European finance ministers and politicians have come to the conclusion that a deal, even one involving a credit event, is better than no deal at all. Thus it is increasingly likely the Greek Debt Wrangle will trigger credit default swaps.

Opposition to payouts on Greek credit-default swaps from European Union policy makers is softening as disputes over a voluntary debt exchange threaten to push the nation into default.

Any agreement between the Greek government and the Washington-based Institute of International Finance on debt writedowns will only bind 50 percent of investors in the 206 billion euros ($270 billion) of notes being negotiated, Barclays Capital estimates. Hedge funds may resist a deal, seeking to get paid in full or compensated from insurance contracts

“Politicians seem less concerned than before about CDS triggers,” said Michael Hampden-Turner, a credit strategist at Citigroup Inc. in London. “Having a payout on Greek CDS is probably better than the alternative: a loss in market faith of the product’s ability to provide a hedge against sovereign risk.”

Officials, including former European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet, have insisted that a swaps trigger was unacceptable because traders would be encouraged to bet against indebted nations and worsen the crisis.

Greece said it may impose losses on investors who fail to support the debt restructuring by adding a so-called collective action clause, or CAC, into its bond documentation. That would force holdouts to accept the same terms as the majority.

Use of CACs would trigger a restructuring credit event and a payout of default swaps, according to rules from the International Swaps & Derivatives Association.

“A CAC is looking increasingly like the best option,” Citigroup’s Hampden-Turner said. “That route seems to tick a lot of boxes: they don’t have a bond default, the official sector gets treated differently than the private sector, and everybody has to participate in the exchange without anybody getting paid in full.”

ECB Opposition

While the ECB oppose any involuntary restructuring of Greek debt, policy makers such as Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager say they aren’t against a credit event.

The softer stance signals Greece is unlikely to get sufficient participation in a voluntary bond swap to make its debt burden sustainable.

The ECB is now alone in its opposition to a credit event. Then again, the ECB alone was against haircuts, soft defaults etc.

As late as May 7, 2011 former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet insisted there would be “no Greek debt restructuring”. I wrote about it in Trichet Reiterates Restructuring “Not on the Agenda”, Market Reiterates “Trichet is a Pompous Fool”.

Since then there have been two restructurings, and we are now headed for an involuntary restructuring that will trigger credit default swaps.

I suspect an effort will be made to placate the ECB somewhat so that the ECB does not take a loss on the 40 billion euros of Greek debt it stupidly bought, but otherwise, the ECB is about to have this crammed down their throats.

Portugal waits on deck.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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