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Central Bankers Brace for Euro Break-Up

At least one country will leave the eurozone in the next five years, according to a survey of central bank reserve managers who collectively control more than $8,000 billion.

EU building flags brussels
EyesWideOpen | Getty Images
EU building flags brussels

The results of the poll, conducted by UBS, highlight the concern among some of the world’s top central bank officials ahead of the Greek election this weekend that is widely seen as a pivotal moment for the future of the single currency.

UBS surveyed more than 80 central bank reserve managers, sovereign wealth funds and multilateral institutions with more than $8,000 billion in assets at its annual seminar for sovereign institutions. The results were not weighted for assets under management.

The central bankers and SWF managers said that a break-up of the eurozone was the greatest risk to the global economy over the next 12 months. Nearly three quarters of them said at least one country would leave the eurozone within five years. Of those, roughly a quarter said that more than one country would drop the euro.

Their views stand in contrast to the attempts of some central banks to shore up confidence in the single currency. But they carry weight because the reserve managers hold significant influence over foreign exchange markets with their decisions about how to allocate their assets.

The prospect of a eurozone break-up has unnerved investors of all types in recent months, triggering a sharp sell-off in European equities, a jump in the bond yields of peripheral eurozone governments and a slide in the value of the euro.

The uncertainty over Greece’s future in the eurozone – which is coming to a head with a crucial election this weekend – has combined with a banking crisis in Spain to undermine investor confidence.

That has already prompted some sovereigns to diversify away from the euro. The Swiss National Bank revealed last month that it had doubled its holdings of sterling in the first quarter of the year as it reduced its exposure to the euro. Analysts and traders say that other reserve managers have been doing the same thing.

The reserve managers’ caution about the future of the euro was borne out in their forecasts. They predicted that by the end of the year the euro would be trading between $1.15 and $1.25, compared to a level of around $1.26 on Thursday. A small minority said that the euro would no longer exist by the end of the year.

In contrast, the central banks and SWF mangers were more bullish on the prospects for gold. They predicted that the precious metal, together with emerging market debt, would be the best performing asset class between now and the end of the year.

The price of gold has stagnated so far this year, as investors have grown wary of its ability to act as a haven in times of crisis. On Thursday it was trading at $1,620.70 a troy ounce, up 3.5 per cent since the start of 2012.

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