The Great Debate UK

from Felix Salmon:

Restructuring European debt

Are we going to see debt defaults in Europe? Yes—and Barry Eichengreen has a positively crystalline explanation why. It's a first-rate example of economic concepts being explained in plain, easy-to-understand English:

The more that countries reduce wages and costs, the heavier their inherited debt loads become. And, as debt burdens become heavier, public spending must be cut further and taxes increased to service the government’s debt and that of its wards, like the banks. This, in turn, creates the need for more internal devaluation, further heightening the debt burden, and so on, in a vicious spiral downward into depression.

So, if internal devaluation is to work, the value of debts, where they already represent a heavy burden, must be reduced. Government debt must be restructured. Bank debts have to be converted into equity and, where banks are insolvent, written off. Mortgage debts, too, must be written down.

Where I part ways with Eichengreen is here:

The mechanics of debt restructuring are straightforward. Governments can offer a menu of new bonds worth some fraction of the value of their existing obligations. Bondholders can be given a choice between par bonds with a face value equal to their existing bonds but a longer maturity and lower interest rate, and discount bonds with a shorter maturity and higher interest rate but a face value that is a fraction of existing bonds’ face value.

from Felix Salmon:

Why European debt defaults are necessary

Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs is now going around saying that the eurozone needs "solidarity," and that Germany in particular needs to get with the all-for-one-and-one-for-all program, after getting itself into this mess by encouraging far too many countries to join the euro in the first place. At the same time, the survival of the euro, he says, "requires Germany to be not so noisy and aggressive about how other countries should run their economies."

You can see the problem here: if enacted, it would mean that the European periphery can run up massive debts, safe in the knowledge that Germany will pay them off. Willem Buiter calls this by its proper name—permanent fiscal transfer—and says that it's "most unlikely" even in Ireland, let alone in (say) Greece.

from Felix Salmon:

The underwhelming Irish bailout

Color me underwhelmed by the Irish bailout. By all accounts it's going to be less than €100 billion -- probably in the €80 billion to €90 billion range -- and that sum has to cover the country's entire borrowing needs for the next three years. The NYT has a breakdown:

While a precise breakdown was not given, analysts and people involved in the talks said that about 15 billion euros was likely to go to backstop the banks. As much as 60 billion euros would go to Ireland’s annual budget deficit of 19 billion euros for the next three years.

from Felix Salmon:

Why Ireland is bailing out foreign banks

Robert Peston has a theory for why Ireland can't bail in the sophisticated institutions which lent untold billions to the country's beleaguered banks:

Take a look at the latest figures from the central bankers' bank, the Bank for International Settlements, on just the exposure of overseas banks to Ireland (in other words, credit provided by pension funds, hedge funds and wealthy individuals would be on top of this).

from Felix Salmon:

Greece: The bull case

Back in April, I noted with respect to Greece that "the bear case is terrifying, and the bull case is very hard to articulate". So it's extremely useful to have a clearly-articulated paper from the IMF, entitled "Default in Today’s Advanced Economies: Unnecessary, Undesirable, and Unlikely", which puts the bull case much more vividly than I've seen it before.

At its heart is this table:

pb.tiff

The idea here is that whether or not you default, you're going to have to embark upon a large fiscal adjustment in order to get back into sustainable territory. And even if you default with a massive 50% haircut, the size of that fiscal adjustment doesn't change all that much:

Not much stress, not much test

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-Laurence Copeland is professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Back in the 1950’s, when most women stayed at home while their menfolk went out to work, a favourite trick of life insurance salesmen was to walk into the prospect’s home at dinner time and ask the wife:

False dawn or risk recovery?

-Jane Foley is research director at Forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-

What began at the start of the year with an acknowledgement from Greece that it had been living way beyond its means soon turned into a more universal re-appraisal of the risks of sovereign default.

A history lesson for lenders

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GREECE

-Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Anyone looking for a broader perspective on the events of the last three years could hardly do better than choose for bedtime reading “This Time is Different” by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.

from Breakingviews:

Sovereign debt maths show risk of vicious circle

How can a country support debt of over 100 percent of GDP for many years and then suddenly start spiralling towards insolvency? That question of sovereign debt maths is not merely academic. It is highly relevant to the likes of Greece and Italy.

The answer is that size of the sovereign debt burden is not everything when it comes to keeping up with interest payments. No matter how high the ratio of debt to GDP may be, it does not need to increase as long as the government has two factors going its way: the "primary" budget balance -- the balance before interest payments -- and the growth rate of nominal GDP.

from The Great Debate:

Watch banks for clues on Greece

-- James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. --

As odd as it sounds, concerns about the effects of a euro zone sovereign crisis on Europe's still poorly capitalized banks may prove to be the tipping point that leads to a swifter bailout of Greece.

While discussion of contagion may seem very 2008, the problems with Greece, which faces a huge fiscal deficit, are becoming tougher for euro zone authorities to leave uninsured.

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