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And you thought the rising cost of putting gasoline in your car was the biggest worry facing your wallet -- think again! Investors have closed their eyes and attempted to sweep one of the largest financial meltdowns in history under the rug, hoping that if they don't see it, then it must not exist. Well, don't look now, but 10-year bond rates in Europe are creeping dangerously higher yet again.
At the height of the European credit crisis last May, Greece's 10-year bond rates boiled over 12%, while Ireland and Portugal, two other debt-troubled countries, danced around 6%. When the crisis was averted with a 110 billion euro bailout coming from multiple European Union members, bond rates dove and investors brushed off the problem as solved. Here's the newsflash: The problem isn't solved. In fact, it's far from solved.
Despite austerity packages designed to rein in expenses and collect greater revenue from taxation, many of the EU's most troubled nations are still running dangerously large deficits. Ireland could actually be a greater problem than Greece. Ireland has roughly 300 billion euros in non-bank debt, and the country's 10-year bond rate has jumped to 9.4%. Consider this -- in 2010 Ireland only collected 31 billion euros in tax revenue but may be forced to pay 25 billion euros in just interest on its existing debt. This doesn't even factor in its other government expenses. Furthermore, Ireland's deficit as a percentage of gross domestic product is higher than any other EU member.
Greece is in just as dire a situation. Even with very stringent austerity measures and EU funding, the nation has nearly 80% of its debt due over the next eight years. Greece's tax revenue simply pales in comparison to the 10-year 12.3% interest rate it may have to pay on future debt offerings. The figures simply don't add up, and at this rate the country may never get out of the mess it's in.
Portugal's 10-year bond has risen more than 7%, Spain is well over 5%, and Italy is approaching 5%, all considerably higher than they were at the height of the EU credit crisis and perhaps a signal that big problems are ahead.
One way to protect your money is potentially to avoid banks that are highly leveraged to these troubled countries. Allied Irish Banks (NYSE: AIB ) , Bank of Ireland (NYSE: IRE ) , and the National Bank of Greece (NYSE: NBG ) have all received bailouts in order to stay solvent, but that hasn't stopped them from hemorrhaging losses from a slew of bad assets still on their books. Non-Irish or non-Greek banks are also at risk. French giants BNP Paribas and Societe Generale, as well as Royal Bank of Scotland (NYSE: RBS ) are extremely susceptible to downside earnings risk because of their large asset ties to Ireland and Greece.
My advice: Avoid this situation with a 10-foot pole, but make sure to keep your eyes and ears open to this potentially developing crisis -- Round 2 -- in Europe.
What's your take on the state of the European Union? Am I blowing smoke or is this a pinata just waiting to burst? Share your thoughts below and consider following the stocks mentioned here and in your own portfolio with the easy-to-use My Watchlist.