Most international investors predict at least one nation will eventually dump the euro and they say greater fiscal ties or a smaller currency area are the best fixes for the region’s debt crisis, according to the quarterly Bloomberg Global Poll.
As Europe’s leaders craft their fifth “comprehensive” solution in 19 months, almost half the respondents in the poll conducted Dec. 5-6 say one or more countries will leave the 17- nation bloc within a year and almost a third predict an exit by the end of 2016. Thirty-seven percent say fiscal union is the most effective remedy for the current turmoil, with 24 percent endorsing a shrinking of the euro’s membership.
The poll of 1,097 investors, traders and analysts who are Bloomberg subscribers highlights the pressure on European policy makers as they meet in Brussels this week to consider tougher budget rules under a Dec. 5 threat by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade 15 euro nations. The survey also validates European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s push for a “fiscal compact,” with just 15 percent of respondents saying so-called quantitative easing is the top measure for ending the turmoil.
“We’re by no means any closer to the semblance of a solution to this crisis,” says poll respondent Jeremy Cook, chief economist at the London-based currency exchange firm World First U.K. Ltd. “I see a closer move to fiscal union in 2012 and in the longer term we need a United States of Europe.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the single currency’s guardians, this week strengthened their push for new rules to tighten euro-area economic cooperation, stopping short of a system in which the region’s rich will channel cash to poorer states or issue joint bonds. Instead, they backed automatic sanctions for countries breaking budget rules and fast-tracking a permanent rescue fund to next year.
Draghi, who will lead his second meeting of the ECB’s policy-setting Governing Council tomorrow, said last week that if fiscal links are strengthened then “other elements might follow.” The comment was interpreted by investors as a signal the ECB may buy more bonds. Investor approval for Draghi has almost doubled since he took over the ECB on Nov. 1, rising to 63 percent, from 36 percent in September.
As for other solutions, only 3 percent say boosting the region’s bailout fund would end contagion. While 16 percent of all those surveyed say they endorse more austerity, that option was far more popular with respondents in the U.S., 26 percent, than with Europeans, 8 percent. Conversely, 44 percent of Europeans say a fiscal union is the way out of the crisis, while 32 percent of those in the U.S. and 33 percent of those in Asia saying so. Three percent of all investors say additional help from the International Monetary Fund would be effective.
Last week’s decision by six central banks to make it cheaper for banks to borrow dollars is viewed by 88 percent of those polled as only a “temporary palliative” that does nothing to tackle the causes of the crisis, while 10 percent describe it as a “turning point.”
The policy debate is taking place as investors bet the euro-area will eventually shed members. A total of 82 percent anticipate contraction at some point, up from 79 percent in September. Among U.S. respondents, just 6 percent say this will never happen, compared with 22 percent of Europeans who say so.
Just over half say the euro area will eventually collapse, though 41 percent say that will never occur. European investors are more optimistic, with 51 percent saying disintegration will never happen, compared with 32 percent of those in the U.S. and 38 percent of those in Asia. While respondents still see a meltdown in Europe’s banking system, they differ on the timing with 43 percent saying it would happen in the next 12 months, down from 53 percent in September, and 25 percent saying it would take place within two to five years, up from 18 percent.
As to whether Europe’s problems will trigger a global economic crash, about a quarter say this could occur by the end of 2012, down from 37 percent in September. The majority of respondents, 53 percent, say the chaos wouldn’t be as severe as the aftermath of the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.; 42 percent say the euro crisis will end up being worse than that. Thirty-nine percent predict a credit-default-swap crisis triggered by the European turmoil within the next year.
Investors are signaling growing concern the debt crisis is spreading. Forty-one percent say Italy will default, up from 32 percent in September, and 40 percent say Spain will do so, also compared with 32 percent in the previous poll.
As recently as May, only 16 percent predicted bankruptcy in Italy, the region’s third-largest economy. What’s changed and forced the yield on the nation’s 10-year bond above 7 percent last month is concern in financial markets that the nation will struggle to pay a 1.9 trillion euro debt, which exceeds that of Spain, Greece, Ireland and Portugal combined.
Prime Minister Mario Monti is seeking 30 billion euros ($40 billion) in extra budget cuts and growth measures this week to win back market support.
Those questioned are almost unanimous in saying Greece will default -- as they have been in past polls -- while the number of those predicting the same fate for Portugal rose to 63 percent from 56 percent. One-third forecast Ireland will be unable to pay its bills, the lowest number since June 2010. Only 9 percent choose France and 4 percent pick the U.K. as likely defaulters.
More than four-fifths of investors see the euro-area economy deteriorating, with slightly more than half saying they plan to cut exposure to the euro and its region’s debt in the next six months. Deutsche Bank AG, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc. have joined Draghi in warning the euro area faces its second recession in three years as the debt woes undermine confidence and force governments to cut budgets.
Fifty-three percent of poll respondents pick the European Union as the worst investment opportunity over the next year, more than four times the number that cited the U.S. Half predict the Euro Stoxx 50 index will be lower by the middle of 2012, compared with 28 percent who say it will be higher.
“We’re not too long any exposure to European risk,” says poll respondent Stephen Surpless, an investment manager at Luxembourg-based Pacific Capital SARL. “It could get worse in terms of economic impact.”
Despite the crisis, 44 percent of respondents say they are more optimistic about Merkel’s policies as they affect her nation’s investment climate, up from 35 percent in September; 53 percent say they are pessimistic, compared with 59 percent in the previous poll. Sarkozy’s rating rose to 28 percent, the highest since November 2010. Still, 67 percent of respondents say they are pessimistic about the French president’s approach, down from 71 percent.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s policies are viewed positively by 49 percent, up from 44 percent three months ago. Cameron is personally very popular, with 66 percent of investors saying they have a favorable view, up from 63 percent in September.
The Bloomberg Global Poll was conducted by Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co. and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.0 percentage points.
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