Category Archives: Eurogroup

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 http://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2017/05/18717-greece-in-recession-again.html), 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: http://www.imf.org/external/np/tr/2016/tr052516.htm). 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: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2016/05/23516-debt-greek-sustainability-and.html) 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: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2016/05/23516-debt-greek-sustainability-and.html 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.

Source: http://graphics.wsj.com/greece-debt-timeline/

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... 

11/5/16: 7+1 Steps Guide to Greek Crisis Madness


Greece is back in the news recently with yet another round of crisis talks and measures. Here's where we stand on the matter.

After another Eurogroup 'talks' this week, Greek Government is back to drawing up a new set of 'measures' to be presented to the Parliament. These 'measures' are, once again, needed for yet another Eurogroup agreement of yet more loans to the country.

The madness of this recurring annual spectacle that the EU, the Greeks and the IMF have been going through is so apparent and so predictable by now, that anywhere outside Greece itself it is simply banal.

The scenario is developing exactly along the same lines as before:

  1. Greeks are running out money
  2. Greek loans funds are not being remitted by the EU because of the 'lack of progress on 'reforms' which were never progressed since the Bailouts 1.0 & 2.0.
  3. Greek Government insists that no more 'reforms' can be imposed onto the Greek economy because there is already no economy left due to previously imposed 'reforms'
  4. IMF threatens to walk out and European authorities become 'doubtful' of Greek commitments to 'reforms'
  5. European authorities and Greece get into a room to hammer our (3) as a precondition for (2) both of which are necessary to avoid Greek default and are thus required to prevent (4).
  6. Greece agrees to more 'reforms', gets more loans, none of which have anything to do with actually supporting Greek economy
  7. Greek government declares another 'victory' on the road of the country 'exit from an era of creditors', whilst creditors become ever more committed to Greece.
  8. Within 6 months, (1) repeats anew...

And this is exactly what has been happening over the recent days.

Government partner Panos Kammenos has already heralded “Greece’s exit from an era of creditors" this week in the wake of the promises by Greece to implement new round of 'reforms' aimed at placating the EU and the IMF into providing fresh credit to Greece. The target date for Greek Government putting its tail between its legs for the umpteenth time is May 24th when the Eurogroup is supposed to meet to decide on the next round of debt financing for Greece.
What are the latest 'reforms' about?

  1. New privatization fund (because previous one did nada, zilch, nothing) to sell state assets (with hugely inflated expected valuations) to investors (read vultures) to generate funds (that will fall grossly short of) required to pay some debt down.
  2. New rules for working out non-performing bank loans (foreclosure & bankruptcy reforms) because under (1) above, vultures, sorry 'investors', ain't getting enough.  
  3. Load of new taxes (levying coffee, fuel and even web connections, for a modern economy cannot exists in the vacuum of knowledge taxes).
  4. Automatic cuts to fiscal spending should the Government breach targets on fiscal deficits assigned under 2015 'deal'.
  5. EUR5.4 billion in fresh budget cuts.


In return, Tsipras is getting Eurogroup's usual waffle.

The IMF (that actually holds more central position between the Greek and the EU corners) will probably be allowed to excuse itself from underwriting Bailout 3.0 agreed last Summer. This will load full Greek bailout cost onto the EU institutions - something that Europe is happy to do because the IMF has become a realist thorn in the hopium filled buttocks of European 'policymaking'. IMF will, of course, rubber stamp the Bailout 3.0 programme by remaining an 'advisory' institution (sort of like Irish Fiscal Council - bark, but no bite). In exchange, it will get European funds to repay IMF loans and will walk away from the saga with bruises, but no broken nose. Rumour has it, Germany will accept this role for the IMF but only if Greece agrees to become Europe's holding tank for refugees (it's an equivalent of Turkey Compromise with Athens that will make Erdogan livid with jealousy).

Tsipras will also receive another promise from the EU to examine Greek debt relief. By now, everyone forgot that the EU already promised to do so four years ago (see last page, 2nd paragraph in Eurogroup statement from November 27, 2012 and reiterated it in August 11, 2015 Bailout3.0 agreement). Thus, Tsipras will be able to put a new 'certificate of a promise' (written in French or German or both, for better effect) onto his cabinet wall, while being fully aware that a promise from the EU is about as good as a used car salesman's assurances about a vehicle's transmission. The only chance any sort of relief will be forthcoming is if the IMF amplifies its rhetoric about Greek debt 'sustainability', which may happen at the next G7 meeting next week, or may not happen for another six months... who knows?

Meanwhile, the saga rolls on. Protests in Greece - 'Everyone'sOutraged', are greeted by the markets as 'Things Are Going Swimmingly' just as IMF's team is shouting 'The Patient's Dead, You Morons!' while Germans are saying first 'Nothing's Happening' and a week later changing their minds to 'Things Are so Good, We'll Have a Deal' to the solo of a Greek official singing 'We've Been Half Dozing' and a chorus of EU leaders erupting with a jubilatory 'Lalala'.

Remember: we are in Europe! Mind the gap... with reality.



14/8/15: IMF on Two Unfinished Bits of Greek Bailout 3.0


IMF's Ms. Christine Lagarde statement on Greece:


Key points are:

1) Per Lagarde, “of critical importance for Greece’s ability to return to a sustainable fiscal and growth path", "the specification of remaining parametric fiscal measures, not least a sizeable package of pension reforms, needed to underpin the program’s still-ambitious medium-term primary surplus target and additional measures to decisively improve confidence in the banking sector—the government needs some more time to develop its program in more detail." In other words, the path to Eurogroup's 3.5% long term primary surplus target on which everything (repeat - everything) as far as fiscal targets go, hinges is not yet specified in full. The Holy Grail is not in sight, yet...

2) "…I remain firmly of the view that Greece’s debt has become unsustainable and that Greece cannot restore debt sustainability solely through actions on its own. Thus, it is equally critical …that Greece’s European partners make concrete commitments in the context of the first review of the ESM program to provide significant debt relief, well beyond what has been considered so far." In simple terms, for all the lingo pouring out of the Eurogroup tonight, Greece has not been fixed, its debt remains unsustainable for now and the IMF - which ESM Regling said tonight will be expected to chip into the Bailout 3.0 later this autumn - is still unsatisfied with the programme.

"Significant debt relief" - off the table so far per Eurogroup - is still IMF's default setting.