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Questo articolo è stato pubblicato il 01 febbraio 2013 alle ore 11:19.


BRUSSELS – Financial crises tend to start abruptly and end by surprise. Three years ago, the euro crisis began when Greece became a cause for concern among policymakers and a cause for excitement among money managers. Since the end of 2012, a sort of armistice has prevailed. Does that mean that the crisis is over?

By the usual standards of financial crises, three years is a long time. A year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, confidence in the United States’ financial system had been restored, and recovery had begun. A little more than a year after the 1997 exchange-rate debacle triggered Asian economies’ worst recession in decades, they were thriving again. Has the eurozone, at long last, reached the inflection point?

Many battles were fought in the last three years – over Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Italy, to name the main ones. The European Union’s financial warriors are exhausted. Hedge funds first made money betting that the crisis would worsen, but then lost money betting on a eurozone breakup. Policymakers first lost credibility by being behind the curve, and then recouped some of it by embracing bold initiatives. Recent data suggest that capital has started returning to southern Europe.

The current change in market sentiment is also motivated by two significant policy changes. First, European leaders agreed in June 2012 on a major overhaul of the eurozone. By embarking on a banking union, which will transfer to the European level responsibility for bank supervision and, ultimately, resolution and recapitalization, they showed their readiness to address a systemic weakness in the monetary union’s design.

Second, by launching its new outright monetary transactions scheme in September, the European Central Bank took responsibility for preserving the integrity of the eurozone. The OMT program was a serious commitment, and markets interpreted it that way, especially as German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed it, despite opposition from the Bundesbank. Moreover, Merkel visited Athens and silenced the voices in her coalition government who were openly calling for Greece’s exit from the euro.

Unfortunately, however, there remain three reasons to be concerned about the future. For starters, politics lags behind economics, which in turn lags behind market developments. Sentiment on trading desks in New York or Hong Kong may have improved, but it has deteriorated on the streets of Madrid and Athens.

Indeed, the economic and social situation in southern Europe is bound to remain grim for several years. As things stand, all southern European countries are facing the prospect of a true lost decade: according to the International Monetary Fund, their per capita GDP will be lower in 2017 than it was in 2007. As long as sustained economic improvement has not materialized, political risk will remain prevalent.

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