Right now, the financial world is focused on the breathtaking stock market crash in China, but don’t forget to keep an eye on what is happening in Europe. Collectively, the European Union has a larger population than the United States, a larger economy than either the U.S. or China, and the banking system in Europe is the biggest on the planet by far. So what happens in Europe really matters, and at this point the European economy is absolutely primed for a meltdown. European debt levels have never been higher, European banks are absolutely loaded with non-performing loans and high-risk derivatives, and the unemployment rate in the eurozone is currently more than double the unemployment rate in the United States. In all the euphoria surrounding the “deal” that temporarily kept Greece in the eurozone, I think that people have forgotten that the economic and financial fundamentals in Europe have continued to deteriorate. Whether Greece ultimately leaves the eurozone or not, a great financial crisis is inevitably coming to Europe. It is just a matter of time.
In many ways, the economy of Europe is in significantly worse shape than the U.S. economy. Just recently, the IMF issued a report which warned that the eurozone is “susceptible to negative shocks” and could be facing very tough economic times in the near future. The following comes from the Guardian…
The International Monetary Fund has warned the eurozone faces a gloomy economic outlook thanks to lingering worries over Greece, high unemployment and a banking sector still battling to shake off the financial crisis.
The IMF’s latest healthcheck on the eurozone found it was “susceptible to negative shocks” as growth continues to falter and monetary policymakers run out of ways to help. It called for an urgent “collective push” from the currency union to speed up reforms or else risk years of lost growth.
“A moderate shock to confidence – whether from lower expected future growth or heightened geopolitical tensions – could tip the bloc into prolonged stagnation,” said Mahmood Pradhan, the IMF’s mission chief for the eurozone.
But even if there are no “shocks” to the European economy in the months ahead, the truth is that it is already in terrible shape and much of the continent is already mired in an ongoing economic depression.
Today, the official unemployment rate in the United States is just 5.3 percent, but the unemployment rate for the eurozone as a whole is sitting at 11.1 percent. That is an absolutely terrible number, but most Europeans have come to accept it as “the new normal”. The following are some of the prominent nations in Europe that currently have an unemployment rate of above 10 percent…
France: 10.3 percent
Italy: 12.4 percent
Portugal: 13.7 percent
Spain: 22.37 percent
Greece: 25.6 percent
And remember, these unemployment numbers often greatly understate the true scope of the problem.
For instance, in Italy the number of people “willing to work but not actively searching” is much higher than the number of Italians that are officially unemployed…
For every 100 working Italians, there are 15 people seeking a job and another 20 willing to work but not actively searching, the highest level among the 28 EU countries, according to statistics agency Eurostat.
So would the true rate of unemployment in Italy be greater than 30 percent if honest numbers were being used?
That is something to think about.
Meanwhile, debt levels in virtually all European nations have shot up substantially since the last financial crisis. Just consider the staggering debt to GDP ratios in the following nations…
France: 95.0 percent
Spain: 97.7 percent
Belgium: 106.5 percent
Ireland: 109.7 percent
Portugal: 130.2 percent
Italy: 132.1 percent
Greece: 177.1 percent
Greece is not the only debt crisis that Europe is facing by a long shot. All of the other nations on that list are going down the exact same path that Greece has gone down.
So whether or not a “permanent solution” can be found for Greece, the reality of the matter is that Europe’s debt problems are only just beginning.
Meanwhile, the economic crisis in Greece continues to become even more dire. At this point, nearly half of all loans in the country are non-performing, authorities are warning that bank account holders may be forced to take 30 percent haircuts when the banks are finally “bailed in”, and it is being reported that Greek banks may keep current restrictions on cash “in place for months”…
Greek banks are set to keep broad cash controls in place for months, until fresh money arrives from Europe and with it a sweeping restructuring, officials believe.
Rehabilitating the country’s banks poses a difficult question. Should the eurozone take a stake in the lenders, first requiring bondholders and even big depositors to shoulder a loss, or should the bill for fixing the banks instead be added to Greece’s debt mountain?
Answering this could hold up agreement on a third bailout deal for Greece that negotiators want to conclude within weeks.
The longer it takes, the more critical the banks’ condition becomes as a 420 euro ($460) weekly limit on cash withdrawals chokes the economy and borrowers’ ability to repay loans.
Nothing has been “solved” in Greece. The only thing that has been accomplished so far is that Greece has been kept in the euro (at least for the moment). But for the average person on the street things continue to go from bad to worse.
How soon will it be until we see similar scenarios play out in Italy, Spain, Portugal and France?
As things in the eurozone continue to deteriorate, nations that were planning to join the euro are suddenly not so eager to do so…
Poland will not join the euro while the bloc remains in danger of “burning”, its central bank governor said. Marek Belka, who has also served as the country’s prime minister, said the turmoil in Greece had weakened confidence in the single currency. “You shouldn’t rush when there is still smoke coming from a house that was burning. It is simply not safe to do so. As long as the eurozone has problems with some of its own members, don’t expect us to be enthusiastic about joining,” he said.
Yes, definitely keep an eye on what is happening in China. Without a doubt, it is very big news.
But I believe that what is going on in Europe will ultimately prove to be an even bigger story.
The greatest financial crisis that Europe has ever seen is coming, and it is going to shake up the entire planet.