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A European bank run around the bond market

David Brancaccio Nov 16, 2011

You’d expect to hear the Greeks are still having trouble selling their bonds, keeping interest rates high. Maybe Italy and Spain. But for the government debt of mighty France, why is that getting harder to sell to investors? And today there was less dramatic, but still curious, increases in yields in places like the Netherlands and Finland.

We talked with Mark Blyth, professor of international political economy at Brown University. He says there are just too many structural problems right now for the contagion not to spread. He says think about it this way: The markets just want two sets of contradictory things, growth and austerity, structural reform and an instant rebound. These things do not go together.

Blyth says the problems today are basically a continuation of the 2008 banking crisis. Bank debt becomes public debt through bailouts. But in the case of Europe, banks there have higher debts to begin with. Their level of exposure to bad assets causes people to ask: Are these banks too big to bail? Sure, if just one bank in France or Italy fails, it’s not a big deal. But all the banks together? Then you’re talking about a systemic crisis.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she wants to keep the eurozone together. But Blyth says Germans are stuck in thinking other European countries can become just like them, running a surplus and selling valuable exports like BMWs to other countries. There’s just no amount of cutting down on government expenditures that’s going to make Greece competitive against the rest of the European Union. So, the austerity measures Greece is supposed to impose won’t lead to growth, and the spiral will continue.

Also on the show today, deep in today’s retail sales numbers was some good news for the economy — and anyone who has to go out with a guy.
Men are now spending more on clothes. Sales of tailored clothing and neckwear snapped 10 percent higher compared to last year. It seems that they’re looking to impress — maybe both job interviewers and romantic prospects. Either way, it’s a bright spot in the lagging economy, and raises the Marketplace Daily Pulse today.

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