Italy is a TBTF/TBTS Problem for ECB

This is a syndicated repost courtesy of True Economics. To view original, click here. Reposted with permission.

In my previous post, I talked about the Too-Big-To-Fail Euro state, #Italy – a country with massive debt baggage that is systemic in nature.

Here is Project Syndicate view from Carmen Reinhart:

An interesting graph, charting a combination of the official Government debt and Target 2 deficits accumulated by Italy:

Quote: “With many investors pulling out of Italian assets, capital flight in the more recent data is bound to show up as an even bigger Target2 hole. This debt, unlike pre-1999, pre-euro Italian debt, cannot be inflated away. In this regard, it is much like emerging markets’ dollar-denominated debts: it is either repaid or restructured.”

The problem, of course, is the ECB position, as mentioned in my article linked above. It is more than a reputational issue. Restructuring central bank liabilities is easy and relatively painless when it comes to a one-off event within a large system, like the ECB. So no issue with simply ignoring these imbalances from the monetary policy perspective. However, the ECB is a creature of German comfort, and this makes any restructuring (or ignoring) of the Target 2 imbalances a tricky issue for ECB’s ability to continue accumulating them vis-a-vis all other debtor states of the euro area. Should a new crisis emerge, the ECB needs stable (non-imploding) Target 2 balance sheet to continue making an argument for sustaining debtor nations. This means not ignoring Italian problem.

Here is the picture mapping out the problem:


Reinhart warns, in my opinion correctly, “In the mildest of scenarios, only Italy’s official debt – held by other governments or international organizations – would be restructured, somewhat limiting the disruptions to financial markets. Yet restructuring official debt may not prove sufficient. Unlike Greece (post-2010), where official creditors held the lion’s share of the debt stock, domestic residents hold most of Italy’s public debt. This places a premium on a strategy that minimizes capital flight (which probably cannot be avoided altogether).”

In other words, as I noted years ago, Italy is a ‘Too-Big-To-Fail’ and a ‘Too-Big-To-Save’ or TBTF/TBTS problem for the euro area.

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