After Syriza’s dramatic victory in the Greek election, it is now seeking to pursue its manifesto promises of renegotiating the terms of Greece’s bailout and bringing an end to austerity policies.
The bailout of €240bn largely involved debt restructuring to give Greeks more time to pay. A ‘haircut’ (reduction) on privately held bonds, estimated to be somewhere between €50bn and €110bn, was more than offset by an increase of €130bn in loans granted by official creditors.
The terms of the bailout negotiated with the ‘Troika’ of the EU Commission, the ECB and the IMF, had forced the previous Greek government to make substantial fiscal adjustments. These have included large-scale cuts in government expenditure (including public-sector wages), increases in taxes, charges and fares, and selling state assets through an extensive programme of privatisation.
Although Greece is now regarded as having achieved a structural budget surplus (a surplus when the economy is operating at potential output: i.e. with a zero output gap), the austerity policies and a decline in inward investment have dampened the economy so much that, until last year, the actual budget deficit and public-sector debt continued to rise as tax revenues plummeted.
Since 2007, GDP has fallen by nearly 27% and the unemployment rate is around 26%. The fall in GDP has made the achievement of a reduction in the debt/GDP ratio that much harder. General government debt has risen from 103% of GDP in 2007 to 176% in 2014, and the budget deficit, although having peaked at 12.2% of GDP in 2013, has only been brought down through huge cuts.
As a report to the European Parliament from the Economic Governance Support Unit argues on page 27:
With less front-loaded fiscal adjustment, the EU-IMF financing envelope for Greece would have needed to expand, in what is already the largest financial assistance programme in percent of GDP in recent global history. On the other hand, a less rapid fiscal adjustment may have helped to preserve some of the productive capacity that, in the course of the adjustment, was destroyed.
The new government, although pledging not to default on debt, is insistent on renegotiating the debt and wants to achieve a high level of rescheduling and debt forgiveness. As the new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, says:
On existing loans, we demand repayment terms that do not cause recession and do not push the people to more despair and poverty. We are not asking for new loans; we cannot keep adding debt to the mountain.
But, just as the Greek government is insistent on renegotiating its debt, so the German government and others in the EU are insisting that Greece sticks to the terms of the bailout and carries on with its current programme of debt reduction. Another haircut, they maintain, is out of the question.
We must wait to see how the negotiations play out. We are in the realms of game theory with various possible threats and promises on either side. It will be interesting to how these threats and promises are deployed.
New Leader in Greece Now Faces Creditors New York Times, Liz Alderman (26/1/15)
Syriza’s historic win puts Greece on collision course with Europe The Guardian, Ian Traynor and Helena Smith (26/1/15)
Greece Q&A: what now for Syriza and EU austerity? The Guardian, Phillip Inman (26/1/15)
Greek elections: Syriza gives eurozone economic headache BBC News, Prof Dimitri Mardas (26/1/15)
How a Syriza government would approach the eurozone The Telegraph, Andrew Lilico (19/1/15)
Australian economists urge Greek debt forgiveness as Syriza election win looks likely ABC News, Michael Janda (26/1/15)
Will Syriza win rock the global economy? CBS News, Nick Barnets (26/1/15)
Syriza should ignore calls to be responsible Irish Times. Paul Krugman (27/1/15)
Syriza Victory in Greek Election Roils European Debate Over Austerity Wall Street Journal, Marcus Walker (25/1/14)
Greece markets hit by debt default fears BBC News (28/1/15)
Why Europe Will Cave to Greece Bloomberg, Clive Crook (29/1/15)
Greece and the euro: Take the money and run The Economist, Buttonwood (28/1/15)
Tanking markets send dire warning to Greece’s new government Fortune, Geoffrey Smith (28/1/15)
The biggest debt write-offs in the history of the world The Telegraph, Mehreen Khan (2/2/15)
- Why has Greek debt continued to rise despite extremely tight fiscal policy?
- How is the structural deficit defined? What difficulties arise in trying to measure its size?
- Would there have been any way of substantially reducing the Greek budget deficit without driving Greece into a deep recession?
- What are the arguments for and against cancelling a large proportion of Greek debt? Is there a moral hazard involved here?
- Will the recently announced ECB quantitative easing programme help to reduce Greece’s debt?
- Are negotiations about debt forgiveness a zero sum game? Explain.
- What are the likely impacts of the Syriza victory on the global economy?
An historic agreement has been reached between Argentina over outstanding debt owed to creditor nations. Creditor nations come together as the ‘Paris Club’ and at a Paris Club meeting on May 28, details of a repayment plan were agreed. Argentina hopes that the agreement will enable it to start borrowing again on international markets: something that had been largely blocked by outstanding debt, which, up to now, Argentina had been unwilling to repay.
The problem goes back to 2001. Argentina was faced with international debt payments of $132bn, equalling some 27% of GDP and over 300% of export earnings. But at the time the country was in recession and debts were virtually impossible to service. It had received some help from the International Monetary Fund, but in December 2001, the IMF refused a request for a fresh loan of $1.3 billion
As Case Study 27.5 in MyEconLab for Economics, 8th edition explains:
This triggered a crisis in the country with mass rioting and looting. As the crisis deepened, Argentina announced that it was defaulting on its $166 billion of foreign debt. This hardly came as a surprise, however. For many commentators, it was simply a question of when.
Argentina’s default on its debts was the biggest of its kind in history. In a series of dramatic measures, the Argentine peso was initially devalued by 29%. Over the next three months, the peso depreciated a further 40%.
The economy seemed in free-fall. GDP fell by 11% in 2002 and, by the end of the year, income per head was 22% below that of 1998. Unemployment was 21%.
Then, however, the economy began to recover, helped by higher (peso) prices for exports resulting from the currency depreciation. In 2003 economic growth was 9.0% and averaged 8.4% per annum from 2004 to 2008.
But what of the debt? In 2005, Argentina successfully made a huge debt swap with banks and other private creditors (see Box 27.1 in Economics, 8th edition). A large proportion of its defaulted debt was in the form of bonds. It offered to swap the old bonds for new peso bonds, but worth only 35% as much (known as a ‘haircut’). By the deadline of 25 February, there was a 76% take-up of the offer: clearly people thought that 35% was better than nothing! At a stroke, bonds originally worth $104 billion now became worth just $36.2 billion. Later the take-up of the offer increased to 93%. But still 7% held out.
Then in 2006 its debt of nearly $10 billion was repaid to the IMF. General government debt stock as a percentage of GDP fell from 172% in 2002 to 106% in 2006 and to 48% in 2010.
In September 2008, the government of President Cristina Kirchner pledged to use some of its foreign currency reserves of $47 billion to pay back the remainder of the defaulted debt still owed to Paris Club creditors. But negotiations stalled.
However, at the Paris Club meeting of 28 May this year, agreement was finally reached. Argentina will repay the outstanding $9.7bn owed to individual creditor countries. This will take place over 5 years, with a first instalment of $1.15bn being paid before May 2015.
Argentina hopes that the agreement will open up access to overseas credit, which, up to now, has been limited because of this unresolved debt. However, Argentina still owes money to the holders of the 7% of bonds who did not accept the haircut offered in 2005. Their claims are being heard in the US Supreme Court on 12 June this year. The outcome will be critical in determining whether Argentina will be able to raise new funds on the bond market.
Argentina clinches landmark debt repayment deal with Paris Club Reuters, Leigh Thomas and Sarah Marsh (29/5/14)
Argentina Will Repay Paris Club Debt 13 Years After Default Bloomberg, Charlie Devereux and Pablo Gonzalez (29/5/14)
Argentina and the capital markets: At least they have Paris The Economist (30/5/14)
Argentina’s Paris Club Deal to Bring Investment, Kicillof Says Bloomberg, Charlie Devereux (30/5/14)
Argentina Leaves Singer for Last in Preparing Bond Market Return Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Camila Russo and Katia Porzecanski (30/5/14)
Argentina in deal with Paris Club to pay $10bn debts BBC News (29/5/14)
Argentina debt deal could help ease re-entry to international markets The Guardian (29/5/14)
Argentina agrees deal to pay back $10bn debt The Telegraph (29/5/14)
- What is the Paris Club? Why did the recent meeting of the Paris Club concerning Argentina’s debt not include the IMF?
- What moral hazards are involved in (a) defaulting on debt; (b) offering debt relief to debtor countries; (c) agreeing to pay bond holders who did not accept the haircut?
- In hindsight, was it in Argentina’s interests to default on its international debts in 2001?
- Assume a country has a severe debt problem. What are the benefits and costs of using devaluation (or depreciation) to tackle the problem?
With a mounting crisis in the eurozone, heads of government met in an emergency meeting in Brussels on 21 July.
The task was a massive one: how to tackle Greece’s growing debt crisis and stave off default; how to protect other highly indebted countries which have already had to seek emergency bailouts, namely Ireland and Portugal, from falling market confidence and thus rising interest rates, thereby making their debts harder to service; how to prevent speculative pressures extending like a contagion to other highly indebted countries, such as Spain and Italy; how to prevent speculation against the euro and even to prevent its break-up; how to reduce the size of budget deficits at a time of low growth without jeopardising that growth. A problem is that Greece has already adopted the required austerity measures for it to receive a second bailout from the EU agreed at the end of June, and yet its debt burden is likely to rise as growth remains negative.
Eurozone leaders recognised that the stakes were high. Failure could see contagion spread, interest rates soar and perhaps one or more countries leaving the euro. No agreement was not an option. As it turned out, the agreement was more comprehensive than most commentators had expected. Markets reacted positively. Stock markets in Europe and around the world rose and the euro strengthened.
So what was the agreement? Has it solved the Greek and eurozone crises? Will it prevent contagion? Or has it merely put the problem on hold for the time being? Will more fundamental measures have to be put in place, such as much fuller fiscal union, if the eurozone is to function as an effective single currency area? The following is a selection of the hundreds of articles worldwide that have reported on the summit and the agreement.
Greece thrown lifeline by eurozone leaders BBC News, Chris Morris (22/7/11)
A Marshall plan with ‘haircuts’: The draft agreement Guardian, Chris Morris (21/7/11)
Banks forced to share pain of bailout for Greece Independent, Sean O’Grady and Vanessa Mock (22/7/11)
EU leaders agree €109bn Greek bail-out Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Quentin Peel, Patrick Jenkins and Richard Milne (21/7/11)
Greece to default as eurozone agrees €159bn bailout The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead and Bruno Waterfield (21/7/11)
Europe steps up to the plate The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (21/7/11)
Greek bailout boosts global markets Guardian, Julia Kollewe, Ian Traynor and Lisa O’Carroll (22/7/11)
Greek bailout deal: What the experts say Guardian (22/7/11)
Bailed out – again. Eurozone throws Greece €109bn lifeline Guardian, Ian Traynor (22/7/11)
New package for Greece must match last year’s if it is to stave off default Sydney Morning Herald, Malcolm Maiden (22/7/11)
Russian or Belgian roulette? The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (21/7/11)
Saving the euro: A bit of breathing space The Economist, Charlemagne’s notebook (22/7/11)
Europe’s ‘safe haven’: corporate bonds Financial Times, Demetrio Salorio (21/7/11)
Summit that saved the euro? Financial Times, John Authers and Vincent Boland (21/7/11)
Greece aid package boosts stock markets BBC News (22/7/11)
Q&A: Greek debt crisis BBC News (22/7/11)
Timeline: The unfolding eurozone crisis BBC News (22/7/11)
Eurozone summit: It may be a solution, but doubts remain Guardian, Larry Elliott (21/7/11)
German taxpayers are being asked to socialise Europe’s debts The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (22/7/11)
The eurozone is not a nation state Financial Times blogs, Gavyn Davies (20/7/11)
One step back from the abyss BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (22/7/11)
For long-term gain, the EU will have to share the pain Independent, Sean O’Grady (22/7/11)
Greek debt deal ‘not the last word’ BBC Today Progrgamme, Stephanie Flanders and Sir John Gieve (22/7/11)
- Outline the measures agreed at the eurozone heads of government summit on 21 July.
- Explain what is meant by a ‘haircut’ in the context of debts. What types of haircut were agreed at the summit?
- How big a reduction in Greece’s debt stock will result from the deal? Why may it not be enough?
- Explain how the European Financial Stability Facility (ESFS) works? How will this change as a result of the agreement?
- What vulnerabilities remain in the eurozone?
- What are the arguments for closer fiscal union in the eurozone? Is more required than merely a return to the Stability and Growth Pact?