Mark Wadsworth

This is a spare 'blog in case my main 'blog at markwadsworth.blogspot.com isn't working

A sensible plan

From Business Recorder:

The euro zone may be starting to get to grips with the Greek crisis. The idea of bond buybacks by the European bailout fund is back on the table. The European Financial Stability Facility could lend to Greece to buy its own debt back… The idea isn’t entirely new: it was mooted last year before being shouted down by Germany, which saw the plan as a backdoor way of making other countries take on Greek debt…

A buyback could genuinely bring down Greece’s debt. It could be done in conjunction with lower interest rates on Greece’s bailout loans, and some form of extension of bond maturities. This three-way formula could pave the way for compromise between the ECB and euro governments.

Greek debt is trading, on average, at about 55 cents on the euro. A buyback of all the country’s debt at that price would cut the country’s debt load to 87 percent of GDP, lower than Portugal or Ireland.

I have been told that it is considered very ungentlemanly for a country to buy back its own debt at a discount to face value, but needs must.

To do it properly would require a lot of connivance and cloak and dagger stuff and saying one thing and doing another (in which Greece are past masters). Ideally what Greece would do is openly go out an borrow another €175 billion from the ECB or IMF (or whomever), pushing its nominal debt-to-GDP to something silly like 250% of annual GDP. While ostensibly pissing this money up the wall, as per usual, they would actually squirrel it away somewhere safe.

Let’s assume the market value of the old outstanding debts falls even further to half its nominal value of €350 billion. Greece would then, very carefully and using lots of nominees, buy up all the outstanding debt which comes on the market, taking care not to push up the price again. It can easily keep the market value down by publishing horrendously bad figures for unemployment, deficits, fall in GDP, allowing a couple of its banks to go bankrupt and so on.

Once it has bought back most of its old bonds, it can merrily shred and burn them, hey presto, old debts exitinguished and it now only owes the €175 billion figure mentioned above.

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