Global Investing

Can the euro zone survive Greece?

Wolfgang Munchau, co-founder and president of Eurointelligence, has raised an uncomfortable prospect for investors in Greece. In a Financial Times column today, the long-time Europe commentator argues that Brussels may not be willing to bail Greece out if it were to default on its debt à la all-but sovereign Dubai World is about to.

The EU’s authorities, rightly or wrongly, are more afraid of the moral hazard of a bail-out than the possible spillover effect of a hypothetical Greek default to other eurozone countries. If faced with a choice between preserving the integrity of the stability pact and the integrity of Greece, they are currently minded to choose the former.

Munchau reckons that outright default is unlikely, but wonders whether the current spread between Greek and benchmark German bonds really reflects the risk that investors are taking.  It is currently around 178 basis points after recovering from a blow out on Dubai worries last week.

The overriding problem is that consecutive Greek governments have been unable to force through the kinds of reforms that Europe and others have long called for and which being a euro zone member really entails.

Even when Greece qualified for the euro zone back in 2000, it was said that it had made it without having to take the harsh steps other had. Promises were made, but when it comes to austerity, the Greek public won’t hear of it. Greeks take to the streets with a speed and passion that makes French unions look positively Thatcherite.

from MacroScope:

Falling out of the euro zone?

The periphery economies of the euro zone are suddenly in the spotlight.  Credit rating agency Standard & Poor's has cut its outlook on Ireland's sovereign debt to negative. It worries that fiscal measures to recapitalise banks and boost the economy might not improve competitiveness, diversity and growth -- all making it harder to manage debt.

Next came Greece. S&P basically put the country on watch with a negative bias. The global financial crisis has increased the risk of a difficult and long-lasting struggle to keep the Greek economy on track, it said.

All this is a long, long way from the unravelling of the euro zone -- it just got a new member, Slovakia, after all. But the subject has been raised. Gary Dugan, chief investment officer of Merrill Lynch's wealth management arm, told a group of reporters in London recently that he expected political calls to quit the currency to be heard in some member countries as the global recession bites. He added that it wouldn't happen, but that the talk could weaken the euro.