and political unrest.

On Monday, the bond market seemed to fulfill Spain and Italy’s worst fears about being lumped in with Greece’s as a poor investment risk and the perception that the cuts meant to ease those countries’ debts will instead mire them deeper in recession.

Ten-year yields for Italian bonds edged up to 4.8 percent on Monday, from 4.7 percent last week. Rates for Spain’s comparable bonds rose to 5.5 percent, up from 5.2 percent. Euro zone unity has always been a challenge to maintain, given the member countries’ contrasting histories and cultures. That it should be crumbling barely a year after European governments agreed to a rescue package underscores the difficulty in translating grand policy ideals into workable achievements.

And that it is Spain and Italy now stressing the necessity of austerity — not Germany or the European Central Bank — is further evidence that bond market investors continue to be the most powerful voice in this debate, Mr. De Grauwe said.

Southern countries, he said, are afraid of contagion from Greece’s woes. “But history shows us that you cannot cut deficits in the midst of a recession.”

For Spain, devastating local election losses on Sunday by the governing Socialist Party created worries that Madrid’s plan to cut its budget deficit might founder. It had planned to reduce the deficit to 6 percent of gross domestic product this year in the face of a 20 percent unemployment rate.

Many Spaniards have now taken to the streets in protests organized through social media. (Spain’s deficit was 9.24 percent of gross domestic product in 2010.)

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a3808bda23aaa1a87aaf4450ca39a807