Behind Hazy Stress Tests, Real Signs of Confidence in Europe's Economy
The bulk of banks passed and estimates of new funds needed was modest. The rigor of the tests, though, was greeted with skepticism. And while some had hoped that the results would further boost market confidence, the proceedings left plenty unresolved.
But investors should look past the dissections of the financial community, many with little skin in the game, and instead consider how Europe views its own economic conditions.
A New Day in Europe
The outlook among business executives and policy makers who have managed to steer the Continent through a brutal recession much better than most had expected at the start of the year is very optimistic.
A highly regarded survey of German business confidence, for example, put the mood at its brightest level in three years after posting its sharpest monthly gains since the country was reunited in 1990. And as a strong industrial recovery gains steam and unemployment falls, business managers have plenty to be happy about.
The French services sector, meanwhile, is also making impressive gains. And in Britain, where prime minister David Cameron has indicated that restoring financial stability by cutting deficits will be a big priority, GDP expanded at the sharpest level in four years according to data real released Friday.
Lessons for the U.S.?
Much of Europe is finding stable footing while concerns about grim economic conditions on this side of the Atlantic are on the rise again. The U.S., then, would be wise to learn from the more buttoned-down approach to economic policy that Europe has taken.
Cries by some U.S. pundits to increase stimulus spending even with little evidence of the impact that funds deployed so far have had has run sharply contrary to Europe's more prudent inclinations. Indeed, additional funds would be better used to directly help those Americans hurt by the downturn. Europe, which has sidestepped a lot of American financial sophistry but provides an expansive social safety net, again provides a map.
Soaring German business confidence, meanwhile, also validates much of the logic that European policy makers have used in pushing for a more disciplined financial position.
"The German population, which is an aging population and a rather attentive population, will feel reassured and will save less because it will feel confident that the state is looking after public finances, and therefore it will consume more," French finance minister Christine Lagarde said recently about her German counterpart's position that austerity may actually help boost demand.
It's hard to ignore a hyperventilating financial community that thrives on diving through minutia and often misses the forest for the trees, of course. But the patient and solid approach taken by Europe should be instructive as the U.S. grapples with the prospects of another economic slowdown.