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Germany's Angela Merkel (THOMAS PETER/Thomas Peters/Reuters)
Germany's Angela Merkel (THOMAS PETER/Thomas Peters/Reuters)

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Central bank bandage: Euro chiefs must fix ruined system Add to ...

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Central banks in co-ordinated move Europe's leaders continue to search for an elusive answer to their mounting troubles, but the world's central bankers are stepping in to buy them some time.

Central banks in Canada, the United States, the euro zone, Britain, Japan and Switzerland moved in today to ease financial pressures created by Europe's debt crisis.

As The Globe and Mail's Kevin Carmichael reports from Washington, they're bringing down the rate they charge for emergency access to American dollars.

"The purpose of these actions is to ease strains in financial markets and thereby mitigate the effects of such strains on the supply of credit to households and businesses and so help foster economic activity," the Bank of Canada said in a statement.

The central banks, beginning next week, will reduce the rate they charge to swap U.S. dollars for other currencies by half a percentage point. The new charge will be half a point above the U.S. dollar overnight index swap, or OIS. A swap is essentially a loan backed by collateral. The OIS market is where banks go to borrow dollars or other currencies on a short-term basis.

"Euro zone banks tend to have significant dollar-denominated assets," said John Higgins of Capital Economics.

"Where these assets exceed their dollar-denominated retail deposits, the banks must source the remaining dollars from elsewhere. If U.S. banks are not prepared to lend them dollars outright at an acceptable rate, another option is to borrow them from U.S. banks in exchange for lending euros. But the euro-denominated assets of U.S. banks tend to be much smaller. Accordingly, when concerns about the health of the global banking system are increasing, as they are now, euro zone banks often find their need for dollars outstrips U.S. banks’ need for euros. And when investors’ worries are centred on the euro zone, this is likely to be even more the case."

Today's move had an immediate impact on global markets, driving stocks sharply higher, along with currencies such as the Canadian dollar . The euro also climbed. The markets were also helped along by an easing in China and better economic news from the United States.

But what today's move doesn't do is affect any of the issues at the heart of Europe's troubles. That has been left to the politicians of the 17-member monetary union, who haven't been able to fix the thing after two years of trying.

"The last thing peripheral Europe needs is a higher euro given how uncompetitive they are at the moment," said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson in London. "All that the central banks have done is buy European politicians more time to fix a broken system."

Mr. Higgins agreed that the underlying troubles aren't addressed.

While the move to lower the cost of dollar funding in particular is a boon for euro-zone financial institutions, it is not a game changer," he said.

How much time does Europe have? Actually, its leaders ran the clock down long ago. From the point of view of Olli Rehn, the economic chief of the EU, “we are now entering the critical period of 10 days to complete and conclude the crisis response of the European Union.”

Outlook for Europe grim The outlook for Europe still grows bleaker by the day.

As finance officials continue to wrangle in Brussels today over the steps necessary to save their monetary union, the people on the streets are suffering.

In Spain, for example, fresh data today shows the jobless rate has hit almost 23 per cent. In Greece it's more than 18 per cent, in Italy 8.5 per cent, and in the euro zone as a whole 10.3 per cent. And one has to question how much higher those rates will go as embattled governments scramble to cut further and deeper in their rush to bring down their deficits.

"Look for the uptrend to continue," warned Benjamin Reitzes of BMO Nesbitt Burns.

Greece, for example, is deep in recession, and, as The Associated Press reports today, the ranks of the homeless are growing.

“Up until now people that were facing psychological problems or addiction problems were the main population of homeless people,” charity worker Athanasia Tourkou told the news agency.

Now the profile is changing and we see people with a very high education level, people (who) up until a few months ago had a house, a regular job, were living with their families. And now they're on the streets.”

China cuts requirements The People's Bank of China moved today to ease reserve requirements among the country's banks, cutting the ratio by half a percentage point. Beijing has been making inroads in its fight against inflation, and now is moving to support economic growth by spurring bank lending.

"More important though is the signal this gives to the markets and to investors," said Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics in London.

"The PBC could have achieved the same end of loosening constraints on credit growth quietly through its open market operations. The fact that it chose to act in this more public way is a signal not only that policymakers are loosening but that they want to be seen to be doing so. Accordingly, we see this as a decisive shift in policy stance from China. Further reserve requirement cuts will follow over the next few months."

China had been moving forcefully against inflation, raising rates and the reserve ratio aggressively.

"This may well be your China soft landing in play as we’ve been discussing with clients who are more focused upon hard landing risks," said Derek Holt of Scotia Capital.

"Yes China has investment and housing excesses and risks a sharp slow down, but what is forgotten is that no other country has the capacity to ease like China has and to do so within the confines of a uni-party state and a style that lacks transparency or short-term rationing roles played by the cost of capital," he said in a research note.

"The hard landing camp, in my opinion, simplistically erred by assuming that a uni-party state would be asleep at the switch as growth downsides become evident through higher frequency manufacturing and housing metrics ... This hardly solves the world’s problems on a risk-trade bias that will be pressured for a long time yet, but it’s a pro-active positive step in the short run."

Economy rebounds Canada's economy rebounded in the third quarter of the year - and at a faster pace than expected - as gross domestic product expanded by an annualized 3.5 per cent after the second quarter's slump.

Today's report from Statistics Canada was better than expected. Economists had anticipated growth in the range of 3 per cent.

The expansion was pushed along by a surge in exports and a push in residential construction, Statistics Canada said. But growth in consumer spending slowed amid high unemployment, fat household debt and global uncertainty.

But the outlook isn't as strong as the third-quarter data.

"An unsatisfactory pace of job growth – zero net gains in employment since July – in combination with weakening consumer confidence and ongoing losses in equity markets are expected to slow the pace of spending growth over the next few months," said economist Diana Petramala of Toronto-Dominion Bank.

"Meanwhile, global economic growth is slowing substantially, led by a likely deep recession in Europe and moderating economic growth in China. Canada will be negatively impacted through weak commodity prices and slower export growth. Overall, economic growth is expected to average sub-2 per cent over 2012, a pace that will likely keep inflationary pressures in check and the Bank of Canada on hold through next year. "

Competition watchdog raises TMX concerns TMX Group Inc. and the financial institutions poised to take over the stock exchange operator have a selling job on their hands.

As The Globe and Mail's Tim Kiladze reports today, the Competition Bureau says it has "serious concerns" about the proposed deal, the latest in the long-running love triangle saga surrounding TMX, which first called off an agreement with London Stock Exchange Group PLC and then opted for the banks, insurers and others that make up the Maple Group.

As Streetwise columnist Boyd Erman writes, it's not surprising that the antitrust watchdog has concerns. But the depth of its issues may be.

In Economy Lab The term “innovation” runs the risk of becoming a meaningless buzzword, playing the same role that the word “excellence” did a generation ago, Stephen Gordon writes.

In International Business Can the International Monetary Fund save the euro zone? No. But it can help, writes Martin Wolf of The Financial Times.

In Globe Careers The most common problem in project management is falling behind schedule. It’s difficult to avoid delays, but you can often improve the situation and still complete the project on time.

In Personal Finance Some things to consider if you're self-employed, a parent sharing custody or planning to take money out of your TFSA.

From today's Report on Business

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  • Updated December 15 4:45 PM EST. Delayed by at least 15 minutes.


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