A very important column from Martin Wolf. One way to summarize his argument is to say that slow-motion bank runs are already in progress in the European periphery, and that these countries’ banking systems are being sustained only by a process in which, say, Ireland’s central bank borrows from the Bundesbank and then lends the funds on to Irish private banks to replace the fleeing deposits. Here are claims among central banks as of the end of last year:
You can see why we’re now at the panic stage. The Bundesbank is already very upset about its large claims on troubled debtors, which are backed by sovereign debt as collateral. Yet if financing stops in the wake of a debt restructuring, the result will be to collapse the debtor nations’ banking systems, a process Martin believes would lead to their ejection from the euro. (He makes me look like an optimist!)
So the ECB keeps saying that restructuring is unthinkable. Yet austerity programs are not working; the prospect of a return to normal financing is receding rather than approaching.
If you ask me, the water level has now dropped so far that the fuel rods are exposed. We really are in meltdown territory.