Category Archives: Greek debt

22/5/17: Eurogroup and Greece: Wrestling Defeat from the Claws of Victory

Today's Eurogroup meeting on Greece ended in no agreement and extends the current tranche negotiations into June 15, the date of the next Eurogroup meeting.

For the background:

The key sticking point so far is the scheduling of future primary surpluses (budgetary surplus before the debt servicing costs are factored in). The Eurogroup insists on these surpluses running at 3.5% of Greek GDP for the first 5 years following 2018, declining to 2% or 2.2% (depending on the version of the draft agreement) for 2023-2060. 

In very simple terms, such commitments are absolutely bogus (and dangerous). They are bogus because there is absolutely no way anyone can project growth rates out to 2060 from today that can be in any way reasonably accurate to predict primary surpluses. They are dangerous, because they will shackle Greek governments to running buffer funds to compensate for possible recessionary and non-cyclical shocks to the primary surpluses. These buffers will imply underinvestment within the Greek economy (public investment) over the long term. Which, of course, will damage the Greek economy and increase the risk of non-compliance with the deficit rules.

Here is how unrealistic the current proposed targets are. Consider, first, IMF projections (April 2017 data) for primary surpluses over the next 5 years (2018-2022). Remember, Greek target (grey line) is 3.5% for that period:

With exception of Italy, no other advanced euro area economy comes even close to the proposed target. And no one is making a case that Italy running these surpluses is somehow consistent with structurally strong growth expectations over the period.

Now, consider past and present performance, based on 10 years windows. For 10 years window, Greek target surplus is 2.85% per annum:

The view is a bit brighter. 

In the 1990s, two countries managed to run surpluses at or above the target set for Greece forward: Belgium and Ireland. Both countries were recovering from substantial fiscal crises of the late 1980s-early 1990s.  But, unlike Greece today, both countries benefited from exogenous shocks that boosted significantly their surpluses and growth: Belgium gained substantial income transfers from growth of the EU institutions, and Ireland gained from a large scale FDI boom. Neither country needed to run large scale public investment programmes financed from own (internally-generated) funds. 

In the 2000s, Belgium continued to run large surpluses and it was joined in this by Finland. Belgium surpluses drivers remained the same, while Finland carried out substantial fiscal consolidation in the wake of the early 1990s crisis timed perfectly to coincide with rapid economic growth in the economy. 

In simple terms, no advanced euro area economy has managed to run surpluses expected of Greece at the times of adverse economic growth conditions or immediately after a major recession.

As I noted in the earlier post on the Greek economy (see, the state of Greek economy has been so highly uncertain over the last few years, that any projections 3-4 years out from today are simply an example of a delirious wish-for-thinking. In this environment, setting targets out to 2060 is absurd, and dangerous, for it commits Greece to targets that may or may not be to the benefit of the Greek economy and sets up the euro area fiscal policy architecture for a failure at the altar of extreme conviction in technocratic targeting. 

25/5/16: IMF’s Epic Flip Flopping on Greece

IMF published the full Transcript of a Conference Call on Greece from Wednesday, May 25, 2016 (see: And it is simply bizarre.

Let me quote here from the transcript (quotes in black italics) against quotes from the Eurogroup statement last night (available here: Eurogroup statement link) marked with blue text in italics. Emphasis in bold is mine

On debt, I certainly think that we have made progress, Europe is making progress. Debt relief is firmly on the agenda now. Our European partners and all the other stakeholders all now recognize that Greece debt is unsustainable, is highly unsustainable, they accept that debt relief is needed.

Do they? Let’s take a look at the Eurogroup official statement:

Is debt relief firmly on the agenda and does Eurogroup 'accept that debt relief is needed'? "The Eurogroup agrees to assess debt sustainability" Note: the Eurogroup did not agree to deliver debt relief, but simply to assess it. Which might put debt relief on the agenda, but it is hardly a meaningful commitment, as similar promises were made before, not only for Greece, but also for other peripheral states.

Does Eurogroup "recognize that Greece debt is unsustainable, is highly unsustainable"? No. There is no mentioning of words 'unsustainable' or 'highly unsustainable' in the Eurogroup document. None. Nada. Instead, here is what the Eurogroup says about the extent of Greek debt sustainability: "The Eurogroup recognises that over the exceptionally long time horizon of assessing debt sustainability there can be no forecasts, only assumptions, given the sizable degree of uncertainty over macroeconomic developments." Does this sound to you like the Eurogroup recognized 'highly unsustainable' nature of Greek debt? Not to me...

Furthermore, relating to debt relief measures, the Eurogroup notes: “For the medium term, the Eurogroup expects to implement a possible second set of measures following the successful implementation of the ESM programme. These measures will be implemented if an update of the debt sustainability analysis produced by the institutions at the end of the programme shows they are needed to meet the agreed GFN benchmark, subject to a positive assessment from the institutions and the Eurogroup on programme implementation.” Again, there is no admission by the Eurogroup of unsustainable nature of Greek debt, and in fact there is a statement that only 'if' debt is deemed to be unsustainable at the medium-term future, then debt relief measures can be contemplated as possible. This neither amounts to (1) statement that does not agree with the IMF assertion that the Eurogroup realizes unsustainable nature of Greek debt burden; and (2) statement that does not agree with the IMF assertion that the Eurogroup put debt relief 'firmly on the table'.

More per IMF: Eurogroup “…accept the methodology that should be used to calibrate the necessary debt relief. They accept the objectives in terms of the gross financing need in the near term and in the long run. They even accept the time periods, a very long time period, over which this debt has to be met through 2060. And I think they are also beginning to accept more realism in the assumption.

Again, do they? Let’s go back to the Eurogroup statement: “The Eurogroup recognises that over the exceptionally long time horizon of assessing debt sustainability there can be no forecasts, only assumptions, given the sizable degree of uncertainty over macroeconomic developments.” Have the Eurogroup accepted IMF’s assumptions? No. It simply said that things might change and if they do, well, then we’ll get back to you.

Things get worse from there on.

IMF: “We have not changed our view on how the outlook for debt is looking. We have not gone back. We want to assure you that we will not want big primary surpluses.” This statement, of course, refers to the IMF stating (see here) that Greek primary surpluses of 3.5% assumed under the DSA for Bailout 3.0 were unrealistic. And yet, quoting the Eurogroup document: the new agreement “provides further reassurances that Greece will meet the primary surplus targets of the ESM programme (3.5% of GDP in the medium-term), without prejudice to the obligations of Greece under the SGP and the Fiscal Compact.”  So, IMF says it did not surrender on 3.5% primary surplus for Greece being unrealistic, yet Eurogroup says 3.5% target is here to stay. Who’s spinning what?

IMF: “...I cannot see us facing this on a primary surplus that is above 1.5 [ percent of GDP]. I know it's just not credible in our view. And you will see that there is nothing in the European statement anymore that says 3.5 should be used for the DSA. So there, too, Europe is moving.” As I just quoted from the eurogroup statement clearly saying 3.5% surplus is staying.

IMF is again tangled up in long tales of courage played against short strides to surrender. PR balancing, face-savings, twisting, turning, obscuring… you name it, the IMF got it going here.

24/5/16: Greek Crisis: Old Can, Old Foot, New Flight

So Eurogroup has hammered out yet another 'breakthrough deal' with Greece, not even 12 months after the previous 'breakthrough deal' was hammered out in August 2015. And there are no modalities to discuss at this stage, but here's what we know:

  1. IMF is on board. Tsipras lost the insane target of getting rid of the Fund; and Europe gained an insane stamp of approval that Greece remains within the IMF programme. Why is this important for Europe? Because everyone - from the Greeks to the Eurocrats to the insane asylum patients - knows that Greece is insolvent and that any deal absent massive upfront commitments to debt writedowns is not sustainable. However, if the IMF joins the group of the reality deniers, then at least pro forma there is a claim of sustainability to be had. Europe is not about achieving real solutions. It is about propping up the PR facade.
  2. With the IMF on board we can assume one of two things: either the deal is more realistic and closer to being in tune with Greek needs (see modalities here: or IMF once again aligned itself with the EU as a face-saving exercise. The Fund, like Brussels, has a strong incentive to extend and pretend the Greek problem: if the Fund walks away from the new 'breakthrough deal', it will validate the argument that IMF lending to Greece was a major error. The proverbial egg hits the IMF's face. If the Fund were to stay in the deal, even if the EU does not deliver on any of its promises on debt relief, the IMF will retain a right to say: "Look, we warned everyone. EU promised, but did not deliver. So Greek failure is not our fault." To figure out which happened, we will need to see deal modalities.
  3. What we do know is that Greece will be able to meet its scheduled repayments to EFSF and ECB and the IMF this year, thanks to the 'breakthrough'. In other words, Greece will be given already promised loans (Bailout 3.0 agreed in 2015) so it can pay back previous extended loans (Bailouts 1.0 & 2.0). There are no 'new funds' - just new credit card to repay previous credit card. Worse, Greece will be given the money in tranches, so as to ensure that Tsipras does not decide to use 'new-old' credit on things like hospitals supplies. 
  4. Greece is to get some debt reprofiling before 2018 - one can only speculate what this means, but Eurogroup pressie suggested that it will be in the form of changing debt maturities. There are two big peaks of redemptions coming in 2017-2019, which can be smoothed out by loading some of that debt into 2020 and 2021. See chart below. Tricky bit is the Treasury notes which come due within the year window of maturity and will cause some hardship in smoothing other debts maturities. However, this measure is unlikely to be of significant benefit in terms of overall debt sustainability. Again, as I note here: Greece requires tens of billions in writeoffs (and that is in NPV terms).
  5. All potentially significant measures on debt relief are delayed until post-2018 to appease Germany and a number of other member states. Which means one simple thing: by mid-2018 we will be in yet another Greek crisis. And by the end of 2018, no one in Europe will give a diddly squat about Greece, its debt and the sustainability of that debt because, or so the hope goes, general recovery from the acute crisis will be over by then and Europeans will slip back into the slumber of 1.5 percent growth with 1.2 percent inflation and 8-9 percent unemployment, where everyone is happy and Greece is, predictably, boringly and expectedly bankrupt.


Funny thing: Greece is currently illiquid, the financing deal is expected to be 'more than' EUR10 billion. Greek debt maturity from June 1 through December 31 is around EUR17.8 billion. Spot the problem? How much more than EUR10 billion it will be? Ugh?..So technically, Greece got money to cover money it got before and it is not enough to cover all the money it got before, so it looks like Greece is out of money already, after getting money.

As usual, we have can, foot, kick... the thing flies. And as always, not far enough. Pre-book your seats for the next Greek Crisis, coming up around 2018, if not before.

Or more accurately, the dead-beaten can sort of flies. 

Remember IMF saying 3.5% surplus was fiction for Greece? Well, here's the EU statement: "Greece will meet the primary surplus targets of the ESM programme (3.5% of GDP in the medium-term), without prejudice to the obligations of Greece under the SGP and the Fiscal Compact." No,  I have no idea how exactly it is that the IMF agreed to that.

And if you thought I was kidding that Greece was getting money solely to repay debts due, I was not: "The second tranche under the ESM programme amounting to EUR 10.3 bn will be disbursed to Greece in several disbursements, starting with a first disbursement in June (EUR 7.5 bn) to cover debt servicing needs and to allow a clearance of an initial part of arrears as a means to support the real economy." So no money for hospitals, folks. Bugger off to the corner and sit there.

And guess what: there won't be any money coming up for the 'real economy' as: "The subsequent disbursements to be used for arrears clearance and further debt servicing needs will be made after the summer." This is from the official Eurogroup statement.

Here's what the IMF got: "The Eurogroup agrees to assess debt sustainability with reference to the following benchmark for gross financing needs (GFN): under the baseline scenario, GFN should remain below 15% of GDP during the post programme period for the medium term, and below 20% of GDP thereafter." So the framework changed, and a target got more realistic, but... there is still no real commitment - just a promise to assess debt sustainability at some point in time. Whenever it comes. In whatever shape it may be.

Short term measures, as noted above, are barely a nod to the need for debt writedowns: "Smoothening the EFSF repayment profile under the current weighted average maturity: Use EFSF/ESM diversified funding strategy to reduce interest rate risk without incurring any additional costs for former programme countries; Waiver of the step-up interest rate margin related to the debt buy-back tranche of the 2nd Greek programme for the year 2017". So no, there is no real debt relief. Just limited re-loading of debt and slight re-pricing to reflect current funding conditions. 

Medium term measures are also not quite impressive and amount to more of the same short term measures being continued, conditionally, and 'possible' - stress that word 'possible', for they might turn out to be impossible too.

Yep. Can + foot + some air... ah, good thing Europe is so consistent... 

22/7/15: Paging from the Planet Debt…

Ah, good old Europe... Austerity, Reforms, Structural Changes, Improved Competitiveness, Return to Growth... and rising, rising, rising debt.

Per latest Eurostat release (see here), euro area Government debt/GDP levels have hit 92.9% of GDP in 1Q 2015, up on 92.0% in 4Q 2014 and up on 91.9% of GDP in 1Q 2014. Year on year, Government debt rose from EUR9.179 trillion to EUR9.433 trillion.

Of the five most indebted (fiscally_ economies (excluding Ireland, which did not report 1Q 2015 GDP figures):

  • Debt fell in the case of Greece by 8.3 percentage points between 4Q 2014 and 1Q 2015 to 168.8% of GDP; 
  • Debt rose in the case of Italy by 3 percentage points to 135.1% of GDP;
  • Debt fell 0.6 percentage points in Portugal to 129.6% of GDP;
  • Debt rose 4.5 percentage points in Belgium to 111.0% of GDP;
  • Debt fell 0.7 percentage points in Cyprus to 106.8% of GDP.

Italian debt is now at the highest level since the peak of Inter-war period in the 1920s:

Source: @Schuldensuehner 

Congratulations to the inhabitants of the Planet Debt...

20/7/15: Greece clears IMF arrears. Almost broke, again.

Having borrowed EUR7.2bn, Greece promptly settled its arrears with the IMF (EUR1.996 billion at exchange rates of June-July, but closer to EUR2.05bn in current rates), opening up the way to pay on maturing EUR3.492 billion ECB and NCBs funds today.

Have a new credit card? Will travel… for now… but only for now, as with today's payments we have less than EUR2 billion credit line remaining available for the country.

Next stop: see here

Meanwhile, banks reopening - overhyped on both sides (by the mainstream media as a non-event (re: no mayhem) and by alternative media as a run-waiting-to-happen (re: mayhem)) - came relatively calmly, as banks remain under severe capital controls, limiting withdrawals to EUR420 per person per week. On top of which, checks are cashed only into bank account (no cash); withdrawals abroad and money transfers abroad are not allowed, even on pre-paid cards; limits placed on use of credit and debit cards abroad; no new savings or deposits accounts can be opened; repayments of loans can only be done in line with scheduled payments (no advanced repayments possible except by using cash or transfers from abroad); only unrestricted payments are for tax purposes, social security or bank liabilities payments, plus payments to hospitals and for education.

Any wonder there were no bank runs today? Ah, sure, who would run on an open bank with no cash in it? A taxman?..

But coming back to those bridge finance funds. The EU is now saying the Bailout 3.0 will take 6-8 weeks to agree and structure. There is EUR3.188 billion worth of ECB maturities coming up in 5 weeks, EUR1.344 billion of IMF loans due in September, and EUR3.8 billion worth of short term bonds maturing before 8 weeks runs out. Which begs a question: where will Greece get the money to cover these liabilities?