This is the 2nd to last installment in my Pan-European Sovereign Debt Crisis series. After covering western and southern Europe, we are moving eastward. Before we go any further, be sure you have caught up on the previous portions:
Austria, Belgium and Sweden, while apparently healthy from a cursory perspective, have between one quarter to one half of their GDPs exposed to central and eastern European countries facing a full blown Depression!
Click to Enlarge...
These exposed countries are surrounded by much larger (GDP-wise and geo-politically) countries who have severe structural fiscal deficiencies and excessive debt as a proportion to their GDPs, not to mention being highly "OVERBANKED" (a term that I have coined).
So as to quiet those pundits who feel I am being sensationalist, let's take this step by step.
Depression (Wikipedia): In economics, a depression is a sustained, long-term downturn in economic activity in one or more economies. It is a more severe downturn than a recession, which is seen as part of a normal business cycle.
Considered a rare and extreme form of recession, a depression is characterized by its length, and by abnormal increases in unemployment, falls in the availability of credit, shrinking output and investment, numerous bankruptcies, reduced amounts of trade and commerce, as well as highly volatile relative currency value fluctuations, mostly devaluations. Price deflation, financial crisis and bank failures are also common elements of a depression.
There is no widely agreed definition for a depression, though some have been proposed. In the United States the National Bureau of Economic Research determines contractions and expansions in the business cycle, but does not declare depressions. Generally, periods labeled depressions are marked by a substantial and sustained shortfall of the ability to purchase goods relative to the amount that could be produced using current resources and technology (potential output). Another proposed definition of depression includes two general rules: 1) a decline in real GDP exceeding 10%, or 2) a recession lasting 2 or more years.
Before we go on, let's graphically illustrate what a depression would look like in this modern day and age...
A depression is characterized by its length, and by abnormal
increases in unemployment.
A depression is characterized by ... shrinking output and investment
... reduced amounts of trade and commerce.
... as well as highly volatile relative currency value fluctuations,
A former premier has called for a 30% devaluation and a
sitting minister said in June that there should be a "debate."
Meanwhile, chief executive of SEB, Sweden’s number two bank, says total
loan losses would ultimately be little different if the Baltics stayed
the course or devalued now – though rapid devaluation might be tougher
to deal with. (Lex/FT.com)
The global slowdown coupled with the unprecedented financial crisis has
uncovered significant vulnerabilities that can currently be witnessed in
the Central and Eastern Europe in the form of structural imbalances and
growing foreign indebtedness. Not surprisingly, the region, which until
a couple of years back was forecasted to be one of the most profitable
investment avenues, now stands out as the hardest hit with many
countries such as Hungary, the Ukraine, Latvia, and Romania forced to
seek IMF and foreign aid and bail-outs. Heavy reliance on exports and
foreign capital (especially from Western Europe), which fed the economic
growth in the pre-crisis period, has backfired when peak global demand
dried up and the liquidity crunch hit the global financial system.
Countries in this region are highly dependent on foreign trade, with
exports accounting for more than 50% of GDP for many countries. Sharp
declines in exports have triggered a series of internal predicaments
including rampant and rising unemployment as well as declines in
domestic demand that exacerbate trade account imbalances through
declines in imports. However, the problems for these countries have been
aggravated by huge foreign indebtedness and the resultant interest and
income payments that put additional pressure on the balance of payments.
While currency depreciation could have provided some much needed
respite (although that can be seriously debated), for countries like
Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Ukraine which have a fixed
currency peg to Euro, the option is not available. As a result, Latvia,
Lithuania and Estonia have witnessed double digit negative real growth
in GDP and are witnessing structural issues of deflationary pressures
(owing to price and wage cuts) and very high unemployment levels. Click
any graphic to enlarge...
Source: IMF, European Commission
Notably, except for Hungary with a public debt-to-GDP of nearly
80%, government debt is within manageable limits for most of the
countries in the region. This is most likely due to the fact that these
countries did not have an overdeveloped banking system that required
This relative benefit was not without its costs, though. Without heavily
developed banking sectors of their own, these countries turned towards
outside banking institutions for their financing needs. The major
financial risk, therefore, surrounding this region is the high foreign
debt to private sector. Foreign banks (mainly western European banks)
play a major role in the CEE region and account for approximately 60-80%
of total bank assets in most CEE countries. While significant leverage
was built up through massive foreign lending to the private sector in
this region during the pre-crisis period, the same has now become a
major source of external imbalance and financial risk. Claims of the
foreign banks exceed 100% of GDP for countries like Estonia, Latvia,
Lithuania, Hungary and Croatia. Loans denominated in foreign currency
amount to nearly 90% of the total lending in Latvia, 85% in Estonia and
65% in Lithuania. While on one hand, the high reliance on foreign
lending puts a lot of pressure on the current account balance and
balance of payments, the increased financial risk of a pull back of
foreign capital can seriously jeopardize growth in these countries.
Deleveraging and de-risking by the foreign banks through reducing their
exposure to these countries as well as curtailing lending will certainly
hamper the prospects of recovery for these sovereign entities. The
simultaneous PIIGS crisis in Western Europe adds to the pressures on
Western European banking sector, providing an added impetus to hasten
the de-risking process.
Further, for countries like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and
Ukraine which have a fixed currency peg, high foreign debt restricts the
possibility of devaluation of currency as the devaluation will lead to
increased debt and interest burdens and shall add to the pending and
inevitable slate of defaults. Thus, these countries are deferring the
devaluation of their currency and are following the painful internal
adjustment process of contraction in domestic demand to counter the high
current account imbalances. This is, in turn, impacting the loan
performance leading to the inevitable increase in defaults. Research by
Danske Bank in early 2009 estimates that under an adverse scenario, loan
losses can reach 30% in Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania),
Bulgaria, Ukraine and Romania while loan losses in other CEE countries
will range between 10-20%.
It should be made clear that the current PIIGS/Greece developments
have caused the Euro to slide aggressively anyway, thereby applying the
unwanted currency devaluation to the distressed CEE countries. From an
academic perspective it appears as if the outstanding (non-euro
denominated) debt service just got that much more difficult.
Source: Bank for international settlements, IMF
Austria, Sweden and Belgium stand out at the top the list of western
European countries having relatively outsized exposure to CEE nations.
Total CEE exposure of the banks in Austria stands at 53.4% of the GDP of
Austria while it is 22.8% and 20.4% for Swedish banks and Belgium
banks, respectively. Major Austrian and Swedish banks have high exposure
to high risk countries like Croatia, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine and
Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania).
My next and final post on the Pan-European Sovereign debt crisis will
attempt to tie all of the pieces together along with middle-eastern and
Asian risks to illustrate a road map of the various stress points in
global sovereign debt and related bank exposure.While I am not saying
any particular country will bring about the end of the world as we know
it, there are simply too many risks and contingent crashes waiting to
happen, all inter-connected, levered and amplified across dozens of
borders and financial systems to simply assume that not one country will
falter. That faltering could very well be the first domino to fall
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