Poul Thomsen, head of the IMF's misssion to Greece, during a visit to Athens in May
UPDATE: Here’s an interesting take on the same reports by our friends and rivals over at the Wall Street Journal.
As part of the Brussels Blog’s new mission to read brick-sized reports on eurozone bail-outs so you don’t have to, today we bring you the highlights of the 173-page International Monetary Fund review of the Greek crisis – which we reported on in today’s newspaper, but which has lots of other good details worth chewing over.
The first thing we like to turn to when getting these kinds of reports is the analysis of just how big the financing hole is for Greece – and how international lenders intend on filling it.
According to page 62 of the report (see the pdf here), the IMF has a slightly lower estimate of how big the Greek hole is than the European Commission: it believes Athens will need €103.4bn in new bail-out funds through 2014, while the Commission thinks it will be closer to €115bn.
Potentially more interesting, however, is how they propose to fill the hole. Read more
Acting IMF chief John Lipsky arrives for EU meetings in Luxembourg on Monday
Did the International Monetary Fund really mean to take a swipe at Europe’s continued bickering over how to deal with private holders of Greek bonds? According to John Lipsky, the Fund’s acting managing director, the tough language may have been the result of an editing hiccup. Read more
Greek riot police confront protestors in front of parliament in Athens on Wednesday
Just as one Greek crisis appears to be dissipating, another one flares up that risks pushing Athens into default in a matter of weeks. For those struggling to follow along, here’s another one of our quick primers – and a guide for what to watch for in the coming days.
For much of the last month, officials have been fretting that unless they can piece together a new €120bn bail-out for Greece by next week, Athens would run out of money. The first default by an advanced economy in 60 years would ensue, potentially wreaking havoc across the eurozone.
The reason behind the fear was a complicated domino effect that started with the International Monetary Fund: the IMF was going to withhold its €3.3bn in aid due this month unless the European Union could ensure Greece could pay its bills for another year. Greece, however, is going to be unable to pay its bills next year without a new bail-out. Read more
A decision about how to keep Greece solvent is coming to a head, and for those keeping tabs, here’s a quick primer on what to watch for in the next few days. Read more
Financial commentators, like financial markets, move in herds. Is the herd wrong about Greece?
The herd takes the view that Greece will sooner or later have to restructure its debt. According to herd thinking, the €110bn rescue plan arranged for Greece by its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund merely buys some time for the Greek government – and for its European bank creditors. The herd predicts a “haircut”, or loss, for Greek bondholders of 30 to 50 per cent of the face value of their bonds. All this is likely to happen towards the end of 2011 or in early 2012, says the herd. Read more
Rumours are flying thick and fast that the troubles of Spain’s banking sector will require emergency attention at Thursday’s summit of European Union leaders in Brussels. But it appears highly improbable that Spain will ask for help from the emergency financial stabilisation fund that EU finance ministers agreed to set up last month. For one thing, the fund is not yet fully up and running. For another, the Spanish government is emphatically not shut out of credit markets – a point underlined this morning by the successful issuance of €5bn worth of short-term government bills.
Spain’s economic vulnerabilities are obvious, and the implications of a Spanish crisis for the rest of the eurozone are no less clear. French and German banks alone are exposed to some $450bn of Spanish debt, according to a report just published by the Bank for International Settlements.
But it is worth repeating that Spain is not Greece. The Greek crisis originated in decades of mismanagement of the public finances, plus an unhealthy culture of corruption and use of the state for political patronage. Although such practices are not unknown in Spain – and not unknown in the US, China and numerous other countries, for that matter – they have never attained Greek levels. Read more
Better late than never. That is one way of looking at the three-year, €110bn rescue plan for Greece that was announced on Sunday by eurozone governments and the International Monetary Fund. It took seven months of indecision, bickering and ever-mounting chaos on the bond markets for the eurozone to get there, but in the end it did – and it may just have saved European monetary union as a result.
Looked at in a different light, however, the rescue package does not appear to be such a masterstroke. For its underlying premises are, first, that there should under no circumstances be a restructuring of Greek government debt, and secondly, that Greece’s troubles are unique to itself and need not be considered in a context of wider eurozone instability. Both premises are open to question. Read more
With good reason the eurozone’s political leaders have been criticised for reacting too slowly to the Greek sovereign debt crisis. But what’s new about that? Slowness often seems to be a defining feature of Europe’s approach to policymaking.
Consider the proposals that are in the air for the creation of a European Monetary Fund to manage Greek-style crises in the future. There is widespread support for such a fund, ranging from the European Commission to Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s centre-right finance minister, and socialists in the European Parliament. Read more
George Papandreou, Greece’s socialist prime minister, is an honourable and courageous politician who has done a great deal in his career to improve his country’s image in the eyes of its European Union partners. So it cannot have been easy for him to announce today that he was requesting the activation of the €40bn-€45bn eurozone-International Monetary Fund financial rescue package for Greece.
No eurozone member-state has suffered such a humiliation since the euro’s launch in January 1999. But Papandreou must have feared, as soon as he took office after last October’s election, that emergency foreign assistance was going to be necessary. Read more
When they announced their provisional rescue package for Greece on Sunday, European officials pointed not only to its size – at least €30bn- but also its details. For euros and details are what the markets have been demanding these last frustrating weeks. Read more
You know that the European Union is in trouble when Russia offers more intelligent advice on the eurozone’s debt crisis than Spain, the country that holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, disclosed the other day that he had recommended to George Papandreou, Greece’s prime minister, that the Greek government should request assistance from the International Monetary Fund to sort out its problems.
This is exactly the course of action advocated by several non-eurozone EU countries as well as a host of distinguished economists and, dare I say it, the editorial writers of the Financial Times. As it happens, I don’t agree – if by IMF assistance we mean financial help. The IMF will be involved, along with the European Central Bank, the European Commission and eurozone finance ministers, in monitoring Greece’s public finances and providing technical aid as required. Read more
There are two schools of thought on whether Latvia should devalue the lat, or fight tooth and nail to keep its currency peg to the euro. One, espoused by the Latvian government, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission, is that devaluation would destabilise the Latvian banking system, wouldn’t really address the long-term challenges facing the Latvian economy, and would risk spreading shock waves beyond Latvia across the Baltic and into other parts of central and eastern Europe.
The other view, espoused by some of the world’s leading economists, such as Paul Krugman and Nouriel Roubini, can be summed up as: “Get Real”. Without devaluation, the only path that Latvia can go down to extract itself from crisis is massive deflation, through spending cuts and sharp falls in wages that will inflict terrible damage on society and will unnecessarily prolong Latvia’s recession. Read more