Saturday, February 13, 2010


Paul Krugman has blogged an interesting analysis of the anatomy of the recent economic crisis in Europe (link).

Europe's difficult macroeconomic situation in the aftermath of the financial and economic crisis has exacerbated rising fiscal deficits and public debt alongside strong deflationary pressures. These pressures were triggered by the highly negative output gap - the difference between the economy's potential output and the real output. In fact, a brief observation of the output gap estimates (link) shows that the sick men of Europe (Portugal, Greece, Spain, Italy, Slovenia) are likely to face negative output gaps. In 2010, Spain is likely to reach -2.12 percent output gap. Slovenia, Italy and Greece will also face a negative output gap. The negative output gap triggered strong deflationary pressures since the nominal aggregate demand is insufficient, causing a decreasing price level.

Before the financial and economic crisis of 2008/2009 evolved, Europe's peripheral economies faced strong asset price bubble. As real estate prices were soaring, these economies attracted significant capital inflows which lead to inflationary pressures. Before the crisis, the inflationary dynamics in the peripheral countries of the Eurozone were strong. In Greece, Spain and Slovenia, consumer prices increased by more than 3 percent on the annual basis. The asset bubble was further spread by low interest rates. The asset price inflation in these countries was very high. In Slovenia, five-year asset prices increased by 500 percent (see: IMF, International Financial Statistics). As the increase in asset prices widened, Europe's sick men were faced with rising current account deficit.

In 2007, Spain's current account deficit amounted to more than 10 percent of the GDP. In such circumstances, a clever monetary policymaker would push up interest rates. As interest rates were at historic lows during the pre-crisis period, the real cure was on behalf of the fiscal policy. Before the crisis, Spain's fiscal picture was very well indeed. From 2004 to 2007, Spain was running a fiscal surplus which reached the level of 2 percent of the GDP in 2006 and 2007. However, massive capital inflows were not sterilized by raising interest rates which further inflated the real estate bubble and overheating of Spain's economy.

Independent fiscal policies and a common monetary policy - which is an economic model of the EMU - cause asymmetric shocks. During the years of high growth, these shocks are mostly neglected. However, during the crisis these shocks might cause a serious trouble in the macroeconomic adjustment. Greece, which recently declared a worrisome possibility of debt default, is a typical case of what happens when asymmetric shocks persist.

As Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Slovenia now face high fiscal deficits and poor economic growth, these countries will likely face years of deflationary pressures and high unemployment. The fiscal policymakers already exhausted the ability of governments to boost spending. Further growth of government spending is impossible unless European countries want the Greek debt episode to evolve in a domino effect throughout the Eurozone. The ECB will sooner or later this year raise the baseline interest rates to avoid the inflationary swings in Germany, Austria, Netherlands and other countries with current account surplus.

The macroeconomic outlook for the Eurozone is backlashed by the debt crisis in Mediterranean countries. An economic recovery may include indepedent monetary policies to adjust interest rates and prevent another asset bubble episode as well as to target current account balance. However, European countries will have to rethink the role of indepedent and discretionary fiscal policies pursued by the sick men of the Eurozone.

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