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The Importance of Trade and Capital Imbalances in the European Debt Crisis

  • Andrew Hughes Hallett

    ()

    (George Mason University)

  • Juan Carlos Martinez Oliva

    ()

    (Peterson Institute for International Economics)

The current debate on the European crisis has highlighted the role of fiscal imbalances in explaining the turmoil that has dominated Europe in the past few years. This paper adopts a different point of view by suggesting that intra-European payments imbalances are crucial for the survival of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Indeed, payment imbalances between the North and South have contributed to the accumulation of large stock of foreign debt, while flows of foreign capital ceased to finance productive investments that might have contributed to debt repayments--being used instead to finance consumption and real estate. The dynamic interplay between current account imbalances and the accumulation of foreign debt reveals that, once the system is driven into disequilibrium by a real exchange rate misalignment, the longer a payments imbalance persists and the harder the eventual adjustment will be. Capital reversals, by shifting portfolio balances, then lead the system toward instability, sovereign default, and the collapse of the exchange rate regime. Replacing private with public creditors can temporarily help us to stay away from the point where the system breaks down. But this is only a temporary expedient because the underlying imbalances will need continuing and increasing financing until equilibrium is restored by other means. One permanent solution is the European Central Bank’s (ECB) official monetary transactions program, if the potential expansions to the central bank’s balance sheet can be tolerated.

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Paper provided by Peterson Institute for International Economics in its series Working Paper Series with number WP13-1.

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Date of creation: Jan 2013
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Handle: RePEc:iie:wpaper:wp13-1
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  1. Wendy Carlin, 2013. "Real Exchange Rate Adjustment, Wage-Setting Institutions, and Fiscal Stabilization Policy: Lessons of the Eurozone's First Decade," CESifo Economic Studies, CESifo, vol. 59(3), pages 489-519, September.
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  3. Pietro Alessandrini & Michele Fratianni & Andrew Hughes Hallett & Andrea Presbitero, 2014. "External Imbalances and Fiscal Fragility in the Euro Area," Open Economies Review, Springer, vol. 25(1), pages 3-34, February.
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  11. Andrew Hughes Hallett & Juan Martinez Oliva, 2012. "Reducing Global Imbalances: Can Fixed Exchange Rates and Current Account Limits Help?," Open Economies Review, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 163-192, February.
  12. Theofilakou, Nancy & Stournaras, Yannis, 2012. "Current account adjustments in OECD countries revisited: The role of the fiscal stance," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 34(5), pages 719-734.
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  15. C. Fred Bergsten & Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, 2012. "The Coming Resolution of the European Crisis," Policy Briefs PB12-1, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  16. Jarkko Turunen & Richard T. Harmsen & Tamim Bayoumi, 2011. "Euro Area Export Performance and Competitiveness," IMF Working Papers 11/140, International Monetary Fund.
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