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Sipp Investor: Unbridled eurozone austerity is dead; now for growth!

Last weekend's elections in France and Greece could mark a sea change in the 'austerity only' approach to the crisis, argues Rob Kyprianou.

 
Sipp Investor: Unbridled eurozone austerity is dead; now for growth!

Equity markets lost their shine in April, knocking 1% off the value of my self-invested pension portfolio (Sipp) and lowering its growth in the year so far to 7.1%.

Compared with my benchmark, my equity barbell (overweight US and emerging market stocks, underweight European stocks) continued to add value, with the benchmark falling by 2.3% on the month thanks primarily to a sharp fall in European equities in sterling terms.

My portfolio has now outperformed its benchmark so far this year by 5.3%, and by 8.7% over the past year.

I reported previously that with the outlook delicately balanced I had cut my overweight position in equities in March, waiting for more news before deciding what to do next.

Recovery running out of steam?

Eurozone growth prospects have been poor for some time under the nonsensical ‘austerity-at-all-costs’ approach to the European debt crisis. But recent evidence suggests that outside the eurozone the recovery momentum may be easing. 

The UK has slipped into a mild double-dip recession and the Bank of Japan had to enlarge its asset-buying programme for a second time this year to prop up a sliding economy.

More worryingly, there are signs that growth may be losing impetus in the US. First-quarter GDP growth was not only lower than expected, but its structure suggested lower growth to come – specifically, inventories were built up in the quarter and consumption growth was only sustained by a drop in the personal savings ratio as real disposable income growth was sluggish. Job creation has also now clearly slowed, which will not help private consumption.

A number of the supportive forces for equities that I identified in my earlier article remain in place, but if growth slows over the summer global equities could struggle after their strong performance since October. So I have been reducing my equity exposure somewhat, slicing exposures to equities generally, taking me to an underweight position in this asset class.

Corporate bonds

To be clear, this is not a wholesale bail-out. It is a cautious, defensive move while markets digest a potentially weaker growth outlook. To mitigate the de-risking and recognise the high levels of cash building up in my portfolio, I have put some money into corporate bonds.

My views on developed market government bonds have not changed – they offer poor value and either little yield or very high risk. I have not owned any since I sold out of my index-linked holdings at the end of last year.

However, corporate bonds are more interesting, as they offer yield and exposure to the healthiest economic sector. Non-bank corporate balance sheets are strong, and although any slowdown in top-line revenue growth may hold equities back, company debt is well protected by very high levels of cash and low levels of overall indebtedness.

In addition, massive central bank liquidity injections are positive for higher-yield risk assets, default rates are low, and major government bond yields are paltry. Finally, these holdings will also provide some hedge if I am wrong about equities in the near term.

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24 comments so far. Why not have your say?

Rob Walker

May 11, 2012 at 07:57

So there is no risk of the Euro break-up then? Great lets all pile back into the markets!....well you lot can. Once the FTSE reaches 6000 I'm selling, 'cos as sure as eggs is eggs there's going to be a big crash before any euro recovery / re-shaping. That crash, with the FTSE is the time to buy again and this time I believe the market will slowly, but realistically, recover.

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Jon

May 11, 2012 at 09:15

Not much point in making a modest profit in a devaluing currency. If austerity is out then inflation will take off, savers will be clobbered and those on fixed incomes will perish. We saw that in the Thatcher years when the Government inflated our way out of the massive debts created by the previous labour bunch.

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Hotrod

May 11, 2012 at 11:01

What seems illogical to me is that despite attempts to stimulate through QE, Stocks, bonds, gold, and property are all moving in the same direction. i.e. South.

The pundits tell us the downturn is just a mild recession. All I can say is; it doesn't feel like a recession, more like depression in my estimation.

Let's face it, Government debts are now so huge, that they can never be repaid irrespective of national origin.

In the final analysis there is only one answer. Print more money, but the questions which have to be asked first are: Who gets to print it? and in what currencies?

At the moment America looks a contender. The U.S. Dollar is strenthening. A flight to safety? I don't think so.

Historically gold has moved higher as the threat of inflation increases, but it's not happening this time. Why? because you have to pay for gold in spot cash, and not many people have the readies right now.

Until the situation becomes clearer I will stick with cash (Stirling) for the time being.

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William Phillips

May 11, 2012 at 12:21

In the final final analysis, there is another outcome. Creditors refuse to be stuffed like Strasbourg geese with fiat money, governments default, grandiose schemes for tucking up the worst sovereign risks with the less bad ones fall to bits like CDOs... and after a period of chaos, maybe war, the world will be reordered on a firm basis of value, universally accepted-- to wit, the gold standard.

Kyprianou is a child of the post-war welfare era who cannot imagine why long-term cycles have to play out remorselessly, correcting errors and follies. He cannot see why savers and investors should not go on being conned by the thriftless and greedy, or intimidated by the brute force of debt-swamped state power, for ever more. He thinks our capacity to forgive and forget and swallow more dishonest money is bottomless. He hopes for one more big spin of the rake's progress until something turns up to get the West off the hook for 60 years of self-indulgence and putting mortgages on our posterity.

Kyprianou, meet Mr Micawber. And both of you-- meet the disciplined, self-reliant billions of Asians who love gold. They will be your new masters.

Our pension investor's magic bean is the old exploded delusion of 'growth', i.e. yet more waste, pollution, housing bubbles and consumer rubbish financed by national and private indebtedness. But the game is up. Neo-Keynesianism doesn't cut it any more; the West is so exhausted by previous bouts of 'stimulus' that one more will kill it.

Ultimately what Kyprianou advocates is not only purblind but grossly immoral.

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Philmo

May 11, 2012 at 14:45

RK

You are just another would be politician with head in clouds!

True growth can only come from genuine productive output, certainly not from domestic spending or borrowing and that's exactly where AM and N Europe has it right!

In modern times true growth has been measured by rolling measurement of combined visible/invisible exports, less import costs, less internal costs ie overheads = all HMG,LA and Quango costs. The repayment and interest on IMF and other loans are part of the overhead.

This measure HAS to be +ve for there to be real growth!

It's not rocket science - you get out what you put in, less overhead!

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Graham Barlow

May 11, 2012 at 15:25

The fundemental flaw in all this is that the basic economy, routine manufacture has been almost totally relocated in the Far East. With so called globalisation Capital has been allowed to obey the basic economic law of gravitating to the lowest Cost of production. In other words Europe(Britain) has priced itself out of the market for basic production. It is not only wages but the whole panoply of interference in employment law , ranging from ridiculous conditions and endless flexibility and politicians telling business people how to run their affairs. Most of the politicians have never held a proper job down let alone run a business. Enterprise, get up and go has been stifled and the private sector highjacked by the state as an extension of its welfare policies. None of this exists outside Europe hence its demise. The trend will continue as sophistication and expertise grows relentlessly in these eastern countries. The Politicians just have to be made to understand , you cannot have your cake and eat it when it comes to the cost of production. The levels of Britain's production is now abysamally low compared with other areas of the world which look a far better environment in which to invest. I can even see the Insurance industry moving out of Britain. The alarm Bells should be ringing loud and clear in Parliament to do something meaningful and constructive before it is too late. They cling desperately to the odd British overseas investment as wishful thinking. You could still reviolutionise Britain if the political will existed, and faced down vested interests and staff monopolies.

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MOGO

May 11, 2012 at 16:28

Graham is pretty well correct, we cannot compete on production costs with all the social and benefit costs (and I include my own pension in this) that U.K.plc has to carry. We can only beat the rest of the world by being more innovative in what we design and produce - a tall order when you look at the percentage of the population who don't have either the education or intellect to participate.

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Moylando

May 11, 2012 at 17:34

Yes - it does seem that SIPP investor is patting himself on the back for putting a jigsaw together not aware that the foundations of the house are crumbling. ( apologies - I could have used the Titanic metaphor.)

As a SIPP holder ,If only I could be sure of the safety of my emerging markets investments I might take some comfort. My best hope is the large UK and USA global olayers that realise the game is up here and in Europe. We either can't or won't cut our cloth to suit the global landscape. We talk about "growth" as though its an available choice on the menu. It may have been a choice - even a solution - in Keynes time. Not now when we have little or no competitive advantage vs the rest of the world. The debate on "growth" is so banal as to be meanngless.

Still our pre-occupation with the trivialities that the media peddle will dull the pain of our decline a bit longer

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Hotrod

May 11, 2012 at 20:22

It seems that this report has stimulated a raft of diverse opinions as to what Rob Kiprianou's intentions really are.

As I see it, all he is trying to do is to inform, those who wish to learn, the progress he has made regarding the investment decisions he has made in relation to his SIPP.

After all said and done, he can only do his best with what he has to work with. Not many in his position would take the time and trouble to explain in detail the thought processes which led him to those decisions.

Obviously some commentators disagree, but you cannot blame him for the ineptitude of politicians and the universal financial quagmire in which many countries, governments, businesses, and individuals are now struggling to contend with.

I for one could not authoritively address the issues involved at a macro level. In reading this column all I expect to gain by it, is to better understand how to micro-manage my own financial arrangements.

It would appear some commentators have written off Europe and the UK as manufacturing centres. I strongly disagree. In fact I think the Far-East's problems are only just beginning.

It's all to do with critical mass, as it applies to effecient production. China and the Far East have developed methods of production for labour intensive industries, but the fact of the matter is that as volumes and profitability increase so less and less workers will be needed because production processes will be automated. So now those Countries have a problem. What to do with redundant workers who can no longer revert to their previous employments.

The UK and Europe have already passed through that phase. What you have left is a series of highly automated, super effecient, manufacturing plants which produce infinitely complicated products, which are too complex and intricate for humans to make! It's all done by robotic machines!

A good example would be the tractor factory in Basildon Essex which the Prime Minister visited this week.

When it was first built in the 1940's it was a stand alone entity which pretty near made all the components required on site, but that's not how things are done these days. The modern product is an almalgum of parts supplied by specialists from all over Europe.

It has taken decades for that degree of logistical cooperation to evolve. I think manufacturing plants such as this have a bright future.

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Philmo

May 11, 2012 at 20:34

But GB it's not a flaw that basic mass production is delegated to 3rd world, it's natural industrial evolution continuing.

Sir James Dyson has it exactly correct, we must focus on innovation and forging the future a la McLaren, Dyson et al in order to continue growth.

We have other prime examples of the natural direction in ARM, CSR, Cosworth, Renishaw, BAE, Invensys and numerous small medical kit developers.

Our biggest problem is going to be finding meaningful deployment for those in society who will increasingly be unable to contribute to the main export thrust. I think their role will be in the area of "quality of life maintenance".

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Prof Eman

May 11, 2012 at 21:14

Returning to issues raised by Graham Barlow, productivity in a competitive environment and is what helps other countries like Germany maintain momentum in manufacturing/engineering, even after allowing for your Chinas.

One of our problems is and has been lack of investment, as well as our culture of turning up our noses wrt industry/manufacturing.

Currently we have companies sitting on cash mountains and not investing to become more competitive in the future. Helping the recessionary process, and creating further future problems, as we will be unprepared for the turn up, and instead of taking advantage of it ,as always we will suck in exports and have more balance of payments problems and more unemployment..

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Prof Eman

May 11, 2012 at 21:20

Correction meant to say suck in imports.

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Austen Brown

May 12, 2012 at 09:10

I think that R K's article went beyond the bounds of SIPP Investor and became a slight political rant:- hence the reaction of respondents.

William Phillips and Graham Barlow have it 'spot on'.

Growth in our economy = retail spending = more waste = more imports = larger balnce deficit.

Were the growth to be based on more manufacturing and wealth creation activities, then it would be most welcome.

Currently we are exporting our wealth to Eastern Nations to pay for our consumption and they in turn are coming back here to buy us up, be it industries or property. UK ownership requires to be addressed urgently on a political level.

Quite where the resources to further stimulate economies, as Greeks, French, Spanish and now R K demand, are going to come from when the national Credit Card has been 'Maxed Out' remains a mystery. We have 20 years of over consumption to pay for first.

The current electorate are like kids in a sweet shop who have been told that their eating binge is over until they go and work to pay foir the next lot. Baaaaaaaaah!

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Philmo

May 12, 2012 at 10:36

Absolutely spot on AB.

The only solution is austerity, noses to the grindstone and re-educate our greed for unaffordable luxury and waste to recognise more worthwhile aspirations, spend and investment.

As J Dyson et al have said there is a need to promote technical innovation and cerebral skills, as do firms like JD's, ARM, CSR, Renishaw, McLaren etc as well as legal/financial industry.

The biggest problem will be to keep those less cerebrally endowed in meaningful occupation.

It is sublimely ironic that the plethora of shallow, totally consumptive stuff like BGT is so called!

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ron B

May 12, 2012 at 10:41

Reading a UK biased website is very interesting for a New Zealand Born Australian because labor in Government here has caused many Australians to suddenly take note of the same issues as the UK faces. A spendthrift bunch in charge of the purse and total non production of even the basic products such as food are but two of the worries that confront us now... after 11 years of conservative government who left power and the countries reserves loaded with 20 billion in cash. Not bad for a population of 20 million.

We have recently lost our last electric motor manufacturer ... when a country loses it's ability to make such a simple device,where does it go from there?. It imports ,and unfortunately the quality of imported machinery is woeful with the cheap junk being palmed off to the few surviving manufacturs as the best available . It is then no wonder that ancient english made things like lathes from the post war period still fetch big money on the market.

So the quality of work produced goes down, and the cost of finance for business goes up because the country is borrowing to survive . Australia is borrowing $100,000,000 per day...not so good for a population of 20 million.

Try reading some old engineering or farming magazines from the early 1950's from either Gt Britain or Australia to see how far down both our economic creation devices have been allowed to decay. And, take note of just who was in the cactus in those years...Greece ,Italy et al.

Nothing has changed and it is as if everyone in Politics these days were asleep during primary school history lessons.

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chazza

May 12, 2012 at 16:12

Ron,

I am astonished that your account of the troubles of the Australian economy omits any mention of the resources boom, which has driven up the value of the Australian dollar so high that manufacturing and much agricultural producers simply cannot compete with consequently much cheaper imports. If you send mega-shiploads of coal and iron ore to China, you can't be surprised if the backloads of cheap Chinese apples drive your domestic producers to the wall. The worst of this could have been avoided if Australia had set up a sovereign wealth / future fund along Norwegian lines, but the conservative government you so approve was so sensitive to lobbying by mining companies that it is only now, far too late, that the present Labor government has introduced a resources tax to divert some part of those mining revenues to the benefit of the great majority of Australia's 23 million people who do not work for or hold shares in the mining companies.

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normski 2nd

May 12, 2012 at 21:35

Evening all,

Did I not read afeww weeks ago that we are now making more cars than ever of which large proportion go for export ?. but hen htey atr now foreign managed and mainly built by robots

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ron B

May 12, 2012 at 23:46

I earn the majority of my income from persons directly involved in the development of mine projects world wide so I tend to see beyond the labor parties press releases as quoted by so faithfully by Chazza.

Both the resource industry and the auto industry are dominated by overseas companies,BHP billion, Exstrata, GM,FORD,Toyota etc etc all of which were allowed to run rampant in Australia under the Hawke / Keating labor years. The Conservatives Lost power in the face of anti iraq war feelings and because of Howard's support of his old Friend G. Bush. The treatment of Australian citizens in Gitmo also galvanized strong anti Howard feelings and their defeat had nothing to do with financial matters. The populace now realizes it's mistakes in voting labor as shown by the massive wipeout in Queensland ,one of the leading resource states.

They Left the economy in such a strong condition that the country could weather the GFC. The then treasurer ,Costello, actually forecast The GFC with a speech where he told the country to beware of the coming Fiscal Tsunami.

labor promptly spent the 20 billion in a cash splash by handing out cheques of $900 to each person in a certain income bracket. The money was gone in a matter of weeks. And did the economy benefit ? .No,but gambling companies and TV and electronic goods importers had a field day.

There are 200,000 people employed in the mining industry in Australia and Most of the country is missing out on any benefit . You mention the resource Rent tax. If would look closer you will notice that tax exists in name only and is a sop to public opinion,or an attempt at a starting a class war.(note the attacks on Twiggy Forest,Gina Rheinhardt and Clive Palmer,all self made billionaires, by the labor party.)

It was Lobbying by the big three overseas miners that suggested they DO NOT PAY the tax and all other miners do it instead ,again another attack on Forrest et al. It will only be Australian miners who pay the tax .

No one in Australia will benefit from the resource tax, as the tax will drive already high priced resources up in price and demand has dropped since last years peak.

The other thing you fail to mention is that any material recovered in a mining operation in any state in Australia attracts a royalty ,paid to the States. The states will lose this under the RRT and the money will go to pay the interest on the 100 million being borrowed Daily by labor.

In Jukly 2013,Labor will be paying every school child a sium of $800 . Every child. it's a cash handout with the parents free to do what ever they want with. labor want to borrow the money to do this as the country doesn't actually have cash any longer to this.

The people of Australia WILL lose, no doubt.

One final thing, labors budget as announced last week by the Treasurer did not out line any financial plan for the year .. not one detail.

Has anyone ever heard of government putting forward a budget without a plan for the coming year?

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Secret CEO

May 13, 2012 at 09:17

Well, what an eclectic range of comments to the article - thank you all.

Difficult to know where to start in response (defence is probably a better word):-

1) Rob Walker - "no risk of the Euro break up". I made no mention of the risk of a Euro break up in my article, this seems to be your interpretation. I believe that the current political and institutional structures of the Euro are flawed - something will have to change, either these structures or the composition of the Euro. The changing political winds will determine which it is.

2) Hotrod - I agree with you that printing has been and will continue to be the ley policy response to crisis. However, I do not see how this leads to the conclusion that only cash is the right investment in such a situation. This would seem to be the asset most at risk from such a policy.

3) William Phillips - Perhaps the most eloquent comment to any of my articles. What it proposes for a SIPP investor, however, I must admit isn't clear other than batten down the hatches and clutch tightly your gold bars. You seem so depressed by it all - try reading "The Road", it may cheer you up. I should also point out that as a child of the post war era I am in good company with all of us under 70 years of age.

4) Philmo et al who accuse me of dabbling in politics I plead guilty. You may be able to keep politics out of sport but in my experience it is hard to keep what is going on in politics entirely out of investment. As it relates to the current Euro sovereign debt crisis it is frankly impossible. As regular readers will know I have had a large short on Eurozone equities since the Greece crisis began, not because of Greece, but because of the response to the crisis by political leaders in the Euro govts and in the EU. Because of the flawed structures underlying the Euro, the (political) response by these leaders of austerity at all costs with no change to those flawed strucutres was driving Euroland into depression and threatening a more severe economic and social crisis. I believe this would not in the final analysis happen as the politicians would be forced to change, helped by the ballot box. This may now be underway and maybe a depression is avoidable - Yes, I believe that the choice of depression or growth is an investment issue. I remain short of eurozone equities, but this may be the first step towards closing that position.

5) To all those fretting over the decline of industrial might in the West and the rise of the emerging east I will make the following points -i) the law of comparative advantage makes it clear that we are all winners from international trade even if we are the least productive nation in absolute terms. In the post war period we have fretted over first the rise of Japan, then Taiwan and now Chian and Korea. Soon they will in turn fret over the rise of Indonesia,India the Phillipines etc. It is a good thing and we should welcome it. ii) Nations go through various stages of economic development, from agricultural to industrial to service as they grow and mature and other countries go through their phases. It means that mature economic sectors become less important (agriculture has gone from 100% to less than 3% of GDP) and new ones rise up. During this transition we can misinterpret the decline of certain sectors as decline in the economy as a whole and resist them, when in fact they are quite the reverse and we should facilitate the shift of resources .... iii) Do not focus to much on our manufacturing sector as a barometer of our well-being - Switzerland and Singapore are not industrial power houses but they have very high standards of living. iv) The real enemy are policies which get in the way of change - as "a child of the post war era" I have witnessed 50 of the years of post war social democracy in Europe and I am afraid that much of it is rooted in protecting interests and winning elections, and so resisiting change. This is one reason why I am overwight US equities currently - their economy will respond more appropriately to the current crisis than in Europe - so much so that they are returning manufacturing jobs to the US from the east and maunfacturing employment is growing. But now I am in danger of straying into politics...

6) All commentators on events down-under, thank you for all your enlightening comments, I have certainly learnt a lot about the politiclal landscape there -it would be a shame if these insights have no relevance for your investment strategy.

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Moylando

May 13, 2012 at 11:13

You say that depression and growth are choices. No, they are outcomes - but some craven politicians are telling an ignorant electorate that growth is an option by borrowing even more money. In fact nothing is more likely to lead to depression - courtesy of international bond markets who will demand a risk/reward return that will make a bad situation worse. You see EU structures as problematic - maybe - but the the issue of spiralling debt is more fundamental. I still maintain that competitive disadvantage is Europe/UK's biggest problem and we have to take the pain of adjustment sooner rather than later. Later will mean that we suffer the plight of the frog that boiled to death with a warm fuzzy feeling except at the end. The plight that the newly electable politicians would have for us.

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chazza

May 13, 2012 at 11:43

Much of the discussion about 'growth' and 'austerity' confines itself to the abstract world of financial economics, and never considers the ecological sustainability of 'growth'. The old model of growth involves us in making ever-increasing demands upon the natural environment, and modifying it in ways that, sooner or later, are likely to have severely uncomfortable impacts upon human life. It is increasingly clear that the old 'growth' model is unsustainable.

Many of the changes that are necessary may come form technological innovation – from being less wasteful and a whole lot smarter about the ways in which we use what we already have. But that might be achieved without what is presently measured as 'growth' – increased flow of money through the money economy. One dimension of austerity is being less wasteful and smarter about the ways in which we use what we already have, and we need not, in real terms, be any worse off as a result. Conversely, we might return to growth in money GDP but not, in any meaningful sense, be any better off.

We need to think more about what we really need for a good life, individually and collectively, and liberate ourselves from the orgy of consumption of the unnecessary that stimulated the economic 'growth' of the past. But that means thinking beyond the market and redistributing one of the most essential things that the market presently distributes so perversely: useful work.

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Secret CEO

May 13, 2012 at 13:14

Moylando

What confuses in large part the discussion over growth/ austerity, borrowing/ no borrowing is that it is a different mechanism whether you are member of a single currency or whether you are not.

If you are a heavily indebted, uncompetitive member country with no freedom to print money, or pursue independent fiscal or trade policies to improve competitiveness then all you have left are structural policies. These are important but take many years, if not decades. If in the meantime you demand immediate severe fiscal austerity to reduce borrowing you simply inflict depression on an economy that has no other degrees of policy freedom, which increases state borrowing, destroys private investment and eventually spreads to your closest trading partners. This is the path Euroland is currently on, in particular as they have failed to address the severe shortage of bank capital in their banking system, unlike the US and UK which dealt with this early. And in particular as they do not have the right institutional or political structures in place to do anything else.

Austerity did not stop Greece from defaulting from too much debt. Whether you are a member of a single currency or not, the only way to reduce sustainably excessive public sector deficits is through private sector growth, especially if you are inside a monetary union as you do not have avaiable that other weapon to reduce the public sector debt burden - money printing.

Private sector growth and printing money is the route the US and, to a lesser extent, the UK are on. It is not the route the Eurozone is on. It is not about borrowing being ideologically a good or bad thing - it is about the right economic choices for the current circumstances. So far Euroland has chosen depression.

If the attention could turn to structural reforms and the right institutional/ political structures that promote private sector investment, that improve private sector competitiveness and encourage the appropriate distribution of capital to support private sector investment, then growth and lower public sector deficits will follow.

The problem is that it is almost a zero sum game - to improve Spain's competitveness, you must reduce Germany's or France's. But there is no political consensus or mechanism currently in place to overcome local interests protecting themselves. I believe we are witnessing the end of the 60 years of inexorably closer integration of economic policies in Europe - countries will now take care of themselves. Can the Euro survive this is one short term question - it is not that important in the long term. It will now become the consequence of political choices and not the driver.

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andy

May 13, 2012 at 21:38

In among all the sour comments - I like to listen what someone with such obvious experience has to say. For my small voice - I would like to say thank you to Rob for sharing his experience and thoughts. Like the TV - if you don't like it - switch off.

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J-S B

May 14, 2012 at 11:02

Chazza hits the nail on the head. By extension, our grasping desires are the cause of our suffering and more "growth" via increased ignorant desire for transient wealth/"security"/power/gadgetry etc etc will only increase our suffering. Politicians of all hues don't get it. Austerity or pump priming "growth" won't solve our problems in the long term as they are both aimed ultimately at higher consumption; they will just ruin our environment - until we have the courage to get off the bus and really look inside ourselves. So say the enlightned: "Attachment/desire as long as you want more and fear losing what you have there is suffering."

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