Roubini : Italy’s Debt Must Be Restructured

Vous comprenez pourquoi les pourvoyeurs de fonds deviennent de plus en plus nerveux à passer de l’argent aux pays surendettés.


Extrait de: Italy’s Debt Must Be Restructured, Nouriel Roubini, EconoMonitor, November 29th, 2011 

Here is my latest article from the Financial Times:

It is increasingly clear that Italy’s public debt is unsustainable and needs an orderly restructuring to avert a disorderly default. The eurozone’s wish to exclude private sector involvement from the design of the new European Stability Mechanism is pig-headed – and lacks all credibility.

With public debt at 120 per cent of gross domestic product, real interest rates close to five per cent and zero growth, Italy would need a primary surplus of five per cent of gross domestic product – not the current near-zero – merely to stabilise its debt. Soon real rates will be higher and growth negative. Moreover, the austerity that the European Central Bank and Germany are imposing on Italy will turn recession into depression.

While the technocratic government headed by Mario Monti is much more credible than Silvio Berlusconi’s former government, the constraints it faces are unchanged: debt is unsustainable and the policy to reduce it will make matters worse.

That is why markets have shrugged off news of the new government and pushed Italian spreads to yet more unsustainable levels. The government is born wounded and weakened, as Mr Berlusconi can pull the plug on it at any time.

Even if austerity and reforms were eventually to restore debt sustainability, Italy and countries in a similar position would need a lender of last resort to support them and prevent sovereign spreads exploding while they regained market credibility.

But Italy’s financing needs for the next twelve months alone are not confined to the €400bn of debt maturing.

At this point most investors would dump their entire holdings of Italian debt to any sucker – the ECB, European Financial Stability Facility, IMF or whoever – willing to buy it at current yields. If a lender of last resort appears, Italy’s entire debt stock of €1,900bn will be soon supplied.

So using precious official resources to prevent the unavoidable would simply finance the exit of others. Moreover, there is no official money – some €2,000bn would be needed – to backstop Italy, and soon Spain and possibly Belgium, for the next three years.

Even current attempts to ramp up EFSF resources from the IMF (which is reportedly readying a €400 to €600bn programme to backstop Italy for the next 12-18 months), and from Brics, sovereign wealth funds and elsewhere, are bound to fail if the eurozone’s core is unwilling to increase its own contributions, and if the ECB is unwilling to play the role of an unlimited lender of last resort.

If, as appears likely, Italy remains stuck in an uncompetitive recession and is unable to regain market access in the next twelve months, then even if such large official resources were mobilised, they would be wasted on financing investors’ exit and thus postponing an inevitable debt restructuring that would then be more disorderly.

Évidemment, rétablir la compétitivité prends des décennies, seule méthode rapide, dévaluer la monnaie, oups !, petit problème, ils sont dans l’euro.

So Italy’s public debt needs to be reduced now to at worst 90 per cent of GDP from the current 120 per cent. This could be done by offering investors the choice to exchange their securities either for a par bond – with a longer maturity and a low enough coupon to reduce the net present value by 25 per cent – or for a discount bond that has a face value reduction of 25 per cent. The par bond would suit banks that hold bonds to maturity and don’t mark to market. There should be a credible commitment not to pay investors who hold out against participating in the offer – even if this triggers the payment of credit default swaps.

With appropriate regulatory forbearance, it would allow banks to pretend for a while that no losses had occurred and thus give them more time to raise fresh capital. Since about 40 per cent of Italy’s public debt is held by non-residents, a debt restructuring will also imply some burden sharing with foreign creditors.

Some influential figures in Italy have suggested a capital levy, or wealth tax, could achieve the same reduction in public debt. But a debt restructuring is superior. To reduce the debt ratio to 90 per cent of GDP, a wealth tax would need to raise €450bn (30 per cent of GDP). Even if payment of such a levy were spread over a decade that would imply an increase in taxes equivalent to three per cent of GDP for ten years running; the resulting drop in disposable income and consumption would make Italy’s recession a depression.

To reduce such negative effects one would have to focus the tax on the wealthy – raising the rate to ten per cent of their wealth. Leaving aside the political risks of such a move, a debt restructuring is still preferable, as the burden would be shared with foreign investors. It would therefore hit consumption and growth less. Since Italy is running a small primary surplus, a debt restructuring would be feasible even without significant official external financing.

So debt restructuring is preferable to a Plan A that will fail and then cause a bigger, disorderly restructuring or default down the line.

Even a debt restructuring would not resolve the problems

1.      of lack of growth and outright recession,

2.      lack of competitiveness and a large current account deficit.

Resolving those requires a real depreciation that may well demand the eventual exit of Italy and other member states from the euro.

J’arrive au même conclusion

But exit can be postponed for a while. Restructuring, however, has to be implemented now. The alternative is much worse.

The writer is chairman of Roubini Global Economics and professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University