European Sovereign Debt Must Be Restructured

A debt crisis for an organization occurs when either its debt repayment cannot be covered by the cash flow being generated by the organization or the outstanding debt of the organization cannot be reduced sufficiently to reduce the debt repayment needs.

In the case of a governmental organization, the cash flow needed to cover the debt repayment requirements comes from economic growth that is large enough to generate governmental revenues that cover the government’s cash outflow.

Or, the cash needed to reduce the amount of government debt outstanding comes from a cash surplus generated by the government’s prudent fiscal budgets.

If neither of these conditions is met, then the government is insolvent and the debt outstanding must be restructured.

What is so hard to understand?

The growth rate of many countries in the eurozone is exceedingly low or non-existent.

The new budgets being generated in these countries do not reduce deficits sufficiently to reduce their ratio of government debt to Gross Domestic Product.

The current efforts of the effected governments produce a cumulative result that just exacerbates the situation. If the deficits cannot be reduced sufficiently, the debt repayment crises continues which puts greater pressure on governments to reduce budget deficits, and so on, and so on. The experience of the eurozone over the past few years just confirms this dilemma.

This reality pervades the bond markets.

But, this reality is still being evaded by eurozone officials.

A movement to enact a “fiscal union” to go with Europe’s “currency union” cannot correct the current situation without a debt restructuring because it ignores the reality of what the current situation has inherited.

A “fiscal union” can only be achieved if, at the same time, a debt restructuring takes place in those nations that are fiscally insolvent. That is, the resolution of the current problems can only be achieved when the fact of insolvency is dealt with AND some form of a “fiscal union” with sufficient power is put in place.

The past must be dealt with and some hope must be established for the future.

A debt restructuring will be costly because of the impact this restructuring will have on European banks…and other banks and financial institutions throughout the world. Any new “fiscal union” combined with a debt restructuring must include some plans to “backstop” banks. This “backstopping” may spillover into other countries, like the United States and the United Kingdom.

And, all of this will have further negative repercussions on economic growth…in Europe, in the Untied States, and elsewhere.

As Milton Friedman warned, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” Well, it appears as if the “free lunch” we have been trying to live off of is just about over.

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About John Mason 79 Articles

Professional history: Banking--President and CEO of two publically traded financial institutions; Executive Vice President and CFO of another. Academic--Professor at Penn State University and at the Finance Department, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Government--Special Assistant to Secretary George Romney at Department of Housing and Urban Development; Senior Economist in Federal Reserve System. Entrepreneurial--work in venture capital and other private equity; work with young entrepreneurs in urban environment.

Visit: Mase: Economics and Finance

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