Mission Impossible: How Can Greece Exit the Euro?

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by: Carlos X. Alexandre

Opinions about the demise of the euro and the break-up of the eurozone are not in short supply. But the process is a lot easier said than done.

Lately, more fuel was added to the fire when Spain was put on the back burner, and we started to worry about Italy, namely the Italian banks UniCredit SpA and Intesa Sanpaolo and their capital position. In addition, Italy’s government is getting ready to approve austerity measures this week, as reported by Reuters.

The package, which economy ministry sources say will be worth some 43 billion euros, will be preceded on Tuesday by a meeting of ruling coalition leaders to find political agreement over the measures, Berlusconi told reporters in Brussels. The plan will contain deficit cuts of around 3 billion euros this year, 5 billion in 2012, 20 billion in 2013 and 15 billion in 2014, said one source working on the measures, which have still not been finalized.

It appears that the wild fire is spreading, and the Italian population hasn’t even started to demonstrate Greek style.

John Mauldin shared with us Charles Gave’s opinion about the euro, as reported by Business Insider. An excerpt of John’s writing follows, as it relates to the question “how many thought the euro would fall.”

“The question is entirely irrelevant” – punctuating the air for added emphasis. “The euro will not exist in a year. The whole thing was dysfunctional from the beginning.”

I suggested that was a tad bearish.

“Not at all. I think it is extremely bullish. The demise of the euro and the return of national currencies will allow for proper allocation of investments and resources. It is the best thing that could happen for the markets.”

I could not get him to commit to exactly how that process of dissolution would look.

“I didn’t create the euro so it is not my responsibility to solve the problem for them.”

Apparently Mr. Mauldin wanted to know how the dismantling of the euro would be accomplished, and that is exactly where everyone -- without exception – has failed to provide an opinion or solution. Why? Because it’s virtually impossible without a major disruption to global markets.

Nouriel Roubini, in an article for The Financial Times, outlined three unworkable solutions to save the day: euro devaluation to parity with the dollar, German reform to increase productivity, and flat-out deflation.

So, given these three options are unlikely, there is really only one other way to restore competitiveness and growth on the periphery: leave the euro, go back to national currencies and achieve a massive nominal and real depreciation.

Reuters reported that George Soros offered the opinion that “a country” will eventually exit the euro, faulting policymakers for not having a plan.

There is no plan B at the moment. That is why the authorities are sticking to the status quo and insisting on preserving the existing arrangements instead of recognizing there are fundamental flaws that need to be corrected.

But while the option to leave the euro has gained preeminence, there’s a core element missing from all arguments across the board. How will a country exit the union or how will the euro end? Even if unpleasant, nobody has a plausible answer! And I refer to that simple statement that I included in a previous post:

“The argument goes: We don't know what to do, let's buy more time,” the source said, adding that Berlin had its customary backing from the likes of the Netherlands, Finland and Slovakia.

That’s the perfect summary and the plain truth. We cannot infer that an exit or break-up is a feasible solution without extremely painful repercussions. Otherwise the argument above wouldn’t have been made by some of the most powerful politicians in Europe.

To simplify the euro process from inception to its current state, here’s how it happened and where we are. Everyone bought a one way ticket to paradise, without plans for a return trip. Now, having partied and spent without regard for the rules, they find themselves without money to purchase the return ticket, and everyone must embark on a long journey and walk through hell to get home.

One way to accomplish an euro exit is to introduce a dual-currency system and, for example, reintroduce the Greek drachma at 340.75 per euro – the exchange rate at which the conversion was completed in 2000. A gradual adjustment to the eventual adoption of the old currency would take at least 5 long and painful years, allowing for an orderly transfer of funds. And even then, one can only hope for the best.

But let's not forget that the debt is in euros, and I sincerely doubt that any lender would convert their notes and bonds into drachmas. But apparently there is a plan B, and Reuters reported on June 27, 2011 that,

European Union officials are working on a contingency plan for Greece if its parliament rejects an austerity program and the country cannot receive the next installment of EU/IMF emergency loans, three euro zone sources said on Monday.

Their plan B is to find money somewhere to ship to Athens, and the cash must get there by July 15. The way I see it, Greece could not care less about any plan, and they recognize that they're holding the euro zone hostage. The contingency plan mentioned above tells us just that!

A Greek default is a euro default, and the problem does not stay within Greece's borders. Thus, the other members must keep on feeding the fire, although the music will stop at some point and lots of people won’t have any chairs.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.