January 16, 2013

Rating agency: Debt crisis has eased, EU bloc likely to live on

The Associated Press

LONDON - The worst of Europe's debt crisis is probably over, and the odds are that no country will drop out of the euro.

That, at least, is the view that the credit rating agency Fitch presented Tuesday to financial experts at a conference in London.

Douglas Renwick, senior director of Fitch Rating's European sovereign credit analysis, said the 17 EU countries that use the euro have shown their capacity to muddle through to some sort of resolution of their three-year debt crisis, and that a breakup of the bloc is now "very unlikely."

He said there is "plenty more" that needs to be done, however, and that fixing the flaws at the heart of the euro project may take the rest of the decade.

Despite its return to recession in 2012, the eurozone, he said, is showing signs of improvement in key areas such as economic competitiveness. The impact of austerity measures on the economy may also be past the peak, even in Greece.

Renwick said flare-ups and bouts of uncertainty in markets will likely continue. This year, general elections in Italy and Germany and a lack of economic growth in Europe are likely to test investors' nerves.

The cautiously optimistic analysis provided by Fitch echoes improvements in financial markets. Bond investors are back buying the debt of countries at the forefront of the crisis, such as Italy and Spain, reducing borrowing rates to manageable levels. And the euro is trading near nine-month highs.

Many in the markets attribute the more benign backdrop to two factors: the European Central Bank's offer last summer to buy up short-term debt of countries in financial trouble, and the eurozone's decision in November to keeping helping Greece despite its troubles meeting financial targets.

The ECB's move has removed uncertainty from government bond markets, and the Greek deal indicates that the country's eurozone partners are committed to keeping it in the currency bloc.

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