Stock Markets to Eurozone: Darn it, You're Ruining Everything

EurozoneThat giant sucking sound you hear is money -- lots of it -- fleeing stock markets around the globe for the safe havens of the U.S., German, and U.K. sovereign bond markets. It's fear talking -- fear of intensifying crisis in the eurozone.

How bad is it? For the month of May, Japan's Nikkei stock index was down 8.6%. Germany's DAX lost a massive 13.5%. Britain's FTSE plummeted 17.8%. Here in the U.S., the S&P 500 was down a relatively mild 6.7%, but that's not much to cheer about.

This response to the eurozone's latest crisis point is driving bond yields to record or near-record lows:
  • 10-year U.K. Gilts are paying just 1.48%, down from 2.1% a month ago.
  • The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasuries is just 1.47%, down from 1.95% a month ago.
  • 10-year German Bunds are yielding just 1.21%, down from 1.67% a month ago.
The yield on two-year German debt actually went negative briefly earlier this week, meaning investors were so desperate for safety they were willing to forgo any return at all.

Greece + Exit = "Grexit"

After all the eurozone crises we've endured over the past few years, why the rush to the exits now? In short, with what's currently going on in Greece and Spain, it's arguable we might really be approaching the make-or-break point for the eurozone this time.

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Last month, Greeks voted overwhelmingly for two parties that campaigned on rejecting the terms of the country's bailout package. Unable to form a coalition, the country will be going back to the polls to try again this month.

It's unclear, however, who will be elected this time and what they will decide to do. If the bailout terms are rejected, it's very likely the other eurozone countries will cut off monetary assistance, Greece will default, and it will be forced out of the eurozone.

Spain + Panic = "Spanic"

In Spain, the government recently had to bail out out one of its biggest banks -- Bankia -- to the tune of $23 billion. That's not a lot of money for the U.S. government, but it's a lot for Spain.

Widespread Debt: This Is Only The Beginning.
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Stock Markets to Eurozone: Darn it, You're Ruining Everything

With a national debt still hovering around 120% of its GDP, Greece is still far from being out of the fiscal woods. As austerity measures bite, Greece's GDP will shrink further and its debt-to-GDP ratio will rise, putting it on course for further defaults -- er, "restructurings." Nor is Greece alone. According to official figures, debt-to-GDP ratios elsewhere are similarly high.

Photo: Gerasimos, an 83-year-old Greek man, picks through a heap of rubbish to salvage useful items as the marble gate of the Roman Agora is reflected in a mirror, in the Plaka district of Athens on Monday, March 12, 2012. Greece implemented the biggest debt writedown in history on Monday, swapping the bulk of its privately-held bonds with new ones worth less than half their original value. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Debt-to-GDP ratio: 130%

Photo: President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson prior to voting in a referendum in Reykjavik, Iceland, Saturday, March 6, 2010.   Icelanders voted "no" in a nationwide referendum on approving the use of $5.3 billion of taxpayers' money to repay international debts.  The "no" vote may complicate Iceland's effort to recover from a deep recession and a banking collapse. (AP Photo/Brynjar Gauti)

Debt-to-GDP ratio: 120%

Photo: A man reads a newspaper in Milan, Italy, Monday, Jan. 30, 2012. European leaders are trying to come up with ways to boost economic growth and jobs, which are being squeezed by their own governments' steep budget cuts across the continent. The 27 EU leaders meeting in Brussels are also looking for common ground on a new treaty to toughen spending rules to dig the continent out of a crippling debt crisis. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Debt-to-GDP ratio: 110%

Photo: Workers seen at the Luis Onofreâ luxury shoe factory in Oliveira de Azemeis, Portugal, Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. Debt burdens are rising fastest in European countries that have enacted the most draconian austerity programs. Portugal's unemployment rate hit a record 14 percent at the end of last year and the government imposed austerity measures to slash costs: Portugal cut pensions, reduced public servants' wages and raised taxes starting in 2010. (AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)

Debt-to-GDP ratio: 105%

Photo: People walk past a beggar on a bridge in Dublin Monday Feb. 20, 2012. Bank of Ireland, the only one of Ireland's six banks to avoid nationalization, reported it returned to net profit in 2011 thanks to heavy debt restructuring in the face of continued losses from dud loans. (AP Photo/Shawn Pogatchnik)

Debt-to-GDP ratio: 102%

Photo: The shadow of Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is seen on a representation of the National Debt Clock as he spoke at a town hall meeting in Kalamazoo, Mich., Friday, Feb. 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Debt-to-GDP ratio: 85% each

Photo: Reflected in a window, people walk in London's City financial district, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012. Britain's AAA credit rating was put on a "negative outlook" by ratings agency Moody's, amid fears over weaker growth prospects and potential shocks from the eurozone crisis. Britain's Chancellor George Osborne said the assessment was a vindication of the Government's tough austerity measures and "a reality check for anyone who thinks Britain can duck confronting its debts". Moody's downgraded the ratings of six countries and also put France and Austria on the same caution as the UK amid violent protests in Greece. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Debt-to-GDP ratio: 82%

It makes you wonder: Who will be next in line to default? And when they do, will we call that "good news," too?

Photo: A pedestrian looks at a sign in a shop reading: ''One euro, price haircut'' in Athens on Thursday, March 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

The Bankia bailout is engendering fears that Spain itself will soon need a bailout, and that Europe won't be able to afford it. (Remember, Spain is the eurozone's fourth-largest economy.) And all this is only further driving up the cost of Spanish debt, increasing the possibility the country might need a Greek-style bailout.

No country has ever left the eurozone, so no one knows what sort of economic chaos might ensue -- on either side of the Atlantic -- if one does. In the meantime, investors should prepare for further devaluation of their stock portfolios. It's not over yet.
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