“España tiene razones para salir del euro”, comenta Wolfgang Munchau en el Financial Times (www.ft.com., online de pago), dejándose llevar por la ironía para mejor subrayar la “originalidad” del “modelo español”.
Desde hace meses, es de buen tono entre algunos especialistas evocar la “salida” de Italia u algún otro miembro de la zona euro. Se trata de una hipótesis más que altamente improbable, utilizadas para denunciar divergencias perversas.
En el caso español, Munchau insiste en argumentos que comienzan a repetirse de manera inquietante:
—La reputación del éxito español tiene los pies de barro: el “boom” inmobiliario no puede asegurar indefinidamente el crecimiento de una economía competitiva.
—La construcción española enmascara problemas de fondo, que Zapatero y su ministro de economía no evalúan en sus exactas proporciones…
[ .. ]
Este es el artículo completo de Wolfgang Munchau en el FT:
Wolfgang Munchau: Spain has reason to quit euro
By Wolfgang Munchau
Published: February 19 2006 18:19 | Last updated: February 19 2006 18:19
There was a revealing incident at the World Economic Forum in Davos this year. Nouriel Roubini, the New York-based international economist, took part in a panel discussion during which he raised questions about Italy’s future in the eurozone. A fellow panellist was Giulio Tremonti, the Italian finance minister. Professor Roubini wrote in his web log* that his presentation “caused a stir with Minister Tremonti who interrupted me in the middle of my remarks, went into a temper tantrum and shouted: ‘Go back to Turkey!’ I happen to have been born in Istanbul.”
Perhaps one should not conclude too much from this incident, but it does show one thing: European officials are getting nervous about the future of the euro. A few years ago, no one would have raised an eyebrow.
Italy is often mentioned as the country most likely to leave the euro. I disagree. Leaving the euro would not solve any of Italy’s problems. Since Italy’s debt is mostly euro-denominated, Italy would be facing an Argentinian-style debt crisis. A wise Italian politician told me recently that Italy was more likely to disintegrate as a nation state than to leave the euro.
If any country ever decided to quit, unlikely as this may be, that country would be Spain, not Italy. Over the past seven years, Spain has lost even more competitiveness against the eurozone than Italy. At the same time, Spain is also in a better position to quit. With a debt-to-gross-domestic- product ratio of just over 40 per cent, Spain would have no problem servicing its debts.
Unlike Italy, Spain enjoys the reputation of a European success story. But its economic success rests on shaky ground. It was driven by a housing bubble, during which average property prices have increased almost threefold since 1997. The US and UK housing markets have been well behaved by comparison.
The Spanish housing bubble was caused by a combination of financial deregulation, rising domestic incomes and strong demand from foreign investors. Deregulation has a one-off effect. The contribution of the other two will fade over time. Spain is no doubt an attractive country to live in. But northern Europeans will not continue to invest in a skyrocketing Spanish property market for ever. There is a lot of cheap real estate around the Mediterranean, for example, in Croatia and Turkey.
The house-price bubble has kept the Spanish economy ticking over – and overshadowed Spain’s underlying problem of falling competitiveness. Successive Spanish governments have failed to put in place the one condition essential for a country to prosper in the eurozone in the long run – a sufficient degree of wage and price flexibility. Since the beginning of monetary union in 1999, Spain gradually lost competitiveness against the rest of the eurozone, as its inflation rate exceeded the eurozone’s by an average of more than 1 percentage point each year. Last year, the gap widened to 1.5 percentage points. If this were to go on for another seven years, there would hardly be a Spanish export industry left.
The country’s current account deficit for the first 11 months of 2005 reached 7.3 per cent of GDP. In its latest autumn forecast, the European Commission put the current account deficit at 8.3 per cent this year, and 9.1 per cent in 2007. These are unsustainable levels.
There are some parallels – and one fundamental difference – between Spain and the US. Both countries have a housing bubble – and plenty of economists in denial over it. In both countries, consumers are spending as if there is no tomorrow. And both have lost global competitiveness.
The difference is that Spain is a member of a monetary union. The only way for Spain to regain lost competitiveness is through a long period of wage moderation. The eventual adjustment in the US economy will almost certainly be eased through a weaker dollar.
In Spain, the ratio of average house prices to average incomes is much higher than in other countries with property bubbles. Daniel Gros, director of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, noted that construction makes up an incredible 17 per cent of Spain’s GDP – which is higher than in Germany right after unification**. He predicts that north and south European economies will eventually trade places. German economic growth will gradually improve, while Spain is about to experience a German-style economic stagnation, or worse.
While Spain is more likely to leave the eurozone than Italy, the odds of either country quitting are still small. If faced with a straight choice of a long economic depression and an even longer period of political isolation within the EU, both countries would opt for the former. The real danger for the eurozone is not a break-up, but continued failure. As the boom-bust cycle turns ugly, we should expect to see more irascible finance ministers in southern Europe.
** “Will Emu Survive 2010?”, Jan 2005, www.ceps.be