Greek Debt Restructuring on the Horizon

In Economics, Financials, Politics on June 6, 2010 at 13:01

Despite the massive financial aid granted by the IMF and the EU that amounted to 110 bn euros, debt restructuring is still considered to be a necessary step towards de-levereging or just stabilising debt level in the Greek economy. The recent aid package can only buy Greece a limited amount of time (a year may be). Efforts to contain debt escalation should start as soon as possible. Unlike fiscal deficits and inflation, debt can’t be tackled within couple of years. It’s accompanied with a dynamism and a momentum that needs time to be broken (debt set to rise to 150% of GDP by 2012). This is why an upcoming debt restructuring seems like a natural trajectory.

Debt restructuring is like a partial default. It occurs when an economy struggles to fully repay its creditors and negotiates with them the prospect of prolonging the maturity of those debts or even cutting down interest payments. Either way, this works as an unavoidable loss to the creditors. 338 bn euros is the Greek debt held by other countries, most of which is by banks and the respective public sector. It is hence easy to imagine the catastrophic domino effect that a potential default would trigger in the European inter-bank community.

Some analysts, however, counter-argue the debt-restructuring prospect claiming that the ECB has been aggressively buying Greek bonds which reduces the risk exposure of other private institutions on Greek debt. In my view, this isn’t enough to prevent a debt restructuring given the already wide exposure of foreign banks to the Greek debt and the increasing uncertainty that this dilemma generates amongst banks. Right now, few are the banks which have revealed their size of exposure to Greek bonds and this creates a blurred environment with respect to which institutions are in a dangerous spot or not.

Debt restructuring has been a frequent phenomenon in recent economic history. Russia’s and Argentina’s debt rescheduling in late 90s and early 2000 were deemed necessary but apparently insufficient in deterring the subsequent defaults. Greece has to negotiate its debt as soon as possible for two main reasons: 1) achieve faster results in its ‘fiscal discipline’ process and 2) save the markets from all the drama and speculation, that cultivates uncertainty, on whether it will actually act or not on that front.

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