Greek Debt Time Bomb Might Still Explode

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Athens Austerity Protest
Athens, Greece - June 30, 2011: A Greek woman holds a flag in front of the Greek parliament during a protest in Athens, Greece.
Greek Protests against austerity
People wearing white masks are protesting outside the Parliament building against unpopular EU-IMF austerity deal

The funny thing about the Greek drama playing out in the Eurozone is that it never ends. It has all the thrills, chills, and spills of a typical Hollywood movie. You think that all hell is about to break loose, then all of a sudden some last minute resolution is reached. The latest twist in the Greek drama took place with the recent election of the far-left Syriza Party. Syriza Party talked a big game about opposing austerity measures imposed on Greece by their European partners. Of course, this makes for great politics. But it is also highly unrealistic.

Greece is in trouble because of generous state spending, lots of entitlement, and a weak labor base. Add on top of these a declining population and you have an economic perfect storm. Just how much economic trouble is Greece in? It has EUR 8 billion worth of bonds due in March, and EUR 11 billion debt due in July. That is a huge amount of money. Given Greece’s economic growth rate, there is no way it can cover those debts.

Any talk of restructuring Greek debt would have to turn around default. Even if Greece wanted to pay that money, it doesn’t have the means to do it. Default is always on the table. That is the next Greek debt time bomb that is sure to explode.

Athens Austerity Protest
Athens, Greece – June 30, 2011: A Greek woman holds a flag in front of the Greek parliament during a protest in Athens, Greece.

I highly suspect that the stock market has already priced this eventuality into current equities prices. The only question left to be determined is whether the default will take the form of a straight default or an interest rate haircut. Many Eurozone observers would simply be asking, “What difference does it make?” Still, in terms of political messages, the impending Greek debt time bomb does send a clear message regarding the foolishness of a European monetary union without strong budgetary constraints and cutbacks on local sovereignty.

This is always going to be the issue regarding the EU. How much sovereignty are member countries willing to give up in exchange for whatever convenience and financial confidence the monetary union would bring to the table? I suspect that we will continue to revisit that question. It may be Greece today, but it might be Spain and Italy a few years from now. This is never going to end unless the European Union changes fundamentally.

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