United States of Europe?

June 15, 2012

What’s the difference between Illinois and Greece? The biggest similarity is that they are both reported to be virtually bankrupt. But the big difference is that Illinois is part of the United States and Greece is part of the European Union. 

If the state of Illinois goes bust, it won’t be great for people holding its bonds, but otherwise economic life will go on pretty much as normal for Illinois residents. Moreover, there won’t be much fallout for residents of Indiana, or Wisconsin or any other state. And nobody is likely to worry about the problems in Illinois leading to the demise of the U.S. dollar. That’s because Illinois is part of the United States, and we have a federal government that can levy taxes and a strong central bank. The European Union lacks those features, and so the problems in Greece are raising fears of economic turmoil in Europe, perhaps leading to the collapse of the Euro.

It remains to be seen if the Euro-zone countries can agree on the strong measures that it will take to stem the turmoil. In the meantime, we would be very cautious about investing in most European securities. As turnaround investors, we would normally be tempted to jump into a situation like this, but right now we find the outcome too difficult to call and the downside risk still too great.

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