This paper asserts that the contagion currently afflicting sovereign bond markets in the eurozone can only be stopped if there is a central bank willing to be lender of last resort, i.e. willing to guarantee that the cash will always be available to pay out the bondholders. Until recently, the European Central Bank performed this role either directly by buying government bonds, or indirectly by accepting government bonds as collateral in its liquidity provision to the banking system, but it has made it clear that it is now unwilling to continue to do so. The author argues that this reluctance of the ECB to take up its responsibility as a lender of last resort is the single most important factor explaining why the forces of contagion in the eurozone’s sovereign bond markets have not been stopped.
Paul De Grauwe is Professor of Economics at the University of Leuven and Senior Associate Research Fellow at CEPS.