In Europe, planning for the unthinkable gets complicated
What if the euro is tossed on the ash heap of history? For governments, a change back to the lira, the mark, the franc, and all the rest would not be as complicated as it will be for european businesses.
Perhaps millions of products will have to be re-priced as the euro falls and national currencies re-emerge. And there are other issues as well.
Planning for a breakdown of Europe's 17-nation single currency is not easy. Like many business leaders, Brandgaard views a break-up of the euro as possible though not yet probable -- but the odds are increasing. In a Nov 23 Reuters poll 14 out of 20 economists said the single currency would not survive in its current form - and companies are starting to plan for a worst case scenario.
Their trepidation is best summed up by Martin Sorrell, the head of the world's biggest advertising agency WPP. "The complexity fills everybody with such appalling fear and is so complicated that the last thing in the world you want to happen is that," Sorrell told Reuters on Monday. "But the honest answer is that, like everybody else, you try and contingency plan for any break-up of the euro zone."
Drawing on interviews with company officials, bankers and lawyers in Europe, the United States and Asia and companies' regulatory filings, Reuters has pieced together a picture of patchy preparedness for the possible demise of the 12-year-old euro currency, an event that would be unparalleled in recent history.
"These days, it's a part of almost every risk management conversation that comes up," said a senior player in London's insurance market, speaking like many in this story on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity to their business.
Exchange rates are liable to fluctuate wildly if the euro disappears until market equilibrium is established. This is no small matter as businesses grapple with the problem of trying to figure out how to price a product competitively while still making money.
Then there's the likelihood that defaults by smaller countries would stress out many of the large banks in core nations like Germany and France. These banks have been trying to dump some toxic assets and build up their reserves but aren't having much luck with the former and can't raise the cash to bolster the latter.
There appears to be little in the way of "preparation" that can be accomplished when so much uncertainty is in the air.