Opinion

The Great Debate

A good deal for Greece, its creditors, and Europe

Amid all the doom and gloom about Greece in the last few weeks, it is easy to overlook an important piece of good news: the debt exchange offer published by Greece on Friday with endorsement by its main private and official creditors. If implemented, this would be a major achievement and an important step toward overcoming the euro zone crisis, almost regardless of what happens next.

Under the offer, bondholders would receive 15 percent of the face value of their bonds in the form of short-term European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) bonds, plus a set of new Greek sovereign bonds maturing between 2023 and 2042, with a 31.5 percent face value.

This agreement is a very good deal for Greece. The combination of the cut in face values, lower coupons and (in most cases) longer maturity implies a debt reduction of about 60 percent in present value terms (evaluated at a 5 percent discount rate). Assuming high participation (about €200 billion in bonds), this translates into savings of about €120 billion, or 54 percent of Greece’s 2011 GDP. This is very large. By comparison, the Argentine exchange of January 2005, the previous high-water mark, generated present value of debt relief of only about 29 percent of GDP, because although the per-dollar debt reduction was higher, the volume exchanged was much smaller.

Private creditors are also getting a good deal. Although they are being hit hard, they could have done much worse. You will see claims that the “haircut” suffered by creditors is on the order of 75 percent. These are exaggerated, because they compare the present value of the new bonds with the face value of the old bonds. But in a pre-default debt exchange, creditors never have the right to full immediate repayment. They only have the right to keep their old bonds and expect them to be serviced.

A better way to determine the value of the new bonds is to compare them with the present value of the old bonds, assuming they both are subject to the same default risk. This leads to a haircut of about 65 percent — much less than what creditors would have lost in a disorderly default. And it does not reflect two additional benefits: “GDP warrants” that may deliver extra payments beginning in 2015, depending on the level of Greece’s GDP; and an effective upgrade in creditors’ rights compared with those of the old bonds. The new bonds will be issued under English law, making them harder to restructure again in the future, and their repayments will be linked to repayments to the EFSF.

from James Saft:

Waiting for Europe’s QE to sail

The good news is that the European Central Bank will probably start a massive additional round of quantitative easing to fight the break-up of the euro zone.

The bad news is that they will, as ever, only choose the right policy, as Winston Churchill said of the Americans, after exhausting all of the alternatives.

Global share markets rallied furiously on Wednesday, fed by hopes that the ECB would increase its bond-buying efforts, a possibility raised by its chief Jean-Claude Trichet in an appearance before the European Parliament. Trichet faces stern opposition inside the ECB from fellow central bankers, notably German Axel Weber, who believe that policy should be normalized rather than loosened.

from James Saft:

Pension savers get the boot

From Dublin to Paris to Budapest to inside those brown UPS trucks delivering holiday packages, it has been a tough few weeks for savers and retirees.

Moves by the Irish, French and Hungarian governments, and by the famous delivery company, showed that in the post-crisis world retirees, present and future, will be paying much of the price and taking on more of the risk.

This goes beyond merely cutting back on pension benefits, rising to actual appropriation of supposedly long-term retirement assets to help fund short term emergencies.

from The Great Debate UK:

How will the Eurozone crisis end?

-Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School and a co-author of “Verdict on the Crash” published by the Institute of Economic Affairs. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Back in 1997, when I wrote about the prospects for the forthcoming European Monetary Union, I said I expected something like the Greek crisis to end with a wave of bailouts of ClubMed countries, and I followed the situation through to what seemed its logical conclusion.

I guessed that Germany and the other surplus countries would realise they were caught in a can’t-beat-‘em-may-as-well-join-‘em trap. On balance, I think I stand by that forecast today.

Euro woes increase risk of trade wars

Europe won’t just be exporting deflation to the rest of the world, it will export serious trade tensions as well: first between the United States and China, and, possibly, eventually between Europe and the United States.

The austerity required to get Greece and other weak euro zone nations’ budgets in shape will exert a powerful deflationary force, as many countries which formerly imported more than they exported will be forced to cut back.

As well, the euro has dropped very sharply. Germany’s quixotic campaign against speculators — banning naked short selling against government debt and government credit default swaps — gave the euro its latest shove downward, but the trend has been strong for months. The euro is now about 15 percent below where it started the year against the dollar, making U.S. exports less competitive and adding to pressure on the United States to be the world’s foie gras goose: being force-fed everyone else’s exports while its own unemployment rate remains high.

Euro zone medicine not working on banks

Fear of lending to banks is rising again in Europe, as even a 750 billion euro zone rescue package proves not enough to stem fears that the banking system will prove the weak link when southern European nations can’t meet their obligations.

Strikingly many European and British banks are now being forced to pay more to borrow money in the interbank markets than before the joint European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank package was announced two weekends ago.

That deal, which should insulate highly indebted countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal from funding pressure for the next two years or so, was effective in driving down the extra interest those countries had to pay to borrow as compared to Germany. Tellingly, it was less effective, even counter-productive, in restoring calm to the markets in which banks fund their short-term borrowing needs.

Europe shambles as Greek fire spreads

Europe desperately needs to get out in front of its solvency problem, Greek edition; not because it is right, not even because it will work in the long term, but to stem rapid and costly contagion through financial markets to other weak links in the euro zone, not least to banks.

Whether euro zone institutions will have the agility and resolve to quickly put in place out-sized measures for Greece is doubtful.

That Greece on Wednesday was paying more than 20 percent, or about double the rate of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, to borrow money for two years showed that investors were expecting either a default or very large burden sharing by existing creditors, and possibly a, by definition, disorderly exit from the euro by Greece. Spain joined the list of sovereign downgrades, as Standard & Poor’s cut its rating a notch to AA, a day after the debt rating agency slashed Greece to junk status and cut Portugal to AA.

Greece an ideal Goldman client; profitable, culpable

Goldman Sachs has a lot to be thankful for – huge bonuses, massive taxpayer subsidies, unrivalled political influence – but in Greece they have finally found nirvana: a highly profitable business partner who can also credibly serve as the villain in the piece.

Goldman is widely reported to have arranged a swap transaction for Greece early in the last decade structured in such a way as to provide the country with $1 billion upfront in exchange for higher payments much later.

That later bit is key – it helped to mask over-borrowing by Greece from the euro zone’s budget watchdogs in Brussels, not to mention from Greek taxpayers and the buyers of Greek debt, all of whom have a right to fully understand the risks of a country incurring liabilities which perhaps it may struggle to repay.

Who wins in U.S. vs Europe contest?

In these days of renewed gloom about the future of Europe, a quick test is in order. Who has the world’s biggest economy? A) The United States B) China/Asia C) Europe? Who has the most Fortune 500 companies? A) The United States B) China C) Europe. Who attracts most U.S. investment? A) Europe B) China C) Asia.

The correct answer in each case is Europe, short for the 27-member European Union (EU), a region with 500 million citizens. They produce an economy almost as large as the United States and China combined but have, so far, largely failed to make much of a dent in American perceptions that theirs is a collection of cradle-to-grave nanny states doomed to be left behind in a 21st century that will belong to China.

That China will rise to be a superpower in this century, overtaking the United States in terms of gross domestic product by 2035, is becoming conventional wisdom. But those who subscribe to that theory might do well to remember the fate of similar long-range forecasts in the past. At the turn of the 20th century, for example, eminent strategists predicted that Argentina would be a world power within 20 years. In the late 1980s, Japan was seen as the next global leader.

Don’t bank on EU’s tough state aid talk

paul-taylor– Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

PARIS, April 20 (Reuters) – The European Union’s antitrust czar is struggling to stop governments bending EU rules on state aid to business when they rescue banks with taxpayers’ money.

But Neelie Kroes’ threat to force some banks to the wall unless they offer viable restructuring plans within six months of receiving state cash was economically unwise and politically inept. It could fuel political pressure to suspend the rules and weaken the European Commission’s crucial watchdog powers.

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