By Peter Boone and Simon Johnson
The EU, led by France and Germany, appears to have some sort of financing package in the works for Greece (probably still without a major role for the IMF). But the main goal seems to be to buy time – hoping for better global outcomes – rather than dealing with the issues at any more fundamental level.
Greece needs 30-35bn euros to cover its funding needs for the rest of this year. But under their current fiscal plan, we are looking at something like 60bn euros in refinancing per year over the next several years – taking their debt level to 150 percent of GDP; hardly a sustainable medium-term fiscal framework.
A fully credible package would need around 200bn euros, to cover three years. But the moral hazard involved in such a deal would be immense – there is no way the German government can sell that to voters (or find that much money through an off-government balance sheet operation).
Alternatively, of course, the Greeks could make much more dramatic cuts to their primary deficit – the government budget balance if you take out interest payments – in order to stabilize their debt-GDP ratio.
But with no significant resurgence of growth in the eurozone coming for a long time, that would really mean moving from last year’s 7.7% GDP primary deficit to around a 6% GDP primary surplus (assuming they face a real interest rate of 5%, i.e., below what they are paying today).
The government won’t (or can’t?) do that. In 2009 Greek wages and pensions rose by 10.5% – an amazing spending spree. In the 2010 budget they are forecast to rise by 0.3%. Where is the austerity? No wonder the prime minister is popular – they aren’t really cutting much.
The bailout package is really just an opportunity for European banks to get out of Greek debt. The Greeks can’t really collapse until they lose access to funding, so the hope is that this prevents the problems from spreading – and the prospects of such a “rescue” will keep bond yields down for Portugal, Spain, and others.
Our baseline view is that Greece enters into quite a bad recession this year, their banks and corporates continue to have trouble raising financing – thus causing broader liquidity issues, and it all comes to a head again as we near the time the government needs to take ever harsher measures next year, when there is again no bilateral funding in place.
This is the new Greek cycle.