Europe burns while Rome fiddles
Thursday, February 12th, 2009
Nobody does doom and gloom like the Brits. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes:
Events in Japan have turned deeply alarming. Exports fell 35pc in December. Industrial output fell 9.6pc. The economy is contracting at an annual rate of 12pc. “Falling exports are triggering a downward spiral of production, incomes and spending. It is important to prepare for swift policy steps, including those usually regarded as unusual,” said the Bank of Japan’s Atsushi Mizuno.
The bank is already targeting equities on the Tokyo bourse. That is not enough for restive politicians. One bloc led by Senator Koutaro Tamura wants to create $330bn in scrip currency for an industrial blitz. “We are facing hyper-deflation, so we need a policy to create hyper-inflation,” he said.
This has echoes of 1932, when the US Congress took charge of monetary policy. We are moving to a stage of this crisis where democracies start to speak – especially in Europe.
The European Central Bank’s refusal to follow the lead of the US, Japan, Britain, Canada, Switzerland and Sweden in slashing rates shows how destructive Europe’s monetary union has become. German orders fells 25pc year-on-year in December. French house prices collapsed 9.9pc in the fourth quarter, the steepest since data began in 1936. “We’re dealing with truly appalling data, the likes of which have never been seen before in post-War Europe,” said Julian Callow, Europe economist at Barclays Capital.
Spain’s unemployment has jumped to 3.3m – or 14.4pc – and will hit 19pc next year, on Brussels data. The labour minister said yesterday that Spain’s economy could not “tolerate” immigrants any longer after suffering “hurricane devastation”. You can see where this is going.
Ireland lost 36,500 jobs in January – equal to a monthly loss of 2.3m in the US. As the budget deficit surges to 12pc of GDP, Dublin is cutting wages, disguised as a pension levy. It has announced “Rooseveltian measures” to rescue the foundering companies.
The ECB’s obduracy has nothing to do with economics. It fears zero rates as a vampire fears daylight, because that brings the purchase of eurozone bonds ever closer into play. Any such action would usher in an EMU “debt union” by the back door, leaving Germany’s taxpayers on the hook for Club Med liabilties. This is Europe’s taboo.