Monday, March 19, 2012

Externally-Imposed Adjustment and Contraction in Greece

10 days ago, the Greek government successfully arranged a reduction of its outstanding debt with private creditors.This was a requirement of the EU and the IMF approving the next bailout of Greece.

Adjustment means contraction, both for Greeks and for investors. A 20% reduction of the minimum wage and broad budget reductions in advance of the deal followed a 7.5% contraction of the Greek economy in the last quarter of 2011.

In the debt swap deal, private holders of Greek debt, many of them pension funds and other investment funds, were paid 15% of face value in cash and 31% of face value in longer-term, lower-interest bonds. Those that did not accept were forced to accept the terms by collective action clauses that the Greek government recently legislated. Note that Greek pension funds were badly hurt by this restructuring, which means that Greek pension will have to be massively cut. That battle is yet to come.

After that deal was sealed, attention then turned to the private body that decides what happens to credit default swaps when something like this happens. The ISDA, or International Swaps and Derivatives Association, determined that a so-called credit event had occurred, but that it was not that large. Current estimates are that payouts from CDS contracts will cost European banks around 3 billion euros.

This means that for the moment, if you look at it from the perspective of those trying to make the deal, that the cost has been low and catastrophe has been avoided. Catastrophe means a disorderly default, in which investors lose everything and CDS payments become enormous.

Although those who promoted the deal argue that catastrophe has been averted, they are wrong. It has merely been delayed and been made more costly. As the head of the private bank Berenberg says, there is no prospect of growth with which Greece could pay back the rest of the debt it owes. An ever-shrinking economy means ever-growing incapacity to repay. The latest IMF Report on Greece has come up with new figures today on how the current bailout will be insufficient, and how another 21 billion might be required until 2016. Given the recent bailout, and the current trends of the Greek economy, which is deliberately designed by the IMF to focus on 'internal devaluation' (falling prices and wages, despite rising taxes) (see executive summary of the report), which cost the IMF 28 billion euros until 2014, that seems rather hopeful.

What is striking in the IMF report is the clear expectation that Greeks will choose, if given a choice, not to fully implement the deals they've signed on to. Which is why foreign administration is the governance of the future.

Welcome to the new face of the euro.

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