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The German safety deposit box

David Brancaccio Jan 9, 2012

Today’s teachable moment is about the latest tell-tale sign that Europe’s finances are a mess.

Normally, governments pay investors interest when they want to borrow money. However, things are turning topsy-turvy in Germany. In the face of the euro crisis, so many investors are desperate for a safe place to park money, they’re paying the German government to hold onto their cash. This so-called “negative yield” on some short-term debt is like getting a safe deposit box over at the bank: you pay the bank for the privilege, interest-free, no matter how many bundles of cash you stick in there.

On the topic of the European debt crisis, the leaders of France and Germany held a one-day summit in Berlin today. In their view, a new treaty to fix things by bringing European budgets in line is on track to be signed by the first of March. But not everyone sees things as so “A-OK.”

Camilla Sutton, the chief currency strategist at Scotia Capital in Toronto, is strugging to find encouraging news about Europe’s long-term future. “All in all, the market is very nervous about what’s to come in the weeks ahead,” Sutton said. The euro, gasping for air near $1.27, is an all-too-vivid sign of this uncertainty.

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