On March 20, Greece has to come up with €14.3 billion—or else it will be bankrupt.
Of course, Greece doesn’t have €14.3 billion—that’s why the Troika of the IMF, the EC and the ECB are trying to hammer out a deal to bail them out again: A bailout to the tune of €136 billion. They’ve had marathon-length negotiating sessions, one “crucial emergency meeting” after another—hell, they even called the Pope to send them a case of holy water and a truckload of wooden stakes. I’m serious!
Last Monday, a deal seemed to have emerged: That’s what the announcement sounded like. In fact, it looked so much like a done deal—it was spun so decisively as a done deal—that I was all set to write something snarky like, Greece Takes It Greek Style: “Thank You Troika, May I Have Another” Bailout On Its Way. (What can I say: I’m a vulgar bastard.)
But then . . . then we all started looking at the fine print of the deal. And that’s when everyone who follows this stuff started to realize that the deal wasn’t a deal—merely the illusion of a deal.
A motto of mine: Never try to do the work someone else has already done for you. In the case of analyzing the Greak “deal”, I turn to John Ward, who pretty much nailed the critique of the deal:
1. [A]lthough the ECB has made a reasonable fist of complicating its subordination of the private bondholders – money out, profits redistributed, local central banks reinvesting and so forth – it remains a preferential deal done outside this so-called ‘bailout with PSI’. The IIF creditors have sort of voluntarily taken the extra 3.5% hit, but the coupon they’ve been offered is worth less than the original. In a statement issued by representatives of private bondholders, the new interest rates – 2% for the first three years, 3% for the next five, and 4.2% thereafter were described as “well below market rates”, and the creditors will lose money on them. The tone of the statement screams ‘involuntary’. In English, all these factors spell default.
2. Nobody has actually signed up to anything yet: as usual with all things EuroZen, the bankers are alleged to be on-board, but the IIF statement made after the press conference suggests otherwise: ‘We recommend all investors carefully consider the proposed offer, in that it is broadly consistent with the October agreement’. That’s not true for one thing: but as a recommendation, it’s somewhat limp. Further, there is still a body of hardline ezone sovereigns who don’t want to do the deal – and in Germany itself, a growing rearguard campaign to stop it. (See this morning’s Spiegel for immediate evidence). And finally, most Greek citizens themselves will react violently to some of the more pernicious clauses.
3. The ‘agreement’ contains almost a full bottle of poison pills: Berlin has got its debt Gauleiters in the end, only 19 cents on the euro will go to the Greek Government itself, 325 million euros in additional spending cuts have been found, Athens has agreed to change its constitution to make debt repayment the top priority in government spending, the escrow account must have three months debt money in it at all times etc etc. The idea that Greece can now toddle off and have a liberal democratic general election without any of these being issues is Brussels space-cadet stuff at its most tragi-comic. (An opinion poll taken just before the Brussels deal showed that support for the two Greek parties backing the rescue package had fallen to an all-time low while leftist, anti-bailout parties showed gains.)
4. Several Grand National leaps lie ahead before the default is avoided. Parliaments in three countries that have been most critical of Greece’s second bailout – Germany, the Netherlands and Finland – must now approve the package. In Greece itself, further violence will test political resolve about yet more cuts in wages, pensions and jobs. Greece’s two biggest labour unions have already lined up protests in the capital tomorrow. Very significantly, Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg and the IMF’s Christine Lagarde stressed at the press conference that Greece still had to live up to a series of “prior actions” by the end of the month before eurozone governments or the IMF can sign off on the new programme. If ever I saw a get-out clause, that’s it.
5. Other loose ends are left hanging everywhere. Nobody has elicitied any response so far from the Hedge Fund creditors. Entirely absent from comments was the IMF’s contribution to the €130bn bail-out. Christine Lagarde would say only that the contribution would be ‘significant’, but my information is that she’s lying through her 0,000 teeth as usual: the IMF will only contribute €13bn to the in new Greek funding. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence for the deal. Juncker said he was optimistic that ezone members would cough up more cash at the EU summit in March, but this too simply doesn’t bear examination: Portugal is broke, Spain is technically insolvent, Italy has asked to be excused from this dance, and Germany has already shown extreme reluctance to to increase its exposure further still. Fritz Schmidt in dem Strasse isn’t too keen either. Finally, as Bruno Waterfield notes in his latest column at the London Daily Telegraph, the agreement remains ‘overshadowed by the pessimistic debt sustainability report compiled by the IMF, ECB and Commission, that warned of a “downside scenario” of Greek debt hitting 160 per cent of GDP in 2020 – far higher that the agreed 120.5 per cent target’.
6. This is where we get to what the MSM will largely dismiss as ‘conspiracy theory’….but for which the circumstantial and corroborative evidence gets increasingly compelling: whole crowd-scenes of actors off-stage (and several on it) simply do not want this deal to reach fruition: they have factored in a Greek default, and believe that the best way to avoid further debt-crisis contagion is for the money earmarked for bailouts to be invested in bank-propping and growth.
The cast of players who think this include David Cameron, Mario Monti, Mario Draghi, Wolfgang Schauble and most of the German Finance ministry, Christine Lagarde, probably Angela Markel herself, Tim Geithner, huge swathes of the German banking community, The White House – and elements in both Beijing and Tokyo.