As a point of curiosity, the Greek 1-Year Bond Yield touched 682% today, now down to a mere 666%. Bloomberg quotes the open as 566%, if correct, the one year yield soared 116 percentage points from the open to the high.

Deal “Really” Finalized?

Open Europe says Many questions around the second Greek bailout remain unanswered

We finally have an agreement on the second Greek bailout…in principle. It only took eight months. If you’re of the belief that a disorderly Greek default would have triggered Armageddon, the deal that was agreed (as ever ‘agreed’ is used loosely) by Euro finance ministers in the early hours of this morning is broadly good news.

Below we outline a few key issues (not exhaustive by any means, there are many more) and give our take on how they could play out.

Greater losses for private sector bondholders: Reports suggest the Greek government was sent back to the negotiating table with bondholders at least four times during last night’s meeting. Nominal write downs for bond holders now top 53.5% (or around 74% net present value). The leaked Greek debt sustainability analysis (DSA) assumes a participation rate of 95%.

Open Europe take: 95%, really? We weren’t convinced the previous threshold of 90% with a lower write down would be reached and that was while potential ECB participation was still on the table. Although this target may have been agreed with the lead negotiators for the private sector, it is far from a cohesive group, diminishing the value of the agreement. It will be interesting to see how bondholders respond to the plan but we think that hold outs could well be more than 5%.

Greek ‘prior actions’: The deal includes a list of requirements which Greece must meet in the next week to get final approval for the bailout. These include: passing a supplementary budget with €3.3bn in cuts this year, cuts to minimum wage, increase labour market flexibility and reforms opening up numerous professions to greater competition.

Open Europe take: The now infamous €325m in cuts still needs to be specified. The huge adjustments to labour markets and protected professions mark a cultural shift in Greece – pushing these through will not be painless and could result in further riots.

Fundamental tensions in objectives of the programme: The DSA notes that the prospect achieving a return to competitiveness while also reducing debt is very small – the massive austerity could induce a further recession.

Open Europe take: As we have noted all along the assumption that Greece can impose massive levels of austerity and then return to growth in the next two years is a big leap and almost inherently contradictory. We’d also note that the cuts in expenditure in Greece are larger than have been attempted anywhere in recent memory (successful or failed). Likely to be substantial slippages in the austerity programme while the growth programme remains almost non-existent, essentially closing the book on Greek debt sustainability.

Further favourable treatment for the ECB: ECB and national central banks avoid taking losses on their holdings of Greek bonds but promise to redistribute ‘profits’ from these holdings so that they can be used in Greece.

Open Europe take: See our previous post for a full discussion of this issue. Markets still don’t seem too worried by suddenly being subordinated by central banks in Europe – they should be. This raises questions of the basic premise that all bonds are treated the same, based on who issued them not who holds them. As we’ve noted before, the whole concept of ‘profits’ is misleading, while any distribution would happen anyway – this is not a commitment from central banks but a further fiscal commitment by the eurozone (should really be included in total bailout funding).

Greece may not be able to return to the market even after three years: The DSA points out that any new debt issue will essentially be junior to existing debt, hampering the chances of Greece issuing new debt in 2014/2015.

Open Europe take: This point isn’t too clear but given that the eurozone, IMF and ECB will own such a larger percentage of Greek debt in 2014 any new private sector debt will be massively subordinated and at risk of taking losses if anything goes wrong with the Greek programme. Additionally after the restructuring the remaining private sector debt will be governed under English law and will have the EFSF sweetener – further subordinating any new debt issued to the market. Why would anyone want to purchase Greek debt in this situation (especially given the other concerns above)?

EFSF funding requirements: The EFSF will have to raise €70.5bn ahead of the bond swap – €30bn in sweeteners for the private sector, €5.5bn to pay off interest and €35bn to provide Greek banks with assets to use to gain liquidity from the ECB.

Open Europe take: We’ve already questioned whether raising these funds so quickly can be done and whether the approval from national parliaments will be forthcoming. Even if it is the €35bn is said to fall outside of the €130bn meaning it is expected to be returned swiftly – given the uncertainty over how long banks will need these assets (as long as Greece as declared as in selective default by the rating agencies) this may be a generous assumption.

There is also no talk of the money to recapitalise banks. This is a risky strategy given that Greek banks’ main source of capital (government bonds) will have just been wiped out significantly. The needs were previously specified at €23bn, although reports now suggest they could top €50bn. It’s not clear where this money will come from or when it will be raised. The bond restructuring will be like dancing through a minefield for Greek banks.

We’re still trawling through the responses, analysis and documents to come out of the meeting – meaning there are likely to be plenty more questions and uncertainties to come.

The one thing that is clear is that even if this bailout is ‘successful’, it will set Greece up for a decade of painful austerity and low growth leading to social unrest, while the eurozone will have to provide on-going transfers to help it keep its head above water.

Sorry to be killjoys but as Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager put it, the deal isn’t “something to cheer about”.

Open Europe Offers excellent analysis of the issues.

The Improbable Greece Plan

Felix Salmon chimes in with The Improbable Greece Plan.

Greece is now officially a ward of the international community. It has no real independence when it comes to fiscal policy any more, and if everything goes according to plan, it’s not going to have any independence for many, many years to come.

The problem, of course, is that all the observers and “segregated accounts” in the world can’t turn Greece’s economy around when it’s burdened with an overvalued currency and has no ability to implement any kind of stimulus. Quite the opposite: in order to get this deal done, Greece had to find yet another €325 million in “structural expenditure reductions”, and promise a huge amount of front-loaded austerity to boot.

The effect of all this fiscal tightening? Magic growth! A huge amount of heavy lifting, in terms of making the numbers work, is done by the debt sustainability analysis, and specifically the assumptions it makes. Greece is five years into a gruesome recession with the worst effects of austerity yet to hit. But somehow the Eurozone expects that Greece will bounce back to zero real GDP growth in 2013, and positive real GDP growth from 2014 onwards. Here’s the chart:

Note that the downside, here, still looks astonishingly optimistic: where’s all this economic growth meant to be coming from, in a country suffering from massive wage deflation? And under this pretty upbeat downside scenario, Greece gets nowhere near the required 120% debt-to-GDP level by 2020: instead, it only gets to 159%. And to make things worse for the Eurozone, the report explicitly says that under the terms of this deal, “any new debt will be junior to all existing debt” — in other words, there’s no way at all that Greece is going to be able to borrow on the private markets for the foreseeable future, so long as this plan is in place.

As in all bankruptcies, the person providing new money gets to call the shots. And it’s pretty clear that the Troika is going to have to continue providing new money long through 2020 and beyond. Under the optimistic scenario, Greece’s financing need doesn’t drop below 7% of GDP through 2020. Under the more pessimistic scenario, it’s 8.8%. And here’s the kicker: all of that money is being lent to Greece at very low interest rates of just 210bp over the risk-free rate. Much higher, and Greece’s debt dynamics get even worse. But of course even with well-below-market interest rates, Greece is still never going to pay that money back.

The cost of this plan is €130 billion right now, and €170 billion over three years, through the end of 2014; it just continues going up from there, with no end in sight. Remember that total Greek GDP, right now, is only about €220 billion and falling.

Oh, and in case you forgot, this whole plan is also contingent on a bunch of things which are outside the Troika’s control, including a successful bond exchange. The terms of the deal, for Greek bondholders, are tough: there’s a nominal haircut of 53.5%, which means that you get 46.5 cents of new debt for every dollar of existing bonds that you hold. The new debt will be a mixture of EFSF obligations and new Greek bonds; the new Greek debt will pay just 3% interest through 2020, and 3.75% until maturity in 2042.

Incorrect Conclusion

Salmon has this nailed except for his conclusion.

Europe’s politicians know this, of course. But at the very least they’re buying time: this deal might well delay catastrophic capital flight from Greece, and give the Europeans more time to work out how to shore up Portugal if and when that happens. Will they make good use of the time that they’re buying? I hope so. Because once the Greek domino falls, it’s going to take a huge amount of money, statesmanship, and luck to prevent further dominoes from toppling.

Simply a Prelude for Return to the Drachma?

By now, and at long last European politicians  do realize Greece is hopeless, so on that score Salmon is correct. However, I still think there is a very good chance this deal was done only to protect the ECB as a prelude to pulling the plug on Greece funding sometime between now and March 20 when the next bond payment is due. If I am correct, at some point between now and then, most likely a Friday or Saturday, Greece will declare a bank holiday.

Please see Germany Draws Up Plans for Greece to Leave Euro; Athens Rehearses the Nightmare of Default; Merkel’s Denial Rings Hollow for further discussion.

The sooner Greece exits the euro, the more likely Greece will be able to prevent still more capital flight. The smart money has already left.

We are only discussing the dumb money now, and the best way to convince the masses that all is well is to reach a deal. Yes this borders on the conspiratorial side, but the ducks are lined up and squawking loudly.

Further delays serve absolutely no purpose and will only encourage more capital flight, especially if there is more protests and panic in the streets. If so, Salmon is incorrect on preventing capital flight.

Then again, perhaps I am overly optimistic that the EU finally does the right thing with Greece.

Regardless, Salmon is overly optimistic for sure, because there is virtually no chance to shore up Portugal, Spain, or Ireland. The dominoes will topple, the only question is “how disorderly?”

Disastrous Piecemeal Breakup of Eurozone Likely in the Cards

The best solution would be for Germany to exit the Eurozone  first, but that is not going to happen.

The next best option would be for a simultaneous bank holiday involving all Greece, Portugal. Spain, and Ireland at the same time as noted in Why Greece Must Exit the Eurozone, How it Will Happen (and Why Portugal and Spain Will Follow); Does the Euro Act Like a Gold Standard?

That too is highly unlikely. Thus the odds of a protracted, one-by-one, and very costly breakup of the eurozone is the most likely outcome whether or not Greece survives the Ides of March.

For further discussion including an analysis of why it would be best for Germany to exit the Eurozone, please see Eurozone Breakup Logistics (Never Believe Anything Until It’s Officially Denied).

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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