expects Greece to default on its debt and leave the eurozone.
But Greek leaders do seem to be squeezing as much drama as possible from the
zone loses patience with Greece
Euro zone finance ministers told Greece on Saturday it could not go ahead
with an agreed deal to restructure privately-held debt until it guaranteed it
would implement reforms needed to secure a second financing package from the
euro zone and the IMF.
ministers had hoped to meet on Monday to finalize the second Greek bailout,
which has to be in place by mid-March if Athens is to avoid a chaotic
default. But the meeting was postponed because of Greek reluctance to commit
ministers held a conference call on Saturday to take stock of progress on the
second financing package, which euro zone leaders set at 130 billion euros
back in October.
was a very clear message that was conveyed from all participants of the
teleconference ... to the Greeks that enough is enough," one euro zone
official said. "There is a great sense of frustration that they are
dragging their feet.
should get their act together and start talking honestly, decisively and
speedily with the Troika on the aspects of the programme
that remain to be finalized - on fiscal and labor market reforms," the
The Troika are the representatives of the European Commission, the
European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, who have prepared
a Greek debt sustainability analysis on which the second financing programme will be based. "The main issue is the lack
of reform, or prior action, in Greece," a second euro zone official
ministers were also dissatisfied with Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos because they believed the minister
was paying more attention to his position within his party ahead of the April
elections, than to talks about reforms.
is a great sense of frustration with Minister Venizelos, who is very hard to
get hold of because he is very busy campaigning for the leadership of (the
Greek party) PASOK, so he is not available to meet with Troika members,"
the first official said.
preparing his own political future, rather than the future of his country.
People are seriously disgruntled about that and have conveyed this very
clearly to him this afternoon," the official said.
these conference calls would be instant YouTube hits.
And with all
the threats flying around you'd think that Greece would have long since been
cowed into submission and forced to accept German control over its budget in
return for credit it needs to cover its short-term debts. That they're
holding out implies that they're really not that worried and believe they can
get better terms, which in this case means smaller cuts in domestic spending,
less of a decline in local wages, and more cash from the ECB. They're
Over the past
few months major brokerage houses have been churning out reports on what
would happen if Greece or another eurozone country
leaves the currency union and reverts to its old money. And without exception
the predictions are apocalyptic. Here's a general scenario:
come to terms with the IMF, ECB, Germany, et al, and announces that it's leaving the euro and returning to the drachma.
Instantly, everyone with a Greek bank account empties it and moves the
proceeds out of the country. Greek banks close, oil imports stop, the
national health ministry runs out of pharmaceuticals, etc., etc. Chaos leads
to depression and, probably, to some sort of authoritarian government.
So far, this
sounds like Greece's problem, and a damn good reason to accept a bailout on
pretty much any terms. But what happens next changes everything. The minute
Greece announces that it's leaving, investors
instantly start looking around for the next domino, decide that pretty much
all the PIIGS countries qualify, and pull money out of their banks, causing
them to collapse and sending those economies into free-fall.
French and German banks have lent hundreds of billions of euros to those
now-bankrupt countries, and are on the hook for untold trillions of credit
default and currency swaps, they fail as well. The entire continent is
plunged into chaos, with no obvious exit. The eurozone
dissolves, all because one tiny country decides to
course, has read these reports and understands the its
own power -- and knows that Europe's leaders understand it too. So the Greek
finance minister spending his time campaigning rather than waiting by the
phone for yet another conference call should be seen as a classic bargaining
tactic. Like George Bush Sr. going on vacation as the first Gulf War ramped
up, he's saying that he's not worried, that this is the other guy's problem
and that by the time he gets back to the office the other guy should have
some nice answers waiting.
stakes, expect a deal more to Greece's liking next
But of course
a Greek deal is the beginning, not the end. Before the signatures dry,
Portugal will demand the same bailout, using the same end-of-the-world
scenario as its bargaining chip. It will get what it wants, and then Ireland
will step up to the table.
In the end,
so runs the analyst consensus, the only alternative will be a "fiscal
union" where Germany and a handful of other core countries assume the
debts of the periphery, in the same way that Washington absorbed Fannie Mae
and Freddie Mac's $5 trillion of mortgage paper. The ECB meanwhile, will have
no choice but to finance the whole mess by buying ten or so trillion euros of
low-grade paper with newly-created currency.
The euro will
fall versus the dollar, yen and yuan, which will be
great for German exports and Greek tourism, but bad for the eurozone's trading partners. They'll respond with
inflation of their own, and so on, as the currency war really gets going. In
this scenario it's hard to see an upside limit for gold and silver.