Sunday, May 3, 2009

Japan shows for the way for the ECB on how to help New Europe

Financial Times's article on "Japan pledges $100bn for struggling Asian economies" talks about Japan providing $100bn in the form of currency swaps and bond guarantees to other Asian nations struggling to cope with the world economic crisis. Part of the money will be allocated within the framework of the Chiang Mai initiative, the equivalent of a regional IMF (without strings attached). Japan is also offering Y500bn in guarantees for potential Asian issuers of yen-denominated, samurai bonds. The Japanese finance minister said that “Japan is at the moment willing to do whatever we can within our limited capacity.”

I want to ask: What is the ECB doing to help its fellow New Europeans (aside from a paltry EUR 15 billion credit line to Poland and Hungary)???

The ECB could more or less solve the crisis in Central and Eastern Europe by (i) commiting itself to support CEE economies with euro financing, if needed and (ii) making it feasible for CEE countries to enter the euro zone in the near future (in essence, promising that it will not cheat CEE countries the way it cheated Lithuania back in 2006).

For now, the ECB is doing neither. In effect, it is dividing the EU into first and second category members, those in and outside the euro zone, undermining the future of the EU.

Yes, yes, I know the excuse: the ECB should be responsible only for the euro zone members. However, (i) ECB would help euro zone countries by helping CEE countries (through, for instance, the banking channel), (ii) the ECB already made a precedent by providing credit lines to Poland and Hungary (why not other countries then?), and (iii) the ECB's credibility would not be undermined (it always shocks me when hard-core macroeconomists suddenly transform into amateur market psychatrists and try to figure out what the markets will think. Do they have any skills whatsoever do to it? Any models or at least some empirical evidence? Do the markets actually "think"?)

A digression on an interesing idea for the EU (or New Europe alone) to set up a trust fund to guarantee corporate bonds: "The 13 countries also agreed to put $500m as initial capital into a new trust fund to guarantee bond issues by Asian corporates. Asian companies have been facing high borrowing costs because of investors’ low risk appetite for emerging markets and this credit guarantee mechanism will be of substantial benefit"

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