Europe is not fixed. Not by a long shot.August 14, 2012: 2:00 PM ET
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul R. La Monica. Other than Time Warner, the parent of CNNMoney, and Abbott Laboratories, La Monica does not own positions in any individual stocks.
Investors seemed relieved by the latest GDP figures out of Europe Tuesday. But why?
Sure, I guess the numbers could have been a lot worse. But the eurozone's overall economy shrunk by 0.2% from the first quarter to the second quarter. And Germany's economy rose by only 0.3% compared to the first quarter. Keep in mind that Germany is supposed to be the star of Europe!
If Europe were a baseball team, Germany might have a batting average of only .255 -- and that only looks good because France (which reported no change in GDP) is batting .240 while Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal are struggling to stay above .200. Being the "best" of a sorry lot doesn't necessarily mean you are good.
Making matters worse, it's hard to imagine how much longer Germany can continue to prop up the rest of Europe.
Economists for brokerage firm Brockhouse Cooper in Montreal noted in a report Tuesday morning that "it is no secret that Germany is heavily trade-dependent." The economists expressed concerns that Germany won't be able to boost domestic demand enough to "buffer against the storm circles in the rest of Europe" and warned that Germany "should prepare for a rocky road ahead as the country's trade partners remain in rough shape.">
The Germans themselves seem increasingly nervous about the rest of Europe as well. A report issued Tuesday by the The Centre for European Economic Research in Mannheim indicated that economic sentiment in Germany was at its lowest level of the year, a sign that Germans expect their economy to slow further over the second half of the year.
If Germany can't support the eurozone, who can? France? That's unlikely. So investors should not get fooled into thinking that the debt crisis is over just because long-term bond yields in Spain and Italy have retreated from the peak crisis levels. More importantly, European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi should not get lulled into a sense of false security.
While Draghi obviously would prefer for sovereign nations to fix their own fiscal problems, it's increasingly clear that some European leaders lack the political will (or economic know-how) to effectively do so.
Draghi still needs to leave all options on the table, including more aggressive purchases of debt from the most troubled southern European nations. It would also behoove Draghi to continue putting pressure on Germany to reconsider its position regarding the issuance of common European debt.
Germany has been reluctant to consider so-called eurobonds because those bonds would likely fetch much higher interest rates than Germany's ultra-low yield of about 1.5% on its 10-year bund. But that's short-sighted. The biggest folly of the eurozone is that the various members share a currency but not debt. This would be akin to the United States having no federal Treasury bonds and instead merely having 50 different bonds and notes for each of the states.
What's more, Germany also clearly benefits from the fact that its neighbors are in such sorry shape. If there was no euro and we went back to a world of drachmas, lire, pesetas, escudos and francs, the Deutsche Mark would undoubtedly be much stronger than nearly all the other individual European currencies. And that would hurt Germany's exporting power around the world.
Germany may not like subsidizing the rest of Europe. But the alternative may be scarier. So hopefully Draghi can show just how "Super" he is by convincing Angela Merkel to work even more closely with France's Francois Hollande and other key European leaders.
Remember that the European crisis has been going on since the beginning of 2010. We've all been waiting for an epic collapse of a nation or big financial institution to shake Europe to its core like the United States was in 2008.
Yet that may never happen. Instead of Greece, Spain or Italy subbing for Lehman, Fannie Mae and AIG, we may continue to get a slow bleed unless Europe finally decides that the only way out of the economic malaise is through actual unified action.
Until there's strong evidence of true cooperation, investors would be silly to buy into any hype about a European recovery. But as the chart below shows, investors in French and German stocks clearly are holding their nose and hoping for the best.