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What to do about the Euro

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap]fter the North American subprime crisis, European countries suffered two simultaneous shocks: the customers of those “toxic” assets – mainly European assets – discovered that most of their assets were completely presumed, while the US economic crisis made the substantial EU exports to that market decrease significantly.

As usual, recession leads to an increase in public deficit, because tax revenue decreases while, in time of crisis, public expenditure for subsidies and welfare cannot but increase.

Hence the global recession of 2007, caused by the United States, led to the first real crisis of the Euro.

When adjustments of exchange rates are no longer possible, in the Eurozone the mitigation of imbalances is entrusted to the EU structural funds for low-income regions – funds scarcely suitable for specific needs and too complex to be used by local governments.

Hence the Euro was born as an intrinsically deflationary currency and the only nation winning the single currency battle was Germany which, shortly before the start of the European single currency phase, had depressed wages severely and had created the well-known “mini-jobs”.

With an inflation rate and a labor cost already lower than those of the other future Euro members, it immediately created an optimal and stable differential as against the ”South’s Euro”.

Currently the Euro conceals, but not solves this asymmetry.

Hence very low inflation in Germany and a related very low interest rate, which have further increased German competitiveness compared to the South’s Euro area.

Therefore the EU Member States which had not prepared themselves for the single currency recorded inflation rates much higher than the German ones but, thanks to the single currency, recorded lower interest rates, thus financing the cost of crisis with debt.

The Euro was a good currency for incurring debt, but a bad currency for exporting.

Furthermore, this was the reason why the public debt increased also in Italy but, unlike the lira time, the Italian debt securities were held in the Eurozone surplus countries and not by the Italian customers of public debt securities.

At that juncture, the crisis broke out in Greece which, with the then Prime Minister Papandreou, had overtly and naively “cooked the books”.

Instead of funding Greece immediately at a low cost, so that it could overcome the crisis, and then allowing it to redress its accounts, the Sarkozy-Merkel axis imposed very harsh “austerity measures” on Greece which had to pay very high rates on the market. Hence, for international markets, the Greek default became a very concrete possibility.

If Strauss-Kahn had not been unfairly defamed by a special relationship between Sarkozy and Obama – who was afraid of a brave EU showing guts – the low-interest loan to Greece would have been a reality and there would not have been the first “Euro-branded” default. A default which paves the way for others.

It will be the project in progress for other “weak” economies, the rush towards bankruptcy and default.

International markets have got so accustomed to gain money quickly and easily from a national default of the Eurozone that they are rubbing their hands in view of the next country falling into that spiral.

Hence the Euro is a currency which amplifies internal crises between high rates and rising national deficits. It also signals to financial markets that there exists a great chance of short-term high profits – almost usurious ones, if usury were not a criminal offense also on international financial markets.

Hence while the Euro, as conceived today, is a sign of the end for the weakest countries of the single currency area, it is not true that over-spending by the countries already weakened by the Euro has worsened the crisis, as the current economic theories make us believe.

Data shows that, after 2007, the countries called PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) had a debt/GDP ratio fully comparable with the one preceding the Euro introduction. Hence we do not accept explanations on “immoral” countries which “spend beyond their means.”

The crisis broke out and expanded because a currency created for the monetarily strongest countries, with remarkable trade surpluses, was not suitable for nations having different productive configurations and very little surpluses.

Therefore the crisis of the single currency and its economies does not result from the “non-restrictive” and profligate policies of some PIIGS governments.

A that juncture, the quite unusual idea emerged among European bureaucracies that deficit spending of the public sector – the only known driver to stimulate the economies under crisis – had the immediate effect of increasing taxes, thus leading to an increase in savings and a reduction in consumption.

This is the expansionary austerity school of thought, which is currently the best known one in contemporary economic analysis.

It is generally based on subjective (and psychologically questionable) assessments which are transposed into the macroeconomic environment, where everything is very different from the people’s spending or saving attitudes.

You cannot infer the behavior of an entire organism from one single cell, as it is well-known that all organisms are not simply clusters of similar cells.

Again according to the expansionary austerity school of thought, it is believed that deficit reduction will be interpreted by taxpayers as a reduction in taxes to pay.

It is a shaman-style reasoning – however, without avoiding media influencing citizens or without thinking they save or not for reasons other than the irrational bet on the reduction in State deficit, which anyway depends on a political choice.

Hence as long as the governments’ interest rates to refinance their debt are set by unspecified “markets,” which are interested in increasing interest rates to enhance their gains, there is no way out.

So, what can be done? If the Euro countries were funded directly by the ECB, at rates similar to those used by the private banking system, financial resources equal to 5% of GDP would be released.

Even a uniform tax system among the Euro countries would be essential for this purpose.

However, neither the first nor the second option is possible in the current Euro regulatory framework. Hence what can be done?

This is the reason why the exit of some countries from the Eurozone and their return to national currencies must be considered without making an issue of it and overdramatizing.

By calculating the loss of competitiveness of a post-Euro lira or peseta, we record a comparative loss of approximately 14% – hence nothing very severe.

Provided, however, that the Bank of Italy has well-designed plans already available for the possible exit from the Euro – something in which we do not believe at all.

Unfortunately Guido Carli passed away.

Hence, it is worth reiterating that Euro crisis was generated by excessive private and public debt held by non-European hands.

Therefore, as from 2010, all the countries hit by the Euro crisis had accumulated current account deficits while, coincidentally,   those which had current account surpluses did not record financial crises.

In fact, the crisis materialized with a sudden stop of capital flows between the Eurozone countries.

A stop which took the form of a generalized increase in risk premiums.

The end of flows immediately raised doubts on the solvency of banks and governments which depended on foreign loans from abroad, for example those who were accumulating current account deficits.

Inevitably the crisis also increased the debt/GDP ratio.

The monetary union enabled global imbalances to expand rapidly without anyone noticing it, because the Euro “conceals” the differences between the countries using it.

Hence, also as a result of the inefficient European bureaucracy, the loss of trust vis-à-vis the countries recording deficits increased.

Hence, without a “lender of last resort”, each monetary shock tends to be amplified and the Euro is precisely a currency without a lender of last resort.

A currency in which no international investor believes, unless it represents the individual economies and the single public debt of the Eurozone countries.

Therefore the crisis is bound to get worse, considering that the increase in risk premiums and interest rates produces a budget deficit which, in turn, increases the risk premium and interest rates.

It is worth adding that the countries’ typical and natural response to this situation would be devaluation which, obviously, is not possible with the Euro.

Has a currency which cannot be devalued ever existed?

It is still the “Napoleonic myth” of the single currency for the whole Europe which, however, the French Emperor supported with bayonets, just as the US dollar is currently backed with the North American Armed Forces’ global rayonnement.

Therefore, the debt denominated in Euros is increasingly similar to a foreign currency debt, as in those sudden stop crises which often occurred in Third World countries.

Hence the link between banks and governments in the Eurozone has amplified the crisis.

The cost of financing the deficit increased and this made the deficit rise.

Only Mario Draghi’s “whatever it takes” at the end of July 2012 made the Euro a “safe haven currency”, because he made it clear that the “lender of last resort” existed and was the ECB Governor. In the meantime, however, the other major international currencies had been depreciated by 30%.

Furthermore, the proposals to solve the single currency crisis are often paradoxical.

They range from Joseph Stiglitz, who wants Germany to leave the Euro so as to enable the old remaining single currency to devalue.

With the same current rules? It is impossible.

Hence shall we wait for a courtesy by Germany, which would have no interest in leaving the single currency, which deprives it of European competition?

Naivety of the New World. Germany will never leave the Euro, which enables it to bring dangerous competitors for exports into line (such as Italy).

While President Ciampi – an extraordinary man who has recently passed away and whom I still regret – was visiting the Great Wall, the German Prime Minister, Schroeder, arrived in China to sign the agreements for the expansion of the German car-making industry in China.

Better and more autonomous intelligence would be needed to defend ourselves from competitors-allies.

According to Paolo Savona and Luigi Zingales, two Euros should be created, one for the “rich” North and the other for us poor countries of the South.

Furthermore, sometimes Zingales speaks of various Euros. Would they all have the same value?

Possibly becoming quasi-national currencies? Nevertheless also the countries in the South have significant budget and debt differences, as well as different production logics.

Certainly better than before, with the Euro, but not much better.

Conversely Basevi thinks of a European Debt Agency (EDA) purchasing – on the secondary market (where raiders have already made good profit) – up to 60% of debt in relation to each EU country’s GDP.

On the basis of these securities, it issues its own bonds, the blue bonds, while for the part exceeding their debt over the 60% acquired by EDA, the countries issue their red bonds autonomously.

The blue bonds would be “liquid” and safe (Why? Where is the EDA underlying fund?), while the red bonds would have a higher risk profile and thus would pay a higher interest rate.

However, the global market of financial securities is not made up of fools.

And it is not clear from where the premium for the blue bonds would come.

And where the red bonds would be sold, with such an interest as to rapidly recreate the old huge public debt.

Hence if we leave the Euro and a new lira is recreated, devaluation would be approximately 27% as against the European currency.

The price of raw materials could rise by the same rate, but we should consider the length of contracts and the specific role played by ENI for oil and energy.

Bank deposits could still be denominated in euros – the law permits to have bank deposits in foreign currencies – and the new lira could have legal tender as the old currency designed by Silvio Gesell which the more stood “still”, the greater value lost.

The drive towards exports would be important, but there would be enough euros available to buy technologies or other items abroad.

In short, we need to think rationally to an upcoming withdrawal from the Euro, without pro-European myths and with an accurate analysis of our national interest in the short and medium term.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Economy

China Development Bank could be a climate bank

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China Development Bank (CDB) has an opportunity to become the world’s most important climate bank, driving the transition to the low-carbon economy.

CDB supports Chinese investments globally, often in heavily emitting sectors. Some 70% of global CO2 emissions come from the buildings, transport and energy sectors, which are all strongly linked to infrastructure investment. The rules applied by development finance institutions like CBD when making funding decisions on infrastructure projects can therefore set the framework for cutting carbon emissions.

CDB is a major financer of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the world’s most ambitious infrastructure scheme. It is the biggest policy bank in the world with approximately US$2.3 trillion in assets – more than the $1.5 trillion of all the other development banks combined.

Partly as a consequence of its size, CDB is also the biggest green project financer of the major development banks, deploying US$137.2 billion in climate finance in 2017; almost ten times more than the World Bank.

This huge investment in climate-friendly projects is overshadowed by the bank’s continued investment in coal. In 2016 and 2017, it invested about three times more in coal projects than in clean energy.

The bank’s scale makes its promotion of green projects particularly significant. Moreover, it has committed to align with the Paris Agreement as part of the International Development Finance Club. It is also part of the initiative developing Green Investment Principles along the BRI.

This progress is laudable but CDB must act quickly if it is to meet the Chinese government’s official vision of a sustainable BRI and align itself with the Paris target of limiting global average temperature rise to 2C.

What does best practice look like?

In its latest report, the climate change think-tank E3G has identified several areas where CDB could improve, with transparency high on the list.

The report assesses the alignment of six Asian development finance institutions with the Paris Agreement. Some are shifting away from fossil fuels. The ADB (Asian Development Bank) has excluded development finance for oil exploration and has not financed a coal project since 2013, while the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) has stated it has no coal projects in its direct finance pipeline. The World Bank has excluded all upstream oil and gas financing.

In contrast, CDB’s policies on financing fossil fuel projects remain opaque. A commitment to end all coal finance would signal the bank is taking steps to align its financing activities with President Xi Jinping’s high-profile pledge that the BRI would be “open, green and clean”, made at the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in April 2019.

CDB should also detail how its “green growth” vision will translate into operational decisions. Producing a climate-change strategy would set out how the bank’s sectoral strategies will align with its core value of green growth.

CDB already accounts for emissions from projects financed by green bonds. It should extend this practice to all financing activities. The major development banks have already developed a harmonised approach to account for greenhouse gas emissions, which could be a starting point for CDB.

Lastly, CDB should integrate climate risks into lending activities and country risk analysis.

One of the key functions of development finance institutions is to mobilise private finance. CDB has been successful in this respect, for example providing long-term capital to develop the domestic solar industry. This was one of the main drivers lowering solar costs by 80% between 2009-2015.

However, the extent to which CDB has been successful in mobilising capital outside China has been more limited; in 2017, almost 98% of net loans were on the Chinese mainland. If CDB can repeat its success in mobilising capital into green industries in BRI countries, it will play a key role in driving the zero-carbon and resilient transition.

From our partner chinadialogue.net

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Economy

Oil-Rich Azerbaijan Takes Lead in Green Economy

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Now that the heat and dust of Azerbaijan’s parliamentary election on February 9thhas settled, a new generation of administrators are focusing on accelerating the pace of reforms under President Ilham Aliyev, who has ambitious plans to further modernise its economy and diversify its energy sources.

Oil and gas account for about 95 percent of Azerbaijan’s exports and 75 percent of government revenue, with the hydrocarbon sector alone generating about 40 percent of the country’s economic activity. Apart from providing oil to Europe, Azerbaijan successfully completed the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP) with Turkey in November 2019 to transfer Azerbaijani gas to Europe.

Yet, with an eye on the future, the country has also begun to take huge strides in renewable energy. Solar and wind power projects have been installed, with their share in total electricity generation already reaching 17 percent. By 2030, this figure is expected to hit 30 percent.

Solar power plants currently operate in Gobustan and Samukh, as well as in the Pirallahi, Surahani and Sahil settlements in Baku.

The potential of renewable energy sources in Azerbaijan is over 25,300 megawatts, which allows generating 62.8 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. Most of this potential comes from solar energy, which is estimated at 5,000 megawatts. Wind energy accounts for 4,500 megawatts, biomass is estimated at 1,500 megawatts, and geothermal energy at 800 megawatts.

President Aliyev has supported the drive for renewable energy. He signed a decree in 2019 to establish a commission for implementing and coordinating test projects for the construction of solar and wind power plants.

Azerbaijan’s focus on renewable energy has drawn interest from its European partners, with leading French companies seeking to invest in the country’s solar and wind electricity generation.

Azerbaijan is France’s main economic and trade partner in the South Caucasus. According to French ambassador Zacharie Gross, “the French Development Agency is ready to invest in Azerbaijan’s green projects, such as solid waste management. This would allow using new cleaner technologies to reduce solid waste. This is beneficial for the environment and the local population.”

“I believe that one of the areas that have greatest development potential is urban services sector. An improved water distribution system can reduce the amount of water consumed, improve its quality, and also solve the problem of flood waters in winter,” the French ambassador added.

Azerbaijan is currently a low emitter of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. According to the European Commission, the country released 34.7 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2018, i.e. just 3.5 tons per capita. This is lower than the norm adopted by the world: 4.9 tons.

In contrast, in 2018 Kazakhstan generated 309.2 million tons of CO2, Ukraine generated 196.8 million tons,Uzbekistan101.8 million tons, and Belarus 64.2 million tons.

And the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by Azerbaijan has been consistently falling. In 1990, Azerbaijan emitted 73.3 million tons, but in 2018 this had dropped to 34.7 million tons. By 2030 the country plans to reduce its annual greenhouse gases emissions by a further 35 percent.

Measures taken by the government include the early introduction of Euro-4 fuel standards in Azerbaijan, with A-5 standards to be introduced from 2021. An increasing number of electric buses and taxis are now transporting passengers in the main cities.

Another key step is the clean-up of the environmental degradation caused by over 150 years of oil production. Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR is helping to recover oil-contaminated lands in Absheron Peninsula, particularly in the once critically contaminated area around Boyukshor Lake. This involves the removal of millions of cubic metres of soil contaminated with oil.

Azerbaijan is also reducing the amount of gas it wastes in flaring. In a study funded by the European Commission, Azerbaijan ranks first among 10 countries exporting oil to the EU in the effective utilisation of associated petroleum gas.The emission of associated gases decreased by 282.5 million cubic meters from 2009 through till 2015. This is expected to fall further to 95 million cubic meters by 2022.

The government is also encouraging large-scale greening of the land. In December 2019, a mass tree-planting campaign was initiated by First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva to celebrate the 650thanniversary of famous Azerbaijani poet Imadeddin Nasimi. 650,000 trees were planted nationwide, including 12,000 seedlings that were delivered by ship to Chilov Island.

A 2018 survey, carried out in cooperation with Turkish specialists, found that forest area is 1.2 million square meters in Azerbaijan, i.e. 11.4 percent of the total area of ​​the country.A new requirement was introduced last year to halt deforestation and to reduce the negative impact of business projects on the environment.

For a country with the 20th largest oil reserves in the world, Azerbaijan could well have chosen to stick to a hydrocarbon future. But it has instead dared to think beyond oil and gas in its energy, transportation, economy and environment. The country is setting a template that should inspire other large oil producers to emulate.

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Economy

China-US: How Long Will the Phase One Agreement Hold?

Osama Rizvi

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Although the recently signed Phase One agreement between the US and China has put a halt to the ongoing trade war between the two global economic superpowers, it cannot be viewed as a long-term solution. At its best, it is a temporary truce. The language of the eighty-six page document, including its ambiguities and the unrealistic promises upon which the entire agreement is based, suggests that it is based on two unreconcilable compromises between the two parties.

Some of the main highlights of the deal include: China must give an action plan on “strengthening intellectual property protection” and it must reduce the  pressure on international companies for “technology transfer.” China has promised to increase the purchase of goods and services from US by $200 Billion over two years. Other key points include easy access to Chinese markets. The 15th December tariffs of $160 Billion have been delayed in December 2019. Tariff rates on $120 bn of goods (imposed on September 01, 2019) have been reduced from 15 to 7 percent although tariffs of $250 Billion at a rate of 25 percent will remain.

The 86 page document, when analyzed, displays an ambiguity in its language, as well as the absence of any enforcement plan and dispute settlement process. Therefore, whenever an issue might arise (and it will) there is a likelihood the deal may implode. For instance, whilst mentioning enforcement of payment of penalties and other fines, the word “expeditious” remains unclear. What is the time period and how will enforcement be accomplished? At another point, while referring to China to send a case for criminal enforcement the word “reasonable suspicion” which can be based on “articulable facts” makes it very abstract. Chad Brown, a trade expert in an article for Business Insider, says that there is no specific way mentioned in the document to penalize the party who violates any provision. Moreover, there is no body (like WTO) that will take decisions but is rather left to the USTR and discussions with Chinese counterparts – a recipe for confusion.

Then there are the promises. But we have to consider different variables. But if it turns out that China carries out its promise to buy crude oil, LNG and coal, the global commodity markets will feel the heat – in a negative way. Under the agreement China will buy an additional $52 bn of energy products in the span of coming two years- 418.5 Billion in 2018 and $33.9 in 2021. This year China will have to buy about $27 Billion energy purchases from U.S. To put this in context, China imported 14 million barrels of oil in November 2018 which is its highest ever. Assuming that China buys the same amount for 12 months it would yield only $9 to $10 billion in revenue! In a similar calculation for coal and LNG, Clyde Russell, in an article for Reuters, concludes that in order to fulfill the above target (of $27 Billion) China would have to double the amount of these imports from US!

Moreover, the Phase One agreement has a snapback clause which implies that upon quarterly reviews if the Chinese side isn’t holding true to their promises the agreement can become null and void.

Even if China fulfills its promise, the purpose wouldn’t be served:  the US. deficit won’t reduce significantly.  The US trade deficit with China for the first 10 months of 2019 was $294 Billion – in other words, roughly 40 percent of the country’s total trade gap. However, for the same period, Chinese sold goods more than four times that amount (or about $382 bn). China will need to half its exports to the U.S. for a “meaningful” drop in the deficit – something that seems highly unlikely.

Also, the US might even end up more dependent on China. Increased demand for US oil will spike its prices and might trigger other suppliers of China to increase their output in order to fight for the market share. The global energy and commodity markets could face disruption. Similarly, Brazil and other countries, beneficiaries of this trade war, can decrease soy bean prices in order to retain their market share, giving farmers in the US a tough time.

As the U.S. Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said that tariffs can remain in place even after a Phase Two agreement, we, therefore, have to be patient and observe the trajectory of Phase One trade agreement carefully.  Chinese promise of $200 bn purchases, the lack of a proper dispute resolution mechanism and technical loopholes in language puts the future of the agreement in doubt.

Both sides are keeping some cards in their deck; we have yet to witness the end of this trade-war saga.

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