LBS on Private Sector Involvement

With things heating up in Greece, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi today outlines his case against debt restructuring in Greece. He argues four points:

First, as I already mentioned, it would not be a way to prevent taxpayers from suffering the consequences of bad investment decisions. In our Monetary Union, given the integration of financial markets and the single monetary policy, the taxpayers of the creditor countries would suffer in any case. According to the Financial Times, for instance, a default on Greece’s debt would cost the German taxpayers alone “at least €40 billion”.

Second, this would be a way to punish patient investors, who are sticking to their investment and have not sold their bonds yet, and are confident that with the adjustment programme the country will get back on its feet. Restructuring would instead reward the investors who exited the market earlier or short-sold the sovereign bond, speculating that they would gain out of a restructuring.

Third, it would destabilise the euro area financial markets by creating incentives for short-term speculative behaviour. Given that markets are forward-looking, they would try to anticipate any difficulty faced by a sovereign by short-selling their positions, thus triggering the crisis. This would discourage investment in the euro area because of its potential volatility and perverse market dynamics.

Finally, such a measure would delay any return to the market by a sovereign, because no market participant would be willing to start reinvesting in the country for a long period if they know that this kind of investment might at some stage be penalised. This would thus discourage private sector involvement and oblige the official sector to increase its financial contribution.

These don’t strike me as very strong points.

On the first point, well yes “taxpayers” in Germany who own Greek bonds will lose out but the bonds are already trading at a huge discount to face value so, for many, the losses have already been taken and the price of the bonds factors in a restructuring.

The second point amounts to saying we should reward people who make wildly inaccurate judgments about the Greek macroeconomic situation, i.e. those who “are confident that with the adjustment programme the country will get back on its feet” should be rewarded. Should those investors who believe in Santa Claus get cheques from the EU and the IMF at Christmas?

The third point that investors would look to sell sovereign bonds of peripheral countries in anticipation of a restructuring appears to ignore that this has already happened. For example, Irish sovereign bond pricing is based on the assumption of a restructuring.

The final point, that a restructuring would delay Greece’s return to the market is debatable. Even if debt ratios stabilised over the next few years, private creditors will still see huge risks. A restructuring that restores sustainability, however, would be more likely to restore access to private bond markets.

If these are the best points the ECB have, you can see why they’re losing the argument.

Squeeze Is On for Greece’s Private Sector Creditors

Here’s a thread for people to discuss the latest stories (here and here) on Greece’s private sector creditors being asked to roll over their funds or else. A quick summary:

The governments will give Greece new lending, to be provided by the European Financial Stability Facility, the euro zone’s sovereign rescue fund, officials said. But that financing will likely come with the condition that the banks, pensions funds and other investors holding Greek bonds agree to exchange them for new bonds with a longer maturity to help fill Greece’s financing gap over the next three years, they said.

“Private investors would have a strong incentive to participate, because if they don’t, there will be a default,” said one official.

It’s the Don Corleone approach to default negotiation, involving making people offers they can’t resist.

Still, providers of CDS insurance will be thrilled to hear that

the debt-exchange process envisioned by the governments won’t rewrite existing bond contracts or trigger a credit event, the officials said, partly easing the ECB’s concerns that private creditors are being forced to contribute financing.

Can someone explain to me why it’s so important to the ECB or any government whether a restructuring scheme constitutes a credit event for CDS purposes? Are the firms that offer this insurance somehow more important sources of systemic risk than those who own Greek sovereign bonds? Or is it more for the appearance of purity — “it was not a default, now way, sure the CDS guys say it wasn’t a credit event”, that kind of thing?

Anyway, what odds are there now that holders of Irish sovereign bonds will walk away unscathed?

Greece Not a Threat to Irish Banks

As stories about a Greek sovereign debt restructuring gather pace, expect to read lots more stories like this one in which some guy claims that a Greek restructuring would “severely damage the banking systems of Ireland and Portugal.”

Let’s be clear. It won’t. We’ve been here before with people quoting figures from the BIS on Irish exposure to Greek debt that stemmed from holdings of foreign-owned banks in the IFSC. However, even the BIS figures now show “Irish” bank exposure to Greek debt has collapsed to below $1 billion (you can find a time series in here if you look hard enough.)  God knows there’s enough to worry about in relation to the Irish economy and its banks, so let’s at least try to put this one to rest.

Buchheit and Gulati on Greek Debt

Today’s article by Wolfgang Munchau is a summary of the dinner talk that he gave at last week’s EUI workshop on sovereign default. A very interesting counterpart to Munchau’s article is this paper by veteran sovereign debt lawyer Lee Buchheit (lead negotiator for Iceland! with its creditors) and Mitu Gulati (Duke law professor) which discusses other scenarios for Greek debt. Buchheit and Gulati gave very interesting presentations on this and other relevant topics at the EUI conference (a podcast is due to go up this week and I will pass on the link when it does). It perhaps goes without saying that this paper has a lot of relevance for Ireland.

Merkel Proposing Orderly Default Framework

Mrs Merkel has been speaking in the German parliament about her latest financial proposals. In addition to defending the CDS and short-selling proposals, the Germans are apparently preparing proposals for an “orderly insolvency of euro-region states”.  In a separate story this morning, I see that former Fed Governor Rick Mishkin has been reported as follows: 

“What they should have done was to let Greece go and say we are going to ringfence the rest of the system,” Mishkin said. “Ringfence the banks, protect the other countries that have problems such as Portugal, Italy and Spain, which have not been fiscally irresponsible the way the Greeks have been.”

It’s interesting to see how far the consensus has moved. We’ve gone from the idea that no Eurozone country can be let default and the IMF can’t possibly be allowed to help to getting ready for orderly defaults.