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Update on Brexit

by Alasdair Macleod, GoldMoney:

This article looks at the background to Brexit negotiations and concludes that Britain is negotiating from a position of strength, while the EU is increasingly in a position of financial difficulty. Not only will the European Commission be forced to scale back its spending and redistribution of resources, but the euro project is threatened by capital flight between member states, despite the early signs of economic recovery which should be restoring market confidence. Politicking aside, pressure is mounting on the EU to defuse the disruption of Brexit by agreeing to a mutually beneficial deal as soon as possible.

EU finances are getting desperate

The EU cannot afford to prevaricate over Brexit because a bad Brexit risks causing it immeasurable harm. Not only does big business in Europe want a Britain with which it can freely trade, but confidence in the European Project is rapidly diminishing. The EU is a mega-state that is fading, and no one knows how to ensure its survival. Inevitably, the failings of the EU are catching up with it, and Britain’s leaving exposes the financial consequences of decades of bad management, capital destruction through wasteful redistribution and the lack of any contingency planning.

Britain’s €8bn annual contribution to the EU budget is almost the same as the cost of administering the whole Brussels establishment, so Brexit will create a budget shortfall that is almost total, which Brussels will have to make up from the remaining members. Inevitably, some of the redistribution to Brussel’s pet projects will end up being cut as well. It is for this reason that the Brussels politicians hope for a capital payment from Britain.

The Commission also has a commitment to redistribute member funds estimated at €238bn. It must have assumed prior to last year’s referendum that Britain would vote to remain and pay its share. Instead, it voted for Brexit, and the Commission will have to find the money from a capital contribution either from Britain, somewhere else, or cancel some of the projects. With these problems, the Commission is in a difficult position, wrong-footed by Brexit. And when Theresa May says no deal is better than a bad deal and means it, it really could mean an end to Brussels as we know it.

TARGET2 deteriorates further

Probably the most alarming statistic coming out of the Eurozone is the continual growth in TARGET2 imbalances. The chart below shows the latest position.

In a normally functioning TARGET2 system, imbalances should be minimal, as they were before the financial crisis. But the ECB says there’s nothing to worry about, which would be true if these imbalances are just a passing phase, to be reversed when normality returns. After nine years, this appears increasingly unlikely.

These imbalances arise because of capital flows, whereby money moves from one nation to another without any underlying trade. If a Spanish bank has deposits withdrawn from it, the Banco de España steps in and covers it. This creates an asset on the Bank of Spain’s balance sheet, matched by a liability on TARGET2. The redeposit in Germany is reflected by an increase in the German bank’s reserves held at the Bundesbank. The Bundesbank’s liability to the German bank is matched with a credit on TARGET2.

Therefore, TARGET2 reflects capital flight, or silent runs on some of the national banking systems. The surpluses at the Bundesbank, the Banque du Luxembourg and the Finnish Central Bank are all rising into new record territory. The Netherlands Central bank saw a dip ahead of the recent election, but that balance is on the rise again as well. On the most recent figures to March these balances totalled €1.186tn, up €119bn over Q1. The balance at the Bundesbank rose a further €14bn in April to €843bn, the figures for the other NCBs not yet being available. It is clear from these numbers that capital flight, particularly from Italy and Spain, is still increasing, despite reports of a tentative economic recovery.

The third largest negative balance is of the ECB itself at €183bn, which relates to the ECB’s QE policy. The negative balances at the NCBs are net of the credits created thereon, implying that the degree of capital flight from these countries is understated.

The imbalances on TARGET2 are ultimately the liability of the ECB, not the individual NCBs. Yet, there’s no provision in the ECB’s accounts for the risk of an NCB leaving the system. This is a good reason why a nation cannot be allowed to leave the Eurozone.

By the end of January, the ECB had bought an estimated €1.34tn of government bonds, €230bn of covered bonds (mostly pooled mortgages), and €60bn of corporate bonds. To these purchases can be added a further total of €220bn to date, giving us a total today of €1.85tn. The valuation risks on these bonds are not reflected on the ECB’s balance sheet, which at December 2016 disclosed only €160.8bn, listed under “Securities held for monetary purposes”. So, only 11% of the total bonds bought through QE by end-December are shown on the ECB’s balance sheet. Where the price risk lies on the other 89% is important, because when interest rates are normalised, the losses could be considerable.

In that event, the allocation of losses is decided by the ECB’s Governing Council, ruling on both the way and the extent to which losses are distributed between the NCBs and the ECB. And if price inflation really takes hold, not only will government finances and private sector debt be enmeshed in a debt trap, but the ECB and the NCBs will all need to be recapitalised as well.

EU politicians are in panic mode

Concerns over the EU’s finances are almost certainly behind the wild statements being made by some EU leaders. According to Jean-Claude Junker, Theresa May is living in another galaxy, which begs the question about his own galactic residence, relatively speaking. After requests from several member states, which suddenly realise they are going to lose subsidies, the Commission has mechanically increased its demand for an up-front payment by Britain from €60bn to €100bn. This is despite the EU’s own legal advice from the Commission’s lawyers that no money can be claimed. France, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Poland also want Britain to continue to pay their farmers after Britain has left the EU.

Read More @ GoldMoney.com

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