The euro crisis has begun to feel like an everlasting steeplechase with high hedges and water obstacles blocking the path to economic resurgence on the Continent. Each time a hurdle has been cleared another problem emerges to potentially block the track. The latest developments involve ugly anti-austerity riots across the southern tier and open rifts emerging among the creditors, most notably between the International Monetary Fund and northern nations.
Despite the difficulties, I believe that ultimately the horse will pass the finish line; the Continent has too many economic bright spots to simply slip into irrelevance. The big question should be whether the monetary jockey (the euro) will be thrown off the mount before that happens. Investors should prepare for both eventualities. But while the race is ongoing, the uncertainty over the euro currency is galvanizing the push for full political union of the Eurozone and providing effective camouflage for the weakness of the world's reserve currency, the U.S. dollar.
Future historians of the European Union likely will ponder how democratically elected governments of once proud empire nations willingly surrendered their sovereignty without full and open discussions. The answer lies in greed and fear. By 1950, Western Europe had been ravaged by two horrific Continental wars in 35 years and had been tossed about like a tennis ball in the Cold War match between the United States and the Soviet Union. In light of the situation, the impulse for greater European unity and cooperation was natural.
The key founders of a united Europe were France and Germany. The French sought security by attaching themselves to Germany, while the Germans saw an opportunity for the political hegemony that the two wars could not deliver. But had the idea of European Union been originally presented as a means to empower Germany, few European peoples would have accepted it, least of all the British.
To that end, Jean Monet, one of the early architects of the Union, is alleged to have said, "Europe's nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding what is happening. This can be accomplished by successive steps each designed as having an economic purpose, but which will inevitably and irreversibly lead to political union." He suggested patience in waiting for "opportunities" to progress the idea. As a Member of the UK Parliament, I witnessed such deception first hand.
Gradually, the innocent sounding European Coal and Steel Community (EC&SC) evolved into the European Common Market (ECM), European Economic Community (EEC), the European Community (EC) and now the European Union (EU), a budding superstate, dominated by Germany.
In perhaps one of the most foolhardy moves in recent decades, the euro currency was launched in 1999, long before the political or fiscal unification had taken hold in earnest. In retrospect, the creation of a currency in the absence of a unified state with coordinated fiscal policies seems doomed to failure. And failing it appears to be.
With each stumbling block, the invariable solution offered has been increased political integration and austerity. On November 7th, German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew to London apparently to 'persuade', if not compel, Prime Minister Cameron to tone down or delay his objections to increased EU budget expenditures. She felt so confident that, for the first time, she exposed the covert plans for the European Superstate.
According to the UK Telegraph, Merkel said, "Of course, the [unelected] European Commission will one day become a government, the [unelected] European Council a second chamber and the European Parliament [which currently has no effective power] will have more powers."
Clearly, a failing euro provides all the ingredients needed to knock down barriers to unity. As evidenced by massive public demonstrations in Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, the southern tier is desperate for rescue funds. In order to preserve bloated pensions and early retirement, many citizens would gladly accept lost sovereignty.
The failure of the euro also has provided cover for the severe debasement of the U.S. dollar. Prior to the crisis, the euro had established itself as the world's second currency. Its threatened failure has resulted in massive flights of capital into U.S. dollars. The result is that the colossal currency and debt crisis threatening the U.S. dollar and Treasury markets has been largely obscured. Today, most investors appear to be blissfully unaware that the United States faces debt problems that are worse than many countries in Europe.
However, if European politicians are successful in imposing the political unity needed to save the euro, money will flow out of the U.S. dollar. Alternatively, should the euro fail, other currencies such as a reconstituted Deutsche Mark could rise in its place. Either way, a resolution of the euro problem likely will signal a weaker U.S. dollar and higher interest rates.
Those investors who are overweight in U.S. Treasuries (or the government securities of other debtor nations) could likely suffer when either resolution is reached. Investors should prepare by acquiring assets that will stand and fall on their own merits. Being the least ugly contestant at a beauty pageant is not a strategy for long term success.
John Browne is a Senior Economic Consultant to Euro Pacific Capital. Opinions expressed are those of the writer, and may or may not reflect those held by Euro Pacific Capital, or its CEO, Peter Schiff.