December 04, 2018

An ESM European bond insurance scheme would make Eurozone sovereign debt crises bigger and more likely

Sir, Michael Heise, chief economist at Allianz writes: “An idea that might be capable of preventing or at least mitigating bond market dislocations is a European bond insurance scheme [operated by the European Stability Mechanism]… It avoids the heavy political burden of debt mutualisation and austerity regimes, actively encourages private sector lending and reduces contagion between sovereign debtors.” “Insurance tackles danger of sovereign bond shockwaves” December 4.

Heise explains:“A critical issue would be the setting of the premiums… A simple formula could apply: the triple A refinancing costs of the ESM, plus a risk premium that reflects both the rating of the country and any progress it has made on its public finances.”

It all sounds very rational, and such an insurance scheme would obviously be very useful for some in the case of a sovereign debt emergency. The harder and more important question though would be whether the existence of such scheme makes a sovereign debt crisis more likely or not.

For the purpose of the risk weighted bank capital requirements EU authorities assigned a 0% risk weight to all those sovereigns within the Eurozone, even though these de facto do not have their public debt denominated in a local domestic (printable) currency, the euro.

That stopped the markets from sending the correct signals and helped caused for instance Greece to contract public debt way in excess of what it should have done. 

Heise correctly states: “Set the insurance premiums too low and it degenerates into a disguised eurobond, a bond whose liability is jointly shared by eurozone countries.”

Sir, there is no doubt in my mind that those insurance premiums would be set way too low by any Eurocrats, and so in fact an ESM European bond insurance scheme would act as another non-transparent sovereign debt pusher, and thereby make any crises likelier and bigger. And that’s not the way to go about solving the challenges posed by the Euro twenty years ago.