Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's a 50% Default for Greece


The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

EU leaders have agreed to seek a 50% reduction in Greek debt from bondholders. This supersedes the 21% reduction decided on in July that was supposed to resolve Greece's financial problems. Apparently $30 billion will be given to the banks as an inducement for them going along with the plan. The EU and IMF will also give Greece an additional 100 billion euros in bailout aid.

While the announcement was delivered with a sense of finality, the first bailout of Greece in May 2010 was supposed to solve Greece's debt problems and so was the second bailout this July. It has only taken three months since the  "everything is really fixed now" July announcement before a much bigger bailout and debt writedown proved to be needed. Until fairly recently, EU officials have constantly denied that this would be necessary or that Greece would default. Not paying 50% of your bond debt is not only a default, but it's a major default.

EU officials still seemed mathematically confused about the situation in Greece. EU President Van Rompuy claimed that the current deal will reduce Greece's debt to GDP ratio to 120% by 2020. If so, Greece is still likely headed for more trouble. Since it is estimated that Greece's debt to GDP ratio is around 160%, it should fall to 80% if all bondholders took a 50% hit. Perhaps all bondholders will not be taking a reduction after all. Both the IMF and ECB hold large amounts of Greek government debt and have in the past been reluctant to accept any writedown of their investments.

The pre-dawn news for the EFSF (European Financial Stability Fund), which is supposed to receive 440 billion euros, is that it will be leveraged up to a trillion euros. The U.S. has been pressing for two trillion. This money can be spent to bail out all the EU banks hurt by the Greek default, but only if they can't raise additional capital in the open markets. So the debt problem will be solved by incurring additional debt and borrowing against it. If this isn't a financial system ticking time bomb, nothing is.

The unanswered question is what is going with happen to Portugal (the next most likely crisis), Ireland, Spain and Italy. EU officials tried to minimize the situation by saying Greece is a special case. It would have been more accurate to say that its problems were more extreme and urgent. They are not unique.  The other countries are already somewhere on the path to insolvency and this will have to be dealt with in the future. The only question is how soon that future will arrive. 

 Disclosure: None

Daryl Montgomery
Author: "Inflation Investing - A Guide for the 2010s"
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. There is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

1 comment:


Greece is a total basket case and then some.