New Reports Warn of Escalating Dangers From Europe’s Debt Crisis

Paris— Warnings that the crisis in Europe could endanger the global economy and cause credit to dry up in the global banking system multiplied Monday, despite fresh efforts by European leaders to prevent the euro monetary union from fracturing.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said the euro crisis remained “a key risk to the world economy.” The Paris-based research group sharply cut its forecasts for wealthy Western countries and cautioned that growth in Europe could come to a standstill.

Europe’s politicians have so far moved too slowly to prevent the crisis from spreading, the organization said in a report. It warned that the problems that started in Greece almost two years ago would start to infect even rich European countries thought to have relatively solid public finances if leaders dallied, a development that would “massively escalate economic disruption.”

“We are concerned that policy-makers fail to see the urgency of taking decisive action to tackle the real and growing risks to the global economy,” the O.E.C.D.’s chief economist Pier Carlo Padoan said.

The warning came just hours after Moody’s Investors Service issued its own bleak report on Europe’s rapidly escalating sovereign debt crisis.

The credit agency warning that the problems may lead multiple countries to default on their debts or exit the euro, which would threaten the credit standing of all 17 countries in the currency union.

It also said that while European politicians have expressed their commitment to holding the euro together and preventing defaults, their actions to address the crisis only seem to be taking place “after a series of shocks” force their hand. As a result, more countries may be shut out of borrowing in financial markets “for a sustained period,” Moody’s said, raising the specter of additional public bailouts on top of the multi-billion euro lifelines currently supporting Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

“The probability of multiple defaults by euro-area countries is no longer negligible,” Moody’s said. “A series of defaults would also increase the likelihood of one or more members not simply defaulting, but also leaving the euro area.”

Despite the gloomy predictions, stocks rose sharply in Europe and Asia for the first time in more than a week, and the euro strengthened, on hopes that European leaders were working on a new approach to resolve the crisis.

On Sunday, France, Germany and Italy signaled they were ready to agree on new rules to enforce budget discipline among the 17 nations that use the euro, and encourage more coordination of economic and fiscal policy.

Those efforts have so far been overshadowed by the failure of those countries to follow through on promises made back in July to bolster mechanisms to fight the euro crisis.

In particular, authorities have been slow to implement an expansion of the bailout fund, known as the European Financial Stability Facility, that was meant to raise money by issuing bonds backed by the stronger European countries and loan it to shakier countries facing high interest rates on their debt.

France last week bowed to pressure from Germany against the issuance of a common bond that would be backed by euro-zone countries, something investors said could help calm the crisis during the long time that it will take to expand the E.F.S.F.

Germany has also resisted calls to allow the European Central Bank to act as a lender of last resort to put out financial fires during the transition to a more federalist structure in the euro-zone.

The O.E.C.D. called on politicians to get the expanded bailout fund running as fast as possible, and said the E.C.B. must be allowed to step in more than it has to stem the crisis.

For now, the organization said it expects Europe’s leaders to do the right thing, and take sufficient action to avoid the type of defaults by European countries foreseen by Moody’s, as well as ward off both a sharp pullback in lending by spooked banks and the possibility of a wave of bank failures.

The Moody’s report came as anxiety intensified over Italy, whose borrowing costs have shot back above 7 percent in recent days despite promises by Mario Monti, the new prime minister, to enact a new austerity plan designed to reduce a mountain of debt.

So nervous are investors that Italy might be on a slippery slope that the International Monetary Fund took the unusual step Monday of denying reports in the Italian press that it was in discussions with Italian authorities on a program for I.M.F. financing.

Political gridlock has worsened the financial environment, not only in Europe, but in the United States in recent months, as the inability of politicians to agree on measure to improve their national finances spooks financial markets.

In Washington, efforts by a special committee to reach an agreement to reduce America’s deficit collapsed two weeks ago, amid rancorous disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on how to cut spending and raise taxes to address the United States’s mounting federal debt.

A standoff in July over raising the national debt ceiling led one ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, to cut America’s flawless credit rating by one notch, to AA — an event that was not supposed to roil financial markets, but wound up having pernicious effects at banks that held United States Treasury securities and caused alarm among America’s large trading partners, including China.

In its report, Moody’s said that the likelihood of “even more negative scenarios has risen” in Europe in the last several weeks.

It cited political uncertainties in Greece and Italy, where the governments have just changed hands; the lack of clarity over losses that banks will take for their investments in Greece; and a continued deterioration of the economic landscape in the euro area.

On Monday, Deutsche Bank became the latest to warn that Europe was on the brink of falling into recession. It cut its forecast for the euro area next year to -0.5 percent from growth of 0.4 percent. “The failure of the E.U. authorities to find a solution to the sovereign debt crisis means the downside risks are materializing,” the bank said.

Such conditions, Moody’s said, could lead to one of two scenarios — neither of which are palatable. Either “one or more defaults” occur in the euro-zone, or one or more countries exit the union, Moody’s said.

Any country requiring support would be downgraded to a “speculative”

rating, the agency said.

Several European countries hold bond auctions this week that could inflame nervousness among investors. Belgium, whose credit rating was downgraded Friday by Standard & Poor’s to AA from AA+, is selling a range of bonds on Monday. France and Spain are selling bonds on Thursday.

France, which together with Germany is facing a rising financial bill for its ambitions to hold the euro-zone together, has been beset by warnings from ratings agencies recently that its AAA rating could fall soon. While many investors are anticipating a revision, such an event is likely to increase nervousness in global financial markets, partly because some see it as the last bulwark before Germany’s own finances start being called into question.

This article, “New Reports Warn of Escalating Dangers From Europe's Debt Crisis,” originally appeared at The New York Times.