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Europe Sneezes, Asia Gets A Cold

Posted by Larry Doyle on May 18, 2009 5:00 AM |

The European Union reported a 2.5% decline in 1st quarter GDP the end of last week. Market pundits claim that this report and quarter will represent the trough for the recession in Europe. I personally do not see any meaningful evidence to support that assertion. Europe has been slow to address the massive capital shortfalls in its banking system. The EU has reluctantly adopted measures of quantitative easing and has been slow to drop its overnight lending rate.

What have been the ramifications of the EU’s tardiness on the monetary and fiscal stimulus fronts? RTT News reports, Euro Moves Lower Versus Rivals After GDP Report. 1st quarter output in Europe plummeted and economic growth revisions across individual countries showed greater declines.

I have always viewed eastern Europe as being The Weakest Link in our global economy. The EU’s enormous exposure to eastern Europe is a MAJOR drag on its financial institutions and, in turn, its economy. The 1st quarter GDP report is a clear indication of the impact that the Weakest Link Is Weakening, much as I had written a few months ago.

Can this European weakness be contained? Can stronger economies pull Europe out of the economic ditch? Weren’t these the same questions we posed in regard to the rising delinquencies and resultant foreclosures in sub-prime mortgages?

The immediate reaction to the European weakness in Asian markets is a swift selloff. Japanese equities are down almost 3% overnight (10pm EST) due primarily to the weakness in Europe. As Bloomberg highlights, Japanese Stocks Slump on Panasonic Loss Forecast, Europe GDP. Bloomberg asserts:

“Europe’s spending less on stimulus, so their ability to recover from the recession is weaker than the rest of the world.”

Additionally, Bloomberg provides further European color:

Gross domestic product in the 16-member euro region fell 2.5 percent from the fourth quarter, the biggest decline since the data were first compiled in 1995, the European Union’s statistics office in Luxembourg said on May 15. That exceeded the 2 percent contraction economists expected in a Bloomberg survey and followed a 1.6 percent drop in the prior three months.

“Concerns are building about the health of Europe,” said Ryuta Otsuka, a strategist at Toyo Securities Co. in Tokyo. “That’s having an effect on the currency market and creating a headwind for export companies.”

Why isn’t Europe more swift and aggressive in providing fiscal and monetary stimulus? Germany’s hyperinflation during the post World War I era has left an indelible scar upon that country. I found the insights into Germany’s period of hyperinflation provided in an excerpt of Paper Money by ‘Adam Smith’ (George J.W. Goodman) to be highly informative.

In pausing to review the depth and magnitude of these economic issues, it is readily apparent that our global economy is connected not only across borders but also across historical eras.


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