Category Archives: IMF and Greece

2/4/16: Tsipras: Europe’s Cross of Forest Gump and Donald Trump

The tragedy of Europe is the comedy of Europe. And it is best illustrated in the case of Greece, or by Greece, where the latest debt-related scandal is telling us more about the infinite degree of European leaders' tupidity and outright lack of duty of care for their own citizens and societies than anything Kafka could have contrived.

The basis for the scandal is the following:

Act 1: IMF staff had a conference call discussing their engagement with the European Institutions in renewing the Greek bailout deal that is due to be renewed (from IMF side) in April. Now, as a precondition to this conversation we have:

  • Greece is carrying to much debt after the 'breakthrough' deal 'achieved' last summer and it cannot repay all this debt. 
  • IMF knows as much and said as much officially
  • IMF also knows, and has publicly declared this before, that Greek debt can only be made sustainable by European authorities engaging in debt restructuring for Greece that introduces real haircuts on debt.
  • Thus, IMF position going into April is to support Greek economy's objective of attaining debt relief from European 'partners'
  • IMF are the good guys for Greek economy (as far as anyone in the game can be a good guy, of course).
Act 2: At the call, details of which were leaked, IMF officials discussed between themselves a possibility for the Fund taking a hardline position with respect to European Institutions in an attempt to influence them to give Greece debt relief. Which means that:
  • IMF was considering strong-arming Europe into doing the right thing for Greece; and
  • Greece would have benefited socially and economically if IMF were successful in what was discussed
Act 3: Enter 'Forest Gump Grafted on Donald Trump' of European politics - Greek PM Alexis Tsipras. Tsipras goes apoplectic with two things IMF conference call leak did:
  • One, Tsipras is livid with the IMF discussing the tactic that could help Greek people by reducing the unsustainable debt burden they are forced to carry courtesy of the EU. The PM of an excessively indebted nation forced onto its knees by collapsed economy and debts is actively fighting against an idea of giving help to that economy.  And he is doing so despite the fact that this debt relief was his own  electoral platform! The lad is certifiable.
  • Two, Tsipras if livid that someone leaked the transcript of the conversation, because, presumably in Europe, when a tree falls in a forest no one cares - out of sight = out of mind. It is the public embarrassment for a PM who barked at the IMF all along despite the fact that the IMF was all along his only friend in the entire EU-led fiasco of debasing the Greek economy. The embarrassment of being shown publicly to be damaging to his own society and economy. The lad is venal.
This latest three-acts Greek drama is beyond any comparative I can think of in modern history. If the Greek people ever wanted a PM who can throughly destroy the entire Greek society whilst shedding crocodile tears at the loss, they could not have invented a protagonist villain functional enough to match Tsipras.

Details of the drama are conveyed here:

4/2/16: Tear Gas v Lagarde’s Tears: Greece

Here’s Greece on pensions reforms:


Here’s IMF on same:

Note: to watch the video comment by Mme Lagarde on Greek situation, please click on this link: (answer on Greece starts at 22’:22”). Otherwise, here’s official IMF transcript of it:

“I have always said that the Greek program has to walk on two legs: one is significant reforms and one is debt relief. If the pension [system] cannot be as significantly and substantially reformed as needed, we could need more debt relief on the other side. Equally, no [amount of debt relief] will make the pension system sustainable. For the financing of the pension system, the budget has to pay 10 percent of GDP. This is not sustainable. The average in Europe is 2.5 percent. It all needs to add up, but at the same time the pension system needs to be sustainable in the medium and long term. This requires taking short-term measures that will make it sustainable in the long term.

“I really don't like it when we are portrayed as the “draconian, rigorous terrible IMF.” We do not want draconian fiscal measures to apply to Greece, which have already made a lot of sacrifices. We have said that fiscal consolidation should not be excessive, so that the economy could work and eventually expand. But it needs to add up. And the pension system needs to be reformed, the tax collection needs to be improved so that revenue comes in and evasion is stopped. And the debt relief by the other Europeans must accompany that process.  We will be very attentive to  the sustainability of the reforms, to the fact that it needs to add up, and to walk on two legs. That will be our compass for Greece. But we want that country to succeed at the end of the day, but it has to succeed in real life, not on paper.”

Yep. Lots of good words and then there are those ungrateful Greeks who are just refusing to understand:

  1. How can Mme Lagarde insist that there’s a second leg (debt relief) where the EU already said, repeatedly, there is none? and
  2. How there can be sustainability to the Greek pensions reforms if there are actually people living on them day-to-day who may be unable to take a cut to their pay? Who's going to feed them? Care for them? On what money? Where has IMF published tests of proposed reforms with respect to their impact on pensioners?

Strangely, Mme Lagarde seems to be not that interested in answering either one of these concerns.

14/7/15: IMF Update on Greek Debt Sustainability

Predictably... following yet another leak... the IMF has been forced to publish its update to the 'preliminary' Greek debt sustainability note from early July. Here it is in its full glory or, rather, ugliness:

As discussed in my earlier post here:, Greek debt to GDP ratio is now expected to "The financing need through end-2018 is now estimated at Euro 85 billion and debt is expected to peak at close to 200 percent of GDP in the next two years, provided that there is an early agreement on a program."

Which means that "Greece’s debt can now only be made sustainable through debt relief measures that go far beyond what Europe has been willing to consider so far."

Under the current programme (running from November 2012 through March 2016) the IMF projected "debt of 124 percent of GDP by 2020 and “substantially below” 110 percent of GDP by 2022", specifically, the projected debt at 2022 was 105%. Now, the Fund estimates 2022 debt at 142% of GDP.

Furthermore, "Greece cannot return to markets anytime soon at interest rates that it can afford from a medium-term perspective."

Worse, on the current path "Gross financing needs would rise to levels well above what they were at the last review (and above the 15 percent of GDP threshold deemed safe) and continue rising in the long term."

And IMF pours cold water over its own dream-a-little target of 3.5% primary surpluses for Greece. "Greece is expected to maintain primary surpluses for the next several decades of 3.5 percent of GDP. Few countries have managed to do so." Note the word decades! Now, IMF rejoins Planet Reality raising "doubts about the assumption that such targets can be sustained for prolonged periods."

In short - as I said earlier, politics not economics drive Eurogroup decision making on Greece. The IMF is now facing a stark choice: either engage with the euro area leadership in structuring writedowns (potentially also extending maturities of its own loans to Greece) or walk away from the Troika set up (and still extend maturities on its own loans to Greece).

Little compassion for the Fund, though - they made this bed themselves. Now's time to sleep in it...

14/7/15: The Brave New World of IMF Debt Sustainability Analysis

According to the secret IMF report released to the European leaders prior to the Sunday-Monday summits, "The dramatic deterioration in debt sustainability points to the need for debt relief on a scale that would need to go well beyond what has been under consideration to date - and what has been proposed by the ESM."

This is reported by Reuters here.

Per IMF report,that completes the Debt Sustainability Analysis released earlier this month (see the link to the original published report here) and that already concluded that Greek debts were not sustainable, accounting for the effects of capital controls and other recent factors, to address sustainability of Greek debt into 2020s:

  1. The EU (euro area) will need to extend graced period on Greek debt repayments to the ECB and the euro area to 30 years from now, and (not or)
  2. Dramatically extend maturity of debt given to Greece under previous programmes and the new upcoming programme.

Barring the above - which are not in the proposed Bailout 3.0 package - the euro area member states will have to "make explicit annual fiscal transfers to the Greek budget or accept "deep upfront haircuts" on their loans to Athens". In other words - either there will have to be direct aid or direct up front write downs to the debt. These too are not in the current proposal for Bailout 3.0.

Despite this damning analysis, the IMF continues to insist that it will be a part of the new arrangement and will have a new agreement with Greece comes March 2016 when the current one ends. In other words, political arm of the IMF (aka Madame Lagarde and national representatives of the EU) are now directly, head-on, and forcefully in a contradiction to their own technical team assessment of the situation. Madame Lagarde was present at the Sunday-Monday meetings and produced no apparent progress on the what her own technical team says will be a necessary part of any sustainable solution to the crisis.

There is an added component to all of this: IMF analysis refers to a significant deterioration in banking sector situation in Greece since the introduction of capital controls. Which makes sense - there are no new deposits coming into the system and, one can easily assume, loans due are not being serviced. This, in turn, begs a question as to how realistic are the EU-own assessments that the Greek banks will require EUR12-25 billion in capital.

How dire is the situation with Greek debt?

IMF new report projects debt to GDP ratio peaking at above 200% - which is bang on with my estimates previously - up on the previous IMF estimate of peak at 177%. By 2022, IMF estimated Greek debt will decline to 142% of GDP (that is back from the previous 'secret' report linked above). Now, the Fund says debt will stay at 170% of GDP even by 2022.

As Retuers reports, "Gross financing needs would rise to above the 15 percent of GDP threshold deemed safe and continue rising in the long term".

"In the laconic technocratic language of IMF officialdom, the report noted that few countries had ever managed to sustain for several decades the primary budget surplus of 3.5 percent of GDP expected of Greece." In other words, the holly grail of massive and continuous long-term primary surpluses - the sole pillar underpinning previous positive assessments of the Greek debt sustainability by the IMF - is now gone. Realism prevails - no country can sustain such surpluses indefinitely. Surprisingly, IMF continues to insist on 3.5% primary surpluses target.

As a reminder, IMF has called for official sector debt write downs for Greece in the past. It still insists on the same (per technical team), but does nothing from the political leadership point of view.

Conclusion: IMF is now fully torn between its political wing - dominated by the EU representation and leadership - and its technical side. Unlike a unified and functional World Bank (led by the US), the IMF has fallen into the European orbit of dysfunctional politicking and funding programmes that are far from consistent with IMF-own standards. (To see some evidence of this, read this excellent essay from Bruegel). 

IMF's role in the Greek bailout 3.0 will go down in history as a direct participation in the wilful re-writing of the European system of governance to embrace politicised leadership over calm and effective economic policy structuring. As per Eurogroup, there is no longer any doubt that the euro area leadership is wilfully incapable of resolving the Greek crisis. Incompetence no longer counts - the euro area finance ministers and prime ministers had all necessary information to arrive at the only logical conclusion: debt writedowns are needed and are needed upfront. They opted to ignore these so politics can prevail over economics and finance, allowing for subsequent consolidation of the euro area systems and institutions without a clear path for any member state to deviate from such.

Greece is just the first roadkill on this path.

Update: WSJ covers the topic of IMF dilemma.

10/7/15: New Greek Proposals: Can + Foot ≠ Real Solution

Greek Government proposal to the EU on Bailout package 3.0 have been published here:

Quick read through suggests the following:

  • These proposals are pretty much in line with June 26th proposals that were subsequently rejected by the 'No' vote in the Greek referendum;
  • The 'new' proposals appear to be a complete climb down from the Greek Government counter-proposals on key areas of VAT, pensions and islands measures;
  • One key strategic point is that the new proposal accepts fully 'prior actions' principle of putting in place legislative backing for key early measures ahead of any bailout funds disbursal;
  • The 'new' proposals submitted to Institutions contain no reference to debt sustainability and debt relief, although it appears that a preamble to the document in Greek version does mention debt relief.  There are reports also that Greek proposals sent to the Parliament contain reference to the EU commitment to 'negotiate with Greece on the issue of debt sustainability post-2022'. Which, if true, is a dead giveaway, as no one will honour any commitments on such a time scale and absent any specific conditions on debt sustainability. 2022 is the year chosen because it is when EFSF repayments start. Most expensive debt to carry for Greece - IMF and ECB - is off limits for any restructuring under this timeline;
  • Crucially, the new proposal does not address in full how Greek banks ELA will be covered, and how the arrears to IMF will be covered. Neither does it explain how July 2015 debt repayments will be financed. This, jointly, means that the EUR53.5 billion request for new loans is not sufficient. The Institutions, most likely, will ask for a deposits bail-in. 
  • The only differences to the 'old' Institutions' proposals include: smaller cut in defence budget (EUR200mln instead of EUR400mln), slower phasing out of the islands reduced VAT rates (throughout 2016) and slower phasing out of the EKAS supplement on pensions.
  • Greek proposals contain a sub-clause of defined actions that will kick in automatically if fiscal targets are not met in the future. These include hikes on income tax for those earning EUR12,000 (2 percentage points to 35%).
  • Materially, the new 'proposal' involves EUR53.5 billion in new loans via ESM (ex-IMF): IMF porgramme runs through April 2016 and, presumably, Bailout 3.0 is going to happen via ESM alone. Which is a net negative for Greece, since it will lose its only support on debt writedown side.

These are the details so far.

My view is that this proposal will probably be acceptable to the EU, which will close its eyes on two glaringly obvious things:
1. The proposal from the EU on which this current Greek counter proposal is based was based on assumptions and estimates that are at least 3 weeks old, and for some figures - older. Economic and fiscal losses since then have been significant and most likely remain un-covered by the current Greek proposal. These losses will not be terminated immediately post-agreement, so the Greeks have a much more serious problem on their hands.
2. Most importantly, the Greek proposal does nothing to address the existent debt overhang - the one that the IMF believes cannot be addressed via enhanced 'reforms' and increased 'austerity' and requires debt haircuts. 

However, I suspect that since avoiding Grexit is now clearly Greek Government priority, and since doing the same always was and remains the EU priority, both sides will ignore the discomforts of reality. In this case, under the Bailout 3.0, Greek debt will rise (once again), Greek economy will get a negative shock of higher taxation (corporate, personal and indirect), and a large number of Greek voters will get a strong sense of having been cheated out of their 'No' votes. And then there is the risk of looming deposits bail-ins...

This can kicking will not last long...