Tag Archives: Greek bonds

Greece and the IMF: Three years of not understanding each other

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis

Illustration by Manos Symeonakis http://xpresspapier.blogspot.gr/

Three years ago, then Prime Minister George Papandreou stood on Kastelorizo’s harbor as the Aegean glistened in the background and children yelped with joy. The ensuing period has proved anything but sun-kissed child’s play for Greece. The appeal made by Papandreou to the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund that day has set the tone for almost everything that has happened in Greece over the past three years. Where it will lead is far from clear.

Even though the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF make up the troika of lenders that have provided Greece with some 200 billion euros in bailout funding during the last 36 months, the Washington-based organization’s role has grabbed the attention of most Greeks. Even now, April 23, 2010 is referred to by many as the day Papandreou “sent Greece to the IMF.” Even though the Fund has provided only a fraction of the loans disbursed so far, its actions often come under the greatest scrutiny. Although there has been a growing realization that some of Greece’s partners in the eurozone and the ECB have been behind some of the troika’s toughest demands, the IMF continues to be a regular target for critics.

The problem is that these often indiscriminate attacks, dismissing the IMF as a Trojan horse for neoliberalism, mean that proper analysis of the troika’s three elements is pushed aside. In this fog, it has become difficult to work out where there are grounds for genuine criticism of the IMF. In this respect, an op-ed by Mohamed El-Erian, the CEO of PIMCO investment firm, on the Fund’s shortcomings is timely and extremely useful.

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Goodbye uncertainty, hello uncertainty

For Greece, the underlying theme of this crisis has been swapping one set of uncertainties for another. In fact, sometimes the uncertainties have been exactly the same, simply repackaged and rebranded. From George Papaconstantinou’s “loaded gun on the table,” to the first bailout in May 2010, from the mid-term fiscal plan in the summer of 2011 to the October 27 haircut agreement last year, from the PSI and second bailout early this year to the European assurances ahead of this summer’s elections: each development has promised stability, continued membership of the euro and better days ahead; each has crumbled into an empire of dust.

Now, hopes are being pinned to the Brussels debt deal agreed in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The immense relief at an agreement being reached is both understandable and justified. The prospect of the eurozone and International Monetary Fund failing to find any common ground on how to make Greek debt sustainable would have led to potentially devastating economic and existential implications for the single currency area and Greece. However, as this relief subsides, it becomes more evident that this deal takes a stab at providing a definitive solution to Greece’s debt problem but falls short, leaving the sword of Damocles dangling over the country. Even if the debt reduction program goes according to plan – and there are doubts whether it will, especially due to questions over the bond buyback scheme – Greece will still have to contend with a debt of 124 percent of GDP in 2020. It is also doubtful whether enough has been done to remove the niggling doubts about Greece’s future in the minds of investors, who are so necessary to helping change the course of the Greek economy. JP Morgan referred to the Brussels pact as a moment of “creative ambiguity.”

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For Greece, ECB = End Close, Beware

The European Central Bank’s decision on Friday to stop accepting Greek government bonds as collateral was not the first such move made by Frankfurt but there was something distinctly ominous about the timing and implications of its choice.

“The ECB will assess their potential eligibility following the conclusion of the currently ongoing review, by the European Commission in liaison with the ECB and the IMF, of the progress made by Greece under the second adjustment program,” the central bank said.

The ECB has twice before this year refused Greek banks the ability to use government bonds to draw much-needed liquidity. The first was after the bond restructuring, or PSI, and the other was before the start of the bank recapitalization process. In both cases, Greek banks were excluded and had to rely on Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) to gain access to funds. They have reportedly drawn more than 60 billion euros this way.

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Choose any color you want

There are many reasons why you might not want to be George Papandreou, Antonis Samaras or Giorgos Karatzaferis, but this weekend in particular the leaders of three parties in Greece’s coalition government find themselves in the most unenviable of positions.

They are due to hold talks with Prime Minister Lucas Papademos on the measures that Greece will have to implement to receive further loans from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund. But the leaders of PASOK, New Democracy and the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) are walking into a lose-lose situation.

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A brief interlude

They were hardly dancing in the streets of Athens at the news of the debt deal reached in Brussels but a busker was playing his violin at Monastiraki metro station on Thursday. It was a reminder that despite some 100 billion euros being quarried from Greece’s debt mountain, Athens still has the begging bowl out and remains ensconced deep inside a long tunnel.

The biggest positive from the haircut agreed by eurozone leaders and the banks that hold Greek bonds is that it removes some of the uncertainty surrounding Greece’s present and immediate future. The incessant speculation since the July 21 agreement, which was dead in the water, had a corrosive effect on any attempts both in Greece and the eurozone to tackle the debt crisis. Removing this uncertainty means that at least temporarily the mist has lifted and we all know where we stand.

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A haircut for the bold or the bald?

Illustration by Ilias Makris

Some people will think that the haircut of 50 percent or so being proposed for holders of Greek debt is a get-out-of-jail-free card for Athens and unfair punishment for investors. They would be wrong on all counts.

The writedown, set to be finalized at the European Union leaders’ summit on Wednesday, is the result of failures by both parties. The banks and hedge funds made what they hoped would be a risk-free investment in a country that they knew was the most badly placed of all those standing on the shifting sands of the euro. The market should have factored in the structural problems that plagued both the single currency and Greece, but it didn’t. In accordance with the rules of the game, both sides will pay a price.

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Back to 2004? More like 1929

Illustration by Ilias Makris

He meant it as a warning, but when Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said a few days ago that Greeks’ incomes would be returning to 2004 levels, it could have been interpreted as the most optimistic thing the government has said for months.

In many ways, 2004 was the most hopeful year Greece experienced for decades. It had a growth rate that was the envy of many eurozone countries, it pulled off the miracle of successfully hosting the Olympic Games and the national soccer team became the biggest outsider to ever win the European Championships. It was a time when everything seemed possible.

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