Posts Tagged ‘European Debt Crisis’

Greece Debt Crisis Update for May 14, 2014

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Greece managed to make its scheduled IMF loan repayment of around €750 million ($837 million) which “buys the country a few more weeks to reach a deal with creditors on fresh financing.”

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said “Greece must escape the ‘strictness trap’ of budget measures that might hurt the economy and so prevent the country from reducing its debt mountain to manageable levels.” In other words: “We absolutely refuse to stop spending other people’s money to prop up our welfare state.”

So the farce will continue on a little longer, at least.

In other Greek debt news:

  • Greece is “back” in recession. Assuming you believe it ever actually left it.
  • Europe wants €3 billion in budget cuts from Greece.
  • “The German Finance Ministry is supporting the idea of a vote by Greek citizens to either accept the economic reforms being sought by creditors to receive a payout from the country’s bailout program or ultimately opt to leave the euro.” Hmm, recognize economic reality or exit the Euro. Decisions…
  • And if you thought Greece had abandoned their stupid “German war reparations” idea, think again: “Archival video footage highlighting Nazi atrocities in Greece is being shown to commuters on the Athens subway as part of a campaign demanding war reparations from Germany.” I’m sure that will get them on Angela Merkel’s good side.
  • The Two Greeces: “Official Greece is dysfunctional; unofficial Greece works quite well. The official, theoretical Greece has checks and balances. The unofficial, reality-based Greece turns a blind eye when people break rules and dodge taxes.” I’m not nearly as positive as the author that the corrupt one can be swept away, or that Syriza wants to.
  • The Ghost Factories of Greece.
  • Another Greece Update: Back to the Shell Game

    Friday, May 8th, 2015

    And the Greece shell game over implementing reform (or, since it’s Greece, “reform”) continues.

    Greece’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (who’s evidently still doing the negotiating, reports to the contrary notwithstanding) has handed the Eurocrats a proposal that doesn’t match what was discussed in negotiations. It’s like a cheap farce, or a con game to see how long they can keep string Europe along without actually agreeing to anything.

    Greece Syriza government has said to their creditors: Economic reality? We don’t need your stinking economic reality! “Greece defied its international creditors on Thursday, refusing to cut pensions or ease layoffs to meet their demands, dimming prospects of progress next week towards securing desperately needed financial aid.”

    Greece’s government also rehired public sector employees they previously laid off. What’s giving the engine a little more gas when you’re headed for the wall at full speed?

    Other Greek debt crisis tidbits:

  • Greece introduces mandatory surcharges on tax withdrawals above €1,000 Euros.
  • Plus an 18% hotel and restaurant tax. Extra bonus: It will hit some tourists who have already prepaid for vacations. “It’s catastrophic.”
  • Living life under the threat of default. “I’ve got a bad feeling we’re not going to get a good ending.”
  • European “Commission President Jean Claude Juncker said that if Greece left the single currency area, the ‘Anglo-Saxon world’ would try everything to break it up.” Hey Jean Claude: Reality is doing a great job breaking up the Eurozone all by itself, between its unsustainable welfare state, its aging population, and the insistence of Euroelites on cutting those filthy commoners from having any say in the matter. And as for the “Anglo-Saxon world” trying to break up the Eurozone, have you seen whose in charge of things these days?
  • Greece’s Blazing Saddles act is wearing thin. (I seem to remember having made this exact comparison before…)
  • Greece Shuffles Deck Chairs

    Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

    Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has been demoted, evidently because the EuroCrats he was negotiating with hated his guts (a significant drawback when you’re trying to convince creditors to pour more money down the rathole that is the Greek economy).

    Will it make any difference to debt negotiations? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on which of two reasons he was fired for:

    Option 1.) Varoufakis was the designated Bad Cop in negotiations, and now he’s the symbolic sacrifice. “Golly, that Varoufakis guy was sure a jerk when he asked you to give us more loans without getting any reform in return! Now that I’m here as Mr. Good Cop instead, I’m sure you’ll give us give us more loans without getting any reform in return because we’re asking really, really nicely.”

    Option 2.) A lightbulb (or at least a dim, flickering candle) has finally gone off above the heads of the ruling far-left Syrizia Party that they will, in fact, actually have to implement real reforms if they want to shake more dough out of Mean Aunt Angela, and that implementing reform will only mean they’re really boned, while defaulting and leaving the Euro would mean they would be completely and utterly boned.

    Arguing for Option 2 is Reality and Logic, which have had very little to do with Syriza policy heretofore. Arguing against it is every single action of the Greek ruling class over the last five years. Best case, probably-too-optimistic scenario is that they’re going to try the God Cop Con first, then, when it fails (and it will), they may actually be dragged kicking and screaming to Option 2. Or at least appear to do so as part of the extend and pretend strategy that has characterized the entire Greek debt crisis since the beginning.

    None of it changes the underlying problem: The Greek welfare state is unsustainable, they’ve run out of other people’s money to pay for it, and they refuse to reform it, even at the point of impending national bankruptcy.

    Greece: Contagion Watch

    Monday, April 20th, 2015

    Amidst word that other European banks are urging Greek banks to dump Greek securities, and continued mutterings of Greek contingency plans to nationalize banks, Zero Hedge just tweeted this:

    Not seeing confirmation yet, but if true, those quiet bank runs in Greece are about to stop being quiet…

    Update: Here’s Zero Hedge’s post, citing an (unlinked) Bloomberg piece citing internal Greek decree, saying it’s the start of capital controls. If so, bank runs are all but assured…

    Update 2: Now seeing news reports saying that Greece is “The Greek government is forcing the country’s municipalities to transfer cash reserves to the Bank of Greece in a bid to shore up its short-term finances, according to officials…The decree on Monday mandates the transfer of cash that is not needed to cover spending in the next 15 days, as Athens continues negotiations with creditors to unlock bailout funds.”

    So, no forced bank funds transfers.

    Yet.

    Zeno’s Endgame in Greece

    Friday, April 17th, 2015

    It’s appropriate that Zeno (the paradox Zeno) was Greek, since Greece appears to have entered Zeno’s Endgame. The country edges ever closer to default, without actually defaulting. Or without the Greek government actually ceasing to spend radically more money than it takes in, because the ruling left-wing Syriza Party would rather destroy the Greek economy than give up their bloated welfare state. Their latest plan is to raid pension funds to keep that welfare state going just a little longer. “This is the last bit of cash that the Greek state has.” “Honey, let’s cash in our 401K so we can buy some heroin!”

    Sorry if this sounds like every other update on the Greek debt crisis over the last six years. It’s a vitally important story, which is why I keep covering it, but it’s also the story of a host of people making the same stupid, easily avoidable mistake again and again rather than making the hard choices necessary to deal with the problem.

    A few other links of interest on the Greek debt endgame:

  • So Greece went hat-in-hand to the IMF: Can we put off making some debt repayments? IMF: (Laughs) Oh wait, you’re serious! Let me laugh harder!
  • Speaking of the IMF, this should be good for a laugh.
  • Greece’s phony baloney budget surplus disappears.
  • Looks like Greece’s creditors have finally reached the depression phase of the Kubler Ross grief cycle. “Greece’s international creditors signaled they are losing hope that Athens will do what is needed to unlock bailout funds before it runs out of money.” Do tell.
  • A timeline of Greece’s bills coming due. “Debt interest payments are piling up. It has to pay off an €80m interest bill to the European Central Bank (ECB) on 20 April and €200m to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on 1 May. But the one that is stirring jitters around Europe is a €760m (£550m; $810m) interest payment to the IMF that is due on 12 May.”
  • Gameplanning a Grexit.
  • Tune in next week! Same bankrupt time! Same bankrupt channel!

    Greece Buys Time By…Buying Their Own Debt?

    Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

    Although Greece was slated to run out of cash on April 9, they seem to have “scraped together enough cash to meet the I.M.F. payment, in part by extracting liquidity from quasi state entities.”

    One of the ways they did that was raising 1.1 billion Euros from bonds, all sold to domestic investors. And who would some of those “domestic investors” be? Would you believe Greek banks?

    These short-term bonds, which have been issued by the country’s largest banks and carry the guarantee of the Greek government, are not being sold to foreign investors. They are being issued to the only entity that would dare buy them: themselves.

    In the last four months, some of Greece’s largest banks, including Piraeus, Alpha and Eurobank — have self-issued more than 13 billion euros’ worth, or $14.3 billion, of these government-guaranteed bonds.

    Wounded by vanishing deposits and bad loans, Greek bank bonds are about as toxic an investment as can be found. The banks are on life support via an emergency lending program overseen by the European Central Bank, via which they have access to short-term loans from their own central bank.

    But to secure this credit line, about €71 billion (more than half the deposits outstanding in Greece), these banks need to provide collateral to the Greek central bank.

    In essence, what Syrizia has done is carried out a similar maneuver to that the EU insiders have been carrying out since the European Debt Crisis broke: Dumping their bad bonds onto taxpayer-funded entities. But the problem for Greece is that their maneuver is like a Ponzi scheme that depends on getting more funds from people already in the Ponzi scheme.

    That doesn’t strike me as a sustainable model.

    No wonder Greece is drawing up plans to nationalize banks (rather than, of course, stop spending money they don’t have). That’s rather like selling your seed corn to buy heroin. (That piece also notes that “Greece spends a larger portion of its GDP — 17.5 percent — on pensions than any other country in Europe.”)

    Hell, even recently bankrupt Cyprus is saying that Greece is screwed unless they implement actual reform. As opposed to Syriza’s current “reform” proposals, which include “no wage or pension cuts.”

    Oh, and they’re flogging reparations from Germany yet again. Because it worked so well the last five times they floated the idea.

    But Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras seems to have only the faintest grasp of reality as it is:

    Consider the case of a household whose members chronically live beyond their means. They have no savings and their bank account is constantly in overdraft. Rather than cutting back, they obtain multiple credit cards by hiding their true financial situation, but those credit cards are soon maxed out. In desperation, they turn to financially responsible cousins to help them through, again hiding the true scale of their spendthrift ways. Finally, the family defaults on its loans, triggering loss of home, car and other possessions. But instead of recognizing that they were the architects of their own misfortune, they consider themselves victims of the mortgage, car loan and credit card companies. And they even vilify their generous relatives for refusing to lend more money.

    Greece’s problems have not been caused by austerity, but by decades of irresponsible spending and corrupt behaviour. Expecting that a debt problem will be solved by more debt simply defies common sense and reality. Believing this myth will only make the debt hole that Greeks have dug themselves even deeper, and the challenges of climbing back out ever more unlikely.

    Greece: Turning and Turning in a Narrowing Gyre

    Thursday, March 19th, 2015

    It appears we may finally be reaching the endgame of the endgame on Greece.

    Greece is suffering a bank run and owes just over $2 billion in debt payments due Friday, but shows no signs of having the money or meeting the Troika’s conditions for obtaining more. Quite the opposite. Greece’s left-wing Syriza government is increasingly acting like an erratic heroin addict refusing to check into rehab and howling through the streets at night in search of an angry fix, heedless that there’s an arrest warrant out in his name.

    “The International Monetary Fund, one of Greece’s main three creditors, was reported to have called Greece ‘the most unhelpful client’ the Fund has dealt with in their 70-year history.”

    “During the teleconference, the Greek representative said his government wasn’t prepared to talk about the country’s finances with technical experts and instead wanted European Union leaders to discuss the issue at a summit in Brussels, one of the European officials said.”

    I’m sure telling your bank that you’re “not prepared to discuss my finances” when asking for your fifth bridge loan would go over really well.

    Also this: “There was a general feeling that the Greek side is completely out of touch with reality.”

    You think? How about the fact that Greek parliament just passed a raft of anti-austerity spending measure, which is rather like a man with stage 4 lung cancer lighting up a couple of stogies in route to the operating room.

    Some are wondering if Syriza wants to see Greece kicked out of the Euro.

    EU institutions seem far more ready for what lies ahead. “The European Central Bank (ECB) is preparing for a possible Greek exit from the euro zone.” Conversely, EU insiders have also floated the idea of imposing capital controls to prevent Greece from leaving the euro.

    And the one person whose opinion matters the most? “German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that Greece has no choice but to carry out economic reforms if it wants to receive more financial aid, dashing any hopes Athens might have had for a softening in Berlin’s stance.”

    Carrying out real reforms (like stop spending more money than the government takes in) is what Greece in general, and Syriza in specific, has steadfastly refused to do. And the reason they refused is that the European cradle-to-grave welfare state has become more sacred to voters than the capitalist economics and fiscal discipline necessary to support it.

    This is not a recipe for happiness.

    There’s a chance that all of this is posturing on both sides, and that a kabuki compromise involving small reforms in exchange for still more loan extensions may yet kick the can a few more feet down the road. But there is every sign that EU institutions have finally tired of Greece’s show, and are willing to see the final curtain drop. And the Greeks are about to learn that the vengeance of the gods of the copybook headings cannot be delayed indefinitely…

    Greece Snarls At The Hand That Feeds It

    Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

    Angela Merkel tamped down a party revolt to extend the Greek bailout terms by four months. And her reward for extending that lifeline? Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reviving demands that Germany pay World War II reparations to Greece.

    Before Syriza came to power, the rest of the EU and the Troika seemed content to play along with the Greece farce (extending further loans in exchange for yet more empty promises of reform) at least a little while longer. However, Syriza’s virulently anti-EU and anti-Germany rhetoric seem to have finally exhausted their patience with the show. It seems even Europeans have limits to the abuse they’re willing to take from perpetual welfare recipients. It’s bad enough to underwrite a freeloader, but evidently having to put up with constant insults from them was too much.

    At this point, everyone knows Greece will neither reform nor pay back their debts to the Troika (or anyone else). That’s why Europe has finally started taking a real hard line with them, insisting on inspectors on the ground to see reforms are actually implemented.

    Either Tsipras has severely overplayed his hand (quite possible), or he is deliberately preparing to use Germany as the theoretical scapegoat for exiting the Euro.

    To say that Tsipras and Syriza has no plan B to escape the crisis is misleading, since their cunning “insult our creditors into giving us more money” doesn’t even count as a plan A.

    A bailout from Russia? It’s not like Putin is rolling in dough following a fall in oil prices and his continuing isolation over his invasion of Ukraine. Let Putin subsidize Greece all he wants. (And I doubt a Greek navel base would give him any advantage over what he has in Sevastopol.)

    Greece could have avoided all this many years ago if their government had just stopped spending more money than they took in. Given their addiction to a bloated welfare state, this is the one thing they have proven singularly unwilling to do.

    I doubt Syriza has thought through just how nasty a divorce from the Eurozone might turn out. Never mind asking they repay their debts, I’m thinking a complete halt to all bank transfers between the Eurozone and Greece, and international foreign exchanges refusing to list a newly floated drachma. People hate having their welfare benefits cut, but they really, really hate being unable to buy food…

    Greece has finally reached the stage of socialism where they’re run out of other people’s money, and the results are not going to be pretty.

    Experience is a dear teacher, but fools will learn from no other…

    Greece Suspends Soccer

    Thursday, February 26th, 2015

    Greece has suspended their top soccer league due to violence:

    The new Greek government suspended competition in the top-flight Super League indefinitely after violence at a weekend match between the top two football clubs in the country.

    Sunday’s game between bitter Athens city rivals Panathinaikos and away team Olympiakos was marred by a pitch invasion despite a heavy police presence.

    The players and officials of Super League leader Olympiakos were also pelted with various projectiles and flares amid ugly scenes.

    Good thing Europeans aren’t completely soccer crazy, or that Greeks aren’t already pissed off at the continuing economic crisis or successive governments telling them precisely the lies they want to hear.

    (An aside: This is an actual sentence on CNN.com: “Following these incidents, the ruling Syriza Party has made its decision to impose a suspension, which will be the third team [sic] this season that Greek football has been halted.” That’s some mighty fine proofreading, CNN…)

    I think this is footage from the scene:

    Evidently Greek government is as incompetent at maintaining a “heavy police presence” as it is at everything else except deficit spending.

    Soccer hooliganism is hardly a novel phenomena in Europe, but I suspect this incident gives us a glimpse of the widespread simmering anger in Greece over the perpetual debt crisis. Having been brought to power by that anger, it looks like Syriza is badly underestimating its depth and how to manage it. If they were smart, they’d be far wiser to let some of it boil off in soccer brawls rather than let it keep building without an outlet.

    In a country that can no longer afford bread, it’s deeply unwise to start banning circuses…

    Groundhog Day on the Aegean

    Monday, February 23rd, 2015

    Greece two weeks ago: “We will not negotiate this people’s pride and dignity.”

    Greece today: “Yes, Master! We’d love to grovel some more if you continue tossing pennies into our cup!”

    “As far as we can tell, the Greek government hasn’t achieved even a single one of its aims so far. The bailout was extended by four months, but in spite of a few cosmetic changes to the wording accompanying it (e.g. the ‘troika’ has been renamed ‘the institutions’), it is still precisely the same bailout agreement as before.”

    This is an event completely unforeseen by everyone except anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to previous installments of Greek Bailout Kabuki. For all the bluster, it’s not like Greece had many options other than to get down on all fours and really lick boot, since it was slated to run out of cash tomorrow.

    Naturally anyone who was foolish enough to believe Syriza’s promises (the technical term for such people is “rubes”) is hopping mad. “It’s as if [Greek PM Alexis] Tsipras, [Greek Finance Minister Yanis] Varoufakis and the others are telling me: ‘We believe that you are stupid…and you will believe whatever lie we tell you.'” The fact Syriza was elected at all is pretty much testament to the well-grounded accuracy that belief. That, and, oh, every single piece of news out of Greece since the Euro debt crisis struck, as long as that lie involved Greece continuing to spend money like drunken sailors with a stolen credit card and never having to pay their debts back.

    The open secret, of course, is that Greece will never repay its debt. “We have to be realistic here. Greek debt is now 175 percent of gross domestic product (GDP); it’s higher than it was when this whole business first started.” (Well, by one measure. Another puts Greek debt at 317% of GDP.) Yeah, that’s what happens when you continue to run huge deficits even under your “austerity” budgets.

    As I previously wrote:

    I’m sure Syriza would love to implement their pie-in-the-sky big spending socialism, but their real goal is to lie to the Greek people long enough for the EU to write at least one more check, and lie to the EU about implementing reform long enough to cash it. Since Syriza only recently came to power, they probably want keep the farce rolling long enough to feather their own nests with Euros before engineering a grexit. After all, center-right parties got their turns at the public graft trough; why not the far left?

    And back on December 29 I wrote:

    So we’ll see another election, and if Syriza wins we’ll see another round of demands for more bailouts and debt writedowns, with Greece threatening yet again to exit the Euro. We’ve seen this movie before. The most likely outcome is that another cabal of EU-phillic insiders in the Greek government will engineer a last-minute cave-in to demands from Brussels and Frankfurt, ram another toothless austerity measure through parliament in exchange for still more credit (and perhaps even a small symbolic measure of debt forgiveness), dissolve the government again following the inevitable public outrage, then have the Greek bureaucracy ignore even those woefully inadequate reforms, setting the stage for the farce to repeat itself in another 12-18 months, or until mean old Aunt Angela finally cuts up the credit card.

    Behold The Amazing Person’s uncanny powers of prophecy! Like Groundhog Day, it’s gotten remarkably easy to predict exactly what’s going to happen. Different people may occupy the Prime Minister’s office, but all them invariably wake up to the political equivalent of Sonny & Cher singing “I Got You Babe.”

    It looks like the only I thing I was off on was the piddling four month extension rather than twelve, and the fact that Syriza didn’t even get the tiny fig-leaf of symbolic debt reduction. I guess that request for reparations from Germany rubbed Angela Merkel the wrong way. Too bad Greek PM Alexis Tsipras failed to heed Basil Fawlty’s eminently sensible advice…