”Investors do not seem convinced that euro-zone governments will be able to muster the political will to hammer out an agreement. Germany, as the largest euro member, is vital to any effort to save Greece, but it is wavering. German public opinion is firmly set against dipping into the public purse to help the profligate Greeks. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, is in a tight spot. If she agrees to extend aid quickly to Greece a voters’ backlash back home may send her party crashing to defeat in regional elections set for May 9th. But if she sits back and watches Greece slide towards default, the contagion is sure to spread rapidly to other, bigger EU countries with debt problems — Mrs Merkel could then end up being blamed for triggering a far worse conflagration across Europe, including a fresh banking crisis.
Fears that Greece’s fiscal crunch would spread to other euro-area countries have sent the region’s single currency reeling to a one-year low against the dollar. S&P’s decision on Tuesday also to downgrade thedebt of Portugal by a couple of notches pushed European and world stock markets lower. Portugal, despite a smaller budget deficit and lower public debt than Greece, is widely touted as the next European country that may suffer a sovereign-debt crisis. Portugal’s slow-growing economy, drastic loss of competitiveness and high public and private indebtedness are all weaknesses that markets might put to greater test.
If Portugal comes under intense pressure, contagion might then spread to Ireland, Italy or Spain, the other euro-area countries with some mixture of big budget deficits, poor growth prospects and high debts. Only swift and decisive action by the leaders of Europe’s big economies is likely to head off the current crisis.”
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