Greek deal leaves Europe on the road to disaster
By Clive Crook
Friday February 24, 2012
If Europe’s new plan for Greece succeeds, nobody will be more surprised than the politicians who designed it. At best, the arrangement is a holding action, one that fails yet again to deal with the much larger confidence crisis facing the euro area.
The deal announced on Tuesday starts with private lenders. Their representatives agreed to accept even bigger losses on Greek government bonds than previously discussed. The bonds’ face value will be cut by 53.5 percent, and they’ll pay a low interest rate, starting at 2 percent then rising later. Altogether, this reduces their net present value by about 75 percent, far more than deemed necessary just weeks ago.
If enough private lenders go along, that triggers the inter-governmental side of the plan: new official loans to cover Greece’s ongoing budget deficit and replace debt coming due. The terms include a lower interest rate on bailout loans as well as various other kinds of European Union taxpayer subsidy, folded in with greater or lesser degrees of stealth. The European Central Bank and national central banks, for example, will pitch in by channeling back to Greece the “profits” they have made on Greek bonds bought at deep discounts to face value. The International Monetary Fund is going to take part, too. Exactly how still isn’t clear.
If too many private lenders opt out, it’s back to the drawing board. Ditto if voters in Greece force the government to renege on promises to cut the minimum wage, make advance debt- service payments into an externally monitored account, change the constitution to prioritize debt repayment, accept oversight of public accounts by an on-site team of EU officials, and more.
That’s only a partial list of what might still derail the agreement. Even if it sticks, its designers don’t sound confident it will work. An official analysis leaked to the Financial Times discusses a “tailored downside scenario,” which, to many observers, looks more like a plausible central case.