A New Form of Government Subsidy

And so a new form of market distortion by government.

Consumer-goods giant Unilever NV was set to raise money in bond markets Monday that will cost them almost nothing, in the latest sign of how the European Central Bank’s stimulus measures are slashing funding costs across the continent.

On the other hand, there’s this example of an impediment to private enterprise borrowing:

In one tranche of a €1.5 billion ($1.68 billion) deal, the Anglo-Dutch company was set to sell €300 million of debt maturing in 2020 with a coupon of 0%, potentially offering investors a yield of just 0.06%, according to deal guidance released Monday by underwriting banks.

Investors have other places in which to invest besides bonds, though.  Stock markets come to mind as one such.  Except there’s that fee the EU charges for every stock buy and every stock sell transaction (a fee, by the way, that investors moving through the facilities of financial institutions domiciled in London would be able to avoid were Great Britain to succeed in severing its ties to the EU).  The two moves, free money for lending/borrowing courtesy of the ECB and making stock trading artificially more expensive with those transaction fees, weren’t set up deliberately to dovetail, certainly, but they do line up nicely in their realization.

Withal, such borrowing subsidies, aside from their economically unsound market distortions also come perilously close to WTO violations in the form of government support for domestic companies at the expense of foreign ones.  Just not quite a violation, since foreign enterprises can, nominally, borrow via the same bond-letting in the EU.

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