Monday, 12 April 2010

Euro nears IMF-backed bailout over Greek debt

The EU's decade-old single currency experiment faces failure as early as this week, as Greece's debt crisis becomes critical.

In a new bid to shore up investor confidence, eurozone countries together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over the weekend agreed a £26bn (€30bn) package of loans to be made available to Greece at a below-market interest rate of 5%.

The need for greater clarity on a safety net for the financially embattled country rose on Thursday as the interest rate on Greek government debt hit a new high of 7.5%.

On Friday credit rating agency Fitch added to the pressure by further downgrading the country's creditworthiness status to a level that, should other major agencies follow, would prevent large institutional investors from buying Greek government bonds.

Greece is currently faced with debts of nearly £267bn (300bn) - 12.7% of GDP. As its currency cannot fall in value to increase the country's competitiveness, its recovery plan involves further heavy borrowing on the bond markets and a punishing programme of public spending cuts plus higher taxes.

However last week's double blow made it increasingly unfeasible that the country would be able to borrow its way out of its economic problems.

IMF props euro

According to the Daily Telegraph, the amount each eurozone country will be expected to contribute to the bailout will be in proportion to the amount each puts into the European Central Bank.

The effect will be to drag other already highly indebted eurozone countries like Ireland, Spain and Portugal - all currently imposing their own harsh austerity measures - further into difficulties.

The only barrier to money being handed over to Greece is now the unanimous agreement of all eurozone member countries.

However, the contribution the IMF will make to the package is not yet clear.
Some say the IMF will "co-financed" the deal - others that the IMF will provide an additional "top-up" loan, should it be required.

But in any arrangement, IMF intervention to prop up the financial integrity of the eurozone will signal the ultimate failure of the EU's monetary union project.

Public response

The extra burden of funding the Greek bailout on their own economic recovery is unlikely to be received warmly by the public in many eurozone countries.

To calm public opinion over the cost of a potential bailout, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to insist that any loans made to Greece must be at a market rate - a caveat that has been thwarted.

Yet, as the biggest contributor to the ECB, Germany will also have to stump up the lion's share of the bailout funds.

Critical sale

As earlier talk about a financial safety net for Greece failed to calm the markets' fears, the EU will be hoping that this fleshed-out deal will boost confidence ahead of a new bond sale by the Greek government.

This week's sale will be a critical indicator as to whether investors are sufficiently reassured about the safety of Greek debt or whether they will continue to test levels of commitment to providing the country with financial support.

Should the sale not succeed, the question will fast become; just how many billions are the IMF and the eurozone's other member countries willing to splash to prop up the fundamentally misconceived euro project?

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