European monetary system and european currency

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1. Introduction

The period of the five months following the introduction of the euro has been very rich in new events, with significant developments taking place both in the continental securities markets and in the financial system as a whole. Although experience has been gathered over a relatively short period of time, I am tempted to make two observations of a fundamental nature.

The first observation is that developments following the introduction of the euro do not imply that the euro area is set to become a financial fortress whose financial markets and institutions would be cut off from the rest of the world. In fact, market participants residing outside the euro area seem to be taking a keen interest in the financial markets of the euro area. "Core Europe", so to speak, has become more interesting to outsiders as the breadth and liquidity of its financial markets has increased.

The second observation is that the euro can be expected to have a significant influence on the structure of the financial system by bringing about more securitisation. A traditional feature of the financial system of continental Europe has been a marked dependency on the funds intermediated by banks. This feature contrasts with the financial system of the United States which is much more securitised. For instance, corporate bonds have not been very widely issued in the euro area, and stock market capitalisation - relative to the size of the economy - is much lower in the euro area than in the United States. There are good reasons to believe that a process of securitisation will gather pace in the euro area now that the single currency is in use. This view seems to be shared by many observers and I shall, in the course of my remarks, provide some arguments in its favour.

In my remarks today, I should like to discuss the structural changes in the financial sector, in particular those that have occurred as a result of the launch of new product types and the changing nature of public and private institutions. I shall address developments in the money markets, the bond markets and the equity markets as well as the process of adaptation of banking institutions to their new environment.

2. Money markets

The money markets of the euro area became rapidly integrated after the introduction of the euro despite the fact that their structures had previously been quite different at the national level. Transaction volumes and measures of bid-ask spreads on the various money market instruments both indicate that the markets reached a very high level of liquidity very rapidly in the course of January 1999 and have subsequently retained it.

The high degree of integration of the euro area money markets is, first of all, a result of the single monetary policy, which is conducted through the harmonised operational framework of the Eurosystem. This integration has also been made possible by the significant and increasing integration of payment systems. Cross-border payments processed by TARGET accounted for more than 37% of the value of all real-time payments (domestic and cross-border) effected by credit institutions in March and April 1999. Moreover, the continuously high use which our counterparties make of the correspondent central banking model (or CCBM) for the cross-border transfer of collateral in monetary policy operations is an important indication of area-wide integration. This is evidenced by the fact that cross-border collateral currently represents around 25% of the total amount of collateral in custody in the context of the Eurosystem's monetary policy operations.

Taking a closer look at the various instruments traded in the money markets, a feature that is worthy of note is that market participants in the 11 countries of the euro area have shown an increasing tendency to demonstrate a similar reliance on each instrument type. For example, what we call "overnight indexed swaps", which are swaps indexed on the overnight reference interest rate EONIA, have become an important derivative instrument in the money markets of the euro area. This can be seen from the low level of quoted bid-ask spreads and the high turnover relative to other major international markets. Both indicators show a high level of liquidity in this instrument. Another type of instrument of interest in the money market (but also at the fringe of the bond market) is that of the repurchase agreement. The development of more integrated repo markets in the euro area will obviously accompany the development of area-wide securities trading, settlement and custody systems. This will reduce transaction costs and improve efficiency for the cross-border transfer of securities through repurchase operations.

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