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Questo articolo è stato pubblicato il 29 dicembre 2012 alle ore 04:58.
L'ultima modifica è del 29 dicembre 2012 alle ore 02:02.


This year, dominated by great fear, has been positive for Europe, for the financial markets and for those who have invested in bonds and shares, also in the surrounding countries, Italy included. The forecast that depicted the leap year as a continuous Calvary for investors hasn’t proved any more accurate than those predicting the end of the world based on the projections of the Maya. So all’s well that ends well? And most importantly can we hope that 2013 will repeat the successes of the year that draws to an end?

In truth, to interpret the data of 2012 one must keep in mind at least three things: first, the financial markets’ performance is a measure of the success of central banks, especially the European Central Bank (ECB), which has “done all that was needed,” according to ECB President Mario Draghi, to save the euro and avoid the traumatizing withdrawal from the euro of Greece and other countries, starting with Spain, as they have gradually been sucked into the storm. Also, the enactment of the European fund and the launch of the bank unification has been very relevant, but these measure will mainly affect performances next year. Needless to say, that if these hadn't been enacted the effort of the ECB would have been useless.

Second, as the gardener Chance from the movie “Being There” would say, the colder the winter is, the milder spring seems. In other words, the positive results of 2012 can be explained also by an excess of pessimism a year ago. Not for nothing, the highest profits are marked by Greek titles as well as the ones of surrounding countries. This is a positive outcome, at least for Italy, that the budget plan has achieved, even though 12 months ago no one would have believed it possible.

Third, if we look at the data concerning the stock market, one will notice that the Italian performance—although it’s positive—is just half that of the whole euro area, and among the other euro countries, only Spain has had a worse performance. The main reason lies in the negative estimates of the market, up to the point that, today, among Italian banks, only Mediobanca has a stock capitalization higher than half of the book value. About half of Santander, a consumer bank, and BBVA, a multinational Spanish banking group, also had to face the terrible Spanish crisis; their range of price and book value is of 0.79 for the first and 0.86 for the latter.

All this doesn’t help reshape the positive performance of 2012, but it’s useful to help us understand the reasons behind it as well as its critical points for the future. Basically, the year has concluded better than expected because last January the markets were pessimistic, even though all of them had different reasons for this, on the political evolution of both the United States and Europe. Most of the things that were dreaded (from the federal blocking of the balance sheets to the victory of anti-European parties in Greece, plus the possibility of Monti’s failure) have been avoided and stock prices have risen from the abyss they were in. Next year will be dominated not only by old and new political risks (the fiscal cliff returning as threatening as ever, the Italian elections in February and the German ones in September) but, even more sok the urge to actually carry out the European decisions that have been contemplated over these last months.

Next year will most certainly include the moment of truth for Europe and its banking system. Too many problems are still at stake (and their existence denied)—from the unsustainability of the Greek debt (perhaps the Portuguese one too) to the wobbly conditions of many banks. The most resounding example has been going on these days: after the so-called private rescue occurred in summer 2011 and the private one in 2012, Spain has announced that Bankia, a Spanish bank, has a negative asset of more than 4 billion euros and that its controlling undertaking (which isn’t listed on the market) that gathers other saving banks has a gap of more than 10 billion.

This is the final proof of the disasters caused by an exceedingly optimistic and complaisant national supervisor, who 18 years ago called savers to subscribe to 3.75 euros in shares that today are worth no more than half a euro and who declared just three months ago that the 4.5 billion in public money would have been enough.

The International Monetary Fund has repeatedly warned that banks are the real weak element in the European crisis, because too many have faced the crisis with too many risks and too little money and because the economic recovery keeps drifting away, like a mirage in the desert, and the situation is getting worse for profits, and taxes keep increasing as allowances for losses on credit compromise the current productivity. As the Japanese case of the “lost decade” should have been a warning, solving the situation of zombie banks is crucial—but not sufficient—to boost productivity. In the European situation, it is important to prevent banks that are still doing well, such as the Italian ones, from being penalized by the market, being associated with the weak ones and seeing their profits disappear, being absorbed by the measures to prevent the risk of credit. In the course of 2011, this has absorbed three-quarters of gross income, and the data of 2012 doesn’t seem to be much better. History teaches us a very important lesson: banking systems exposed to this kind of stress aren’t capable of facing a financial recovery because they are, understandably, too engaged in surviving.

During the chess match with the stock market, it is now Europe’s turn to move it’s pawn. If the expected answers come, especially in regard to banks, we will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel of crisis and hope that 2013’s data will represent a step forward, just like the ones for this year. But optimism, which always rules when the new year approaches, mustn’t make people forget that the political knots must be disentangled, both within each country and also within the European Union, as they are numerous and complex.