April 11, 2013
In anticipation of tomorrow’s eurozone finance ministers meeting (which will discuss finalising the Cypriot bailout and potentially extending the bailout loans given to Portugal and Ireland) Open Europe has published a new briefing looking at who might be next in the eurozone – our prime candidates are Portugal (for the second time) and Slovenia.
Both Portugal and Slovenia could need external assistance of some sort.
- Domestic demand, government spending and investment are contracting sharply, leaving the country heavily reliant on uncertain export growth to drive the economy.
- By cutting wages and costs at home (internal devaluation), Portugal has in recent years improved its level of competitiveness in the eurozone relative to Germany. However, this trend actually started to reverse sharply in 2012, meaning that the divergence between countries such as Portugal and Germany has begun growing again – exactly the sort of imbalance the eurozone is seeking to close.
- In its austerity efforts, Portugal is now coming up against serious political and constitutional limits. For the second time, the country’s constitutional court has ruled against public sector wage cuts – a key plank in the country’s EU-mandated austerity plan – while the previous political consensus in the parliament for austerity has evaporated.
- In combination, it will be increasingly difficult for Portugal to sell austerity at home and consequently to negotiate its bailout terms with creditor countries abroad.
- Portugal may well need some further financial assistance before long. It is unlikely to take the form of a full second bailout, but could involve use of the ECB’s OMT bond-buying programme, assuming Portugal can return to the markets fully beforehand (even briefly).
- Slovenia is not Cyprus – in fact it is much more like Spain. Its banks are significantly undercapitalised with toxic loans now standing at 18% of GDP. Banks only have provisions to cover less than half the potential losses resulting from these loans.
- At the same time, a heavily indebted private sector is now desperately trying to get debt off its books, which alongside continued austerity and lack of investment, have caused growth to plummet.
- Though a full bailout is unlikely, the country could soon need an EU rescue package worth between €1 billion and €4 billion (between 3% and 11% of GDP) to help restructure the country’s bust and mismanaged banks.
- Such a plan is likely to include losses for shareholder (bail-ins) but, unlike in Cyprus, it may not hit large (uninsured) depositors and there will be no attempt whatsoever at taxing smaller (insured) depositors.
To read the full briefing, click here.Open Europe blog team