Posts Tagged ‘European Debt Crisis’

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…

    Greece Declares Independence From Reality

    Monday, February 9th, 2015

    Newly installed Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras gave a speech in which he basically declared “Screw your stupid economic reality! We’re still giving everyone a free unicorn!”

    Remember that Greece is not just broke, but deeply in debt, has a declining economy, only a few weeks of money left, and the specter of a possible bank run for of people wanting to get ahead of a Euro-exit.

    So naturally Tsipras is promising Greeks a T-bone in every pot.

    “Syriza’s pledges to the electorate include a freeze on pension cuts, a property tax overhaul, free electricity to those who have been cut off, reinstating jobs and raising the minimum wage.”

    “‘The (bailout deal) has been abolished by popular mandate,’ Tsipras said. I’d love to see someone try that “abolished by popular mandate” as a reason to stop making their car payments.

    “We will not negotiate this people’s pride and dignity.” Yes, because spendthrift wastrels can have all the pride and dignity they can eat.

    The EU is is not amused. How can they, when Syriza’s policies seem completely disconnected from reality?

    In a lengthy list of policy actions, Tsipras also said the government plans to restore the tax-free threshold for individual workers to 12,000 euros a year and gradually raise the minimum wage to 751 euros a month through 2016. Both measures would breach the conditions of the bailout.

    Tsipras said he’s committed to maintaining balanced budgets and wants to negotiate terms that will make Greece’s debt sustainable.

    That’s like saying “I’m absolutely committed to eating eating a 72 oz steak every day, and to losing weight!”

    Oh, and he’s also demanding reparations from Germany for World War II. Good luck with that.

    Is Tsipras really that disconnected from reality? Well, he is a far-leftist (which in the context of Europe and Greece means that he probably makes Obama look like Dick Cheney). But a little further down in that Bloomberg piece, you get this:

    Behind the public rhetoric, the Greek government has shifted to a more cooperative tone in recent conversations with the troika, according to an official representing the creditors. Greece has been told it needs to ask for a formal extension of its existing bailout deal in order to receive financing, said the official, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

    It’s probably your classic “Clevon Little holding a gun to his own head” bluff. 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?

    Will the EU call their bluff? The whole purpose of the bailout regime was for insiders and bankers to dump their exposure to Greek default onto the taxpayer, something that’s largely been accomplished. These days I suspect very few of Europe’s banks hold much Greek debt (some of whcih may have ended up in various pension funds, where unrealistic promises and chronic underfunding may force managers to chase extremely risky bonds for the high yields). A grexit would put an economic hurt on Europe, but probably not one that would last terribly deep or long. A Greek economic collapse following leaving the Euro would be terrible for Greece, but would probably prod the other PIIGS into continuing to get their economic houses into something resembling order.

    How bad would a grexit be for Greece? Really, really, really bad. The modern European cradle-to-grave welfare state is unsustainable, and attempts to keep the goodies flowing even after the state is bankrupt will ruin more than one nation. It’s just that Greece managed to get there first.

    The farce is going to end very, very badly for average Greeks, but it always was. The only question is just how many bodies will be on the floor at the end of the final act…

    Greece’s Insoluble Problem

    Thursday, February 5th, 2015

    Greece’s left-wing Syriza party was swept into power by promising voters they could have their cake and eat it too. The problem is that not only is there no cake to eat, but Greek already owes more money than it can repay on all the cake they’ve already eaten.

    The European Central Bank announced that it will no longer accept junk-rated Greek bonds as collateral. That may be why Greece’s new finance minister is already backtracking on election promises:

    His party, Syriza, told voters it would demand a debt reduction; now Mr. [Yanis] Varoufakis says it will settle for a debt restructuring. Syriza said it would end austerity; Mr. Varoufakis now says he will run a primary budget surplus even if that means dropping other commitments in the party’s campaign manifesto.

    Will Syriza keep promises made to the EU and the ECB any more than they kept their promises to Greek voters? Of course not. Greece is addicted to excessive government spending the way a junkie is addicted to heroin. In this sense, Syriza’s willingness to shamelessly lie to both voters and Eurocrats is what makes them the embodiment of modern Greece.

    Running an actual budget surplus, as Varoufakis is almost pledging, would go a long way toward solving Greece’s problems. (My understanding is that he means Greece will have a budget surplus before debt payments are taken into account, which means they’ve really slowed down the rate at which they’re digging their own grave…) But neither Greece’s voters nor its ruling class want the nation to live within its means. As I have noted time and time again, Greece has never practiced real austerity, which is cutting government outlays to match receipts. Greece’s budget deficit was 12.2% of GDP in 2014. (If it seems like I repeat a lot of this information in many of my updates on Greece’s debt crisis, it’s because I do, mainly because MSM reports seem to omit mention of these centrally crucial facts…)

    Greece’s participation in the Euro has harmed it by distorting its economy and making its export uncompetitive. That’s a problem, but that’s not Greece’s central problem, which is a dogged unwillingness to live within its means. It’s that addiction to deficit spending that has Syriza talking of defaulting on its debts. And it’s addicted to deficit spending because the modern European cradle-to-grave welfare state is unsustainable.

    But here’s the kicker: Neither leaving the Euro nor defaulting solves Greece’s central problem, or even provides temporary relief.

    Leaving the Euro doesn’t solve the problem, because Greece’s debts will still be denominated in Euros. Creditors who hold Greek debt won’t be content to be paid in devalued drachmas, so Greece will still be on the hook for what they’ve already spent.

    Defaulting will only make their predicament worse, because then no one will be willing to lend Greece money to continue their ruinous deficit spending.

    Doing both and printing drachmas to continue spending will only result in hyperinflation. The Greeks can ask Venezuela how that’s working out for them.

    If any Greek political party pledged to undertake real reform, reign in the Greek welfare state and end deficit spending, it’s escaped my attention. I suspect Greeks will have to experience a lot more economic pain, and no small measure of ruin, before undertaking the only obvious path to fiscal stability.

    Far-Left Syriza Wins Huge Victory in Greece

    Sunday, January 25th, 2015

    Greece’s far left-wing Syriza Party has won a big victory there, claiming about half the seats in Parliament.

    What does it mean? I took a stab at analyzing it before. Even with a majority, there’s a good chance Syriza will have to continue meeting the EU’s demands (which means pretending to impose austerity measures) if they want mean old Aunt Angela to keep loaning them money. Remember: Greece has never practiced real austerity. Not once since the European Debt Crisis hit has Greece balanced its budget, and its deficit for 2014 was 12.2% of GDP.

    But even the fake austerity imposed has been too much for the Greek people, who collectively want a cushy welfare state but don’t want to pay the sky-high taxes required to pay for it. Promising people something for nothing has been the left’s popular electoral strategy for more than a century, but reality can only be held off for so long. Germany is not due for a federal election, so it’s entirely possible Merkel might still underwrite another bailout or two if Syriza is willing to continue the farce. A Greece shorn of the Euro would still be broke and badly in debt, and newly Drachma-backed securities would likely be toxic investments for all but the most speculative of bond traders. (Perhaps Syriza should investigate how well that printing money thing is working out for Venezuela.) “Forgive our debts or we won’t let you give us more loans!” is a proposition Merkel would probably find quite easy to refuse, and I suspect the risk of a Greek exit from the Euro is already priced into European markets. If Syriza insists on anything more than (possibly) a token debt haircut, the EU will probably be willing to call their bluff.

    It’s generally best for the driver of a 1974 Ford Pinto to avoid engaging in a game of chicken with a Tiger tank…