Skip to comments.Monday view: Airbus could trigger 'nuclear option' of currency controls
Posted on 11/28/2006 9:52:38 AM PST by Paleo Conservative
If you have funds across the Channel, or a ferme in Acquitaine, be vigilant. Keep a close eye on Europe's press, because you might one day find your money is nailed more immovably to its Continental home than you had thought.
Four years ago, a small "cellule" inside the European Commission was ordered to draft a report, instigated by Paris, examining the legal basis under EU treaty law for 1970s-style exchange controls. It concluded that Brussels may lawfully freeze capital flows in and out of the EU, and within it, and that this could be done by a "qualified majority" of EU finance ministers, leaving Britain with no veto.
One of its authors told me this was not an abstract exercise. It was to enable Europe to stem the rise of the euro if the dollar goes into free fall, the underlying argument being that Washington should not be allowed export the consequences of its own reckless spending policies through a "beggar-thy-neighbour" devaluation.
The idea was to stop money coming in, though it could equally be used to stop money leaving.
I thought of this study when French premier Dominique de Villepin lashed out this month at the over-mighty euro. "We can't let the European Central Bank act alone on the exchange rate," he said. Ségolène Royal, the new Socialist leader, upped the ante a week later, accusing the ECB of "shattering growth".
Then on Friday the euro smashed through $1.30 to the dollar, crossing the line drawn in the sand by Paris and Berlin. This entails a near equal rise against China's yuan. Against Japan's yen, the euro has risen nearly 70pc in six years to an all-time high of Y151. Hence the move by PSA Peugeot-Citroen to build its 4x4 sportif models in Japan.
EU finance ministers have other means short of exchange controls to bring the ECB to heel and cap the euro. Article 111-2 of the Maastricht Treaty gives them powers to shape exchange rate policy, a detail missed by the markets.
If, for example, the Europols strike a deal with Japan to "manage" the euro-yen rate, the ECB has to adjust monetary policy to meet that objective.
This is where it gets ugly. The ECB's Bundesbank bloc would almost certainly resist such a death blow to the bank's independence, which is why the threat of currency controls may ultimately be part of the mix. There is little Frankfurt can do to stop that.
To quote precisely, the report reads: "Should extremely disturbing capital movements endanger the operation of economic and monetary union, Article 59 EC provides for the possibility to adopt restrictive measures for a period not exceeding six months." The freeze could be extended for another six months with a fresh vote, and so on.
After combing through court judgments, these experts concluded that free movement of capital in the EU is not an "absolute freedom" and could be limited in an emergency.
Heavens know where this "nuclear option" would leave the City of London, dependent for its life blood on unhindered dollar flows. Obviously, it would precipitate a membership crisis.
In fairness, I am not suggesting that the free-market Barroso commission would hatch such a Delors-era plot. But the decision is now out of their hands. What matters is whether France could ever muster a majority of EU finance ministers behind such a scheme. The answer is yes, perhaps, in a slump.
For now, the document sits, waiting to be dusted off when capital flows can be said to "endanger" EMU.
That moment has not arrived. Europe's housing boomlet is not quite exhausted. Yet monetary union is subtly unravelling. French growth fell to zero in the third quarter on sliding exports. Italy is trapped in a downward spiral, doomed by a 20pc currency over-valuation. Fitch and S&P have downgraded its debt to Botswana levels.
Last week, EU monetary commissioner Joaquin Almunia warned of Italy's "dramatic slowdown", and of a widening gap in growth rates between eurozone states that could threaten the viability of EMU if it continues. "The adjustment in the euro area has been slower than we would like and we cannot ignore this fact," he said.
My hunch is that Airbus will bring matters to a head. I was told by an Airbus official last year that if the euro exchange rate went above $1.30 for long, the company was "cooked". He said the chances of this happening were almost nil.
Well, "nil" may be here. While Airbus has an order backlog of 2,177 aircraft worth $220.3bn, these delivery contracts are in dollars while costs are in euros. "This is the nub of the problem," said Louis Gallois, the Airbus chief.
In 2004, the group was shielded by currency hedges at an average rate of $0.98. This year the rate is $1.12, and the hedges are expiring fast. Soon Airbus will face the full violence of the spot market. The aerospace champion is so deeply tied up with Europe's sense of industrial self-worth that it will not be sacrificed lightly on the altar of free currency flows. When the French premier vowed to do whatever it takes to save Airbus, I believed him.
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Airbus is a symptom of failed socialist economic policies. They still don't see it that way. What's the EU plan on doing, using a 'secret recipe' to value their currency like China? This has the looks of another elitist scam where they adjust and trade on their own personal whims according to the elitist's best monetary interests.
The original Bretton Woods system broke down because the Eurodollar markets developed despite U.S. exchange controls. This would be a fool's errand, and economically foolish to boot.
Fiat money in free floating exchange is a tough environment to do long term international trade in. Airbus could have hedged.
The air bus has slides to get out quick.
The EU may be facing 'Capital FLight' just as quickly as if it were on slides!
Ho, ho, ho....... looks like looming civil war.
Wouldn't you consider Bretton Woods killed by Nixon taking the USA off the gold standard. That ended the gold link. I think the floating started shortly there after.
But the fact that Eurodollars were preferred method of settling accounts also had an effect. European banks had large holdings of US dollars which made it much easier for Nixon to take the US off the gold standard. He also convinced the Saudis to price oil in US dollars, stimulating more demand for Eurodollars.
In an immediate sense, but why did he do that? Because the currency had been debased when LBJ wanted to spend a lot of money on Vietnam and the Great Society without passing the burden on to current taxpayers. (The prevailing gold standard obviously failed to prevent this.) The Fed accommodated him, and the old gold-$ rate was simply unsustainable.
Somewhat off topic, but the slides in that picture look too short. If it ever does a landing without the nose wheel unlocked, as did that Boeing plane in Canada a few years back, the rear slides don't even look like they would reach the ground.
Nixon's hand was forced. He could accept the French continuing to exchange the worthless paper, printed by the Federal Reserve to cover spending on LBJ's federal domestic spending and the roughly half a million million deployed to fight the Vietnam war, for gold until we gave it all away, or he could cut the link. Nixon didn't have the sense or moxy to curb the spending that has been destroying the value of the dollar since 1933.
And no one at Airbus drew up a contingency plan?
1) Who are "they"? (Remember, victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan)
2) What for? This isn't private enterprise, this socialism.
The way I see it, the following can happen to the guilty party:
a) Kicked upstairs
b) Kicked downstairs to the rôle of "independent consultant on retainer"
c) Engage Golden Parachute
The gold standard was dead long before Nixon did the right thing and officially dumped it. It was essentially a system of currency price controls that was not well suited for the enormous economic expansion that took place after World War II. In the 1950s the communist central banks greatly expanded the practice of holding deposits in foreign banks in foreign currencies--eurodollars or marks or francs or pounds--because they had to have "hard" currencies to buy the foreign goods that centrally planned economies simply couldn't produce. The euromarkets exploded after that as businesses operating in different countries or trading across borders used them to provide finance that was restricted by currency controls and the various ill considered taxes that were imposed to keep currency flows in line with what the Bretton Woods types thought they should be. Looks like the EU needs to brush up its institutional memory.
Moral: price controls do not work.
Other moral: we now have fiat money. Its value is based on whether or not someone wants to use it to buy the things that the economy that produces it makes. If you wreck your economy with stupid fiscal policy and inane regulation, you also destroy the value of your currency.
It is apparent that Airbus has a lot worse problems than the currency valuation, however it makes a good excuse for masking the true problems of socialism and giving the Euroweenies a shot at really screwing up their side of the pond.
The lack of hedge options is shocking.
Unless, of course, Airbus is "COC" (crap-outta-cash).
Now who gets to suffer from this mismanagement?
The folks using those slides with the nose wheel up and locked are in for a "E" Ticket ride, if they are on pavement.
WILL skyrocket. Trade deficits are self-correcting.
The EU **COLLECTIVE** at work. Something to ponder if you are, or are thinking about, investing in EU markets.
Can we say "suicide?" That's what it would be if the EU instituted currency and capital controls intended to prop up Airbus.
This may be the final straw that demonstrates to the Europeans once and for all how completely flawed the socialist model is. Of course, it won't deter Pelosi and Reid.
No, nothing will probably deter those two. But we can hope that the U.S. business lobby keeps their socialist endeavors reigned in at least.
GodGunsGuts: Thanks so much for the ping.
This makes too much sense.
I outlined for him my concerns about the Euro being used, essentially, as an instrument of economic warfare. He dismissed the idea with a confident flourish.
I hadn't envisioned this but can see it's a likely part of the picture.
Yet the Sterling has been very strong of late against the dollar. Not quite what one would expect if the Brits were stocking up on $.
Quick, diversify into the Euro, before it goes away. LOL!
Please add me to your ping list. Thanks.
yea can i get on your ping list too
Seen it in other EU industries as well. Makes for a mess when the bills come due.
But its apparently okay for France and its Europals to do just that with their AirBus subsidies and trade barriers. Ditto that for China.
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