As we headed to JFK early on Monday morning for our BA flight to London, we learned that over the weekend the Eurozone leaders had fashioned a rescue plan that went well beyond Greece and assured the world that Spain and Portugal would not be the next dominoes to fall. Shortly thereafter both countries announced new austerity moves to further assure the world debt markets that they were serious about bringing down their debt levels as a percentage of GDP. The I.M.F. and the U.S. Federal Reserve contributed in their own way to further assure the world markets. By the time we landed in London on Monday evening the world’s stock markets had rallied for their biggest one-day gain in over a year. As the European leaders went home, the Euro remained under pressure and by the weekend had fallen to an 18-month low — below $1.25 to the EU 1. The world markets remained concerned that the new austerity measures imposed on the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece & Spain) could lead to another recession in Europe while the world slowly recovers from the Great Recession. (NY Times: May 14, 2010)
Against this backdrop, when we retired on Monday evening Prime Minister Gordon Brown was still clinging to the hope that he could derail the discussions between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives by entering into discussions with the Liberal Democrats on forming a Labour-led coalition. While Mary Claire and I were out to dinner with friends late on Tuesday evening, it became clear that Labour’s 13-year run had come to an end. The next day Gordon Brown tendered his resignation to the Queen and a swift transition began with David Cameron meeting with the Queen and then quickly moving into 10 Downing Street as the new prime minister. The Conservatives and their new allies, the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, quickly announced to the country that they had formed the first coalition government since Winston Churchill’s coalition government during the darkest hours of World War II. Labour will have a new leader, but Gordon Brown will retain a seat in Parliament. Nick Clegg has become David Cameron’s deputy and at their first cabinet meeting announced their own set of austerity measures to deal with the large deficit that grew out of the Great Recession. The Pound Sterling strengthened versus the Euro as the week unfolded.
This was clearly a historic week on the continent and in the United Kingdom. There is a new determination to deal with the structural issues that have left most of the countries with debt loads that the global bond markets can not support in the long run, and there is a new a resolve by these countries to put themselves on a course that will support sustainable long-term growth. The Obama administration will need to start addressing deficit reduction as well as we approach the November mid-term elections. Those of us in the private equity business will be closely watching the impact of government actions on recovering credit markets.
Mary Claire and I have flown to Dublin for the weekend and will return to New York on Monday evening.