And this is only the beginning!
Several weeks ago Europe officially entered a double dip recession, and based on various secondary economic indicators, even Europe’s primary economic powerhouse, Germany, is on the verge of negative economic growth. The reasons for Europe’s woeful macroeconomic state are numerous, but boil down to two primary ones: i) massive external imbalances among Eurozone nations (think soaring peripheral debt) coupled with the inability to devalue the common currency as that would mean a failure and collapse of the joint currency union, ii) a desperate need for the periphery to regain price competitiveness (via wages and labor costs) with Germany in order to arrest and collapse an unemployment rate (general, but especially youth) that not even the most optimistic pundits dare claim is sustainable.
Said otherwise, most European countries (including France) face a desperate need for external devaluation, which is impossible under a monetary union, leaving only internal devaluation as an option. This is where the much maligned concept of austerity comes in: from a macroeconomic perspective, austerity is not so much an exercise at moderating the pace of debt increase (as neither Spain nor Italy have reduced their rate of debt issuance), but of gradually becoming more price competitive with Germany: a key outcome that will be needed for the Eurozone to have any chance of survival, i.e., lowering sticky unemployment rates from levels that virtually assure social “disturbances” in the months and years ahead.
And herein lies the rub: because while protests against “austerity” (which as we observed recently has still not been truly implemented in Europe, and certainly not in Portugal or Spain) are a daily event in most PIIGS nations, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.“ The reason: to achieve the unavoidable macroeconomic rebalancing, and to collapse the spread between soaring labor costs in the periphery and those of Germany (see chart below), the bulk of European countries will need to see wages collapse by anywhere between 30% and 50% to compensate for the lack of state-level currency devaluation optionality. And yes, this includes France.