Now that we have had a chance to digest the information from last night, there are a number of developments to report on the Greek situation which are relevant to unravelling likely scenarios going forward. Here is my synopsis of what has happened followed by some comments on the implications.
- Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou called for the deal hammered out in Brussels on 26 October to be put to a general referendum. He was not specific as to how this referendum would be worded and what exactly would be put to a vote. Moreover, Papandreou failed to alert key leaders in his cabinet and European political leaders of the referendum decision.
- The reaction by other euro zone leaders was one of consternation. In the Netherlands, despite coalition and opposition anger over the Greek referendum, the Dutch government won time on putting the euro bailout deal for a parliamentary vote until the details of how the euro zone rescue fund would operate.
- The leaders of Germany and France jointly met with the Greek PM. Afterwards, they stated that they would rather have Greece within the euro zone but that Greece needed to decide if it wanted to remain in. They also said maintaining the integrity of a rump euro without Greece was more important than having Greece as a member. Euro stability is paramount. Germany and France want Greeks to vote on whether to stay in the Euro (polls show 70% support the Euro), and not just hold a referendum on the latest package.The leaders confirmed that no aid would flow until the referendum is decided.
- Meanwhile, the Greek military’s leadership was completely overhauled, leading to rumours that Greece was forestalling a military coup. Others have since said this move is standard protocol for a Greek government preparing for its potential loss of power and that the changeover had already been decided upon previously.
- The Greek Finance Minister today came forward with a statement at the Cannes Summit indicating his lack of support for a referendum. “Greece's position within the euro area is a historic conquest of the country that cannot be put in doubt. This achievement by the Greek people cannot depend on a referendum.” Some other cabinet ministers have sided with the Prime Minister.
- However, some MPs have defected or are threatening to do so, which would end Papandreou’s majority and force new elections. Rumours on European newswires were that MPs were gathering signatures to force Papandreou to step down immediately. The BBC has now reported that Papandreou is expected to hand in his resignation.
- In Italy, the cabinet did not get an emergency decree on austerity measures through. Andy Lees of UBS reported that Susanna Camusso, head of CGIL, Italy’s largest trade union, reacted saying that Italy will have to attend the G20 in Cannes “without a credible leader and without the decisions which have been promised but not taken”. These comments are further evidence that Berlusconi is in the same precarious predicament that Papandreou is; the Italian government could fall. Lees also wrote that the “opposition Democratic Party said it will try to force a decision in parliament next week if Berlusconi does not resign beforehand.” They stated: “We are ready to assume our responsibilities and to support a new government with an agenda for reform and cutting the debt”.
- Even so, Italy’s economy has started a nasty double dip. The Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard notes that “Markit’s manufacturing index for Euroland dropped well below the break-even reading of 50 in October. The data for Italy plunged five points to 43.3, the biggest drop since the survey began in the 1990s.” New orders, both in total and for export have collapsed.
- Contagion is most notable outside of Greece and Italy in Belgium. Belgian newspaper De Tijd reported yesterday that Belgian yields were a euro-record 263 basis higher than German yields as German yields had crashed to 1.77%
- US banks actually increased sales of credit default swaps insurance on the European periphery in the first half of the year, indicating that US bank exposure to defaults in Europe is high. Goldman, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Citi account for 97% of this market. According to Bloomberg, Goldman, Morgan Stanley and JPM are known to be the leading underwriters.
If there is more, I will add it.
In the markets, Italian bond yields are now at post-euro area highs around the 6.39% level. New collateral rules would go into effect at 6.50%, so we are hitting the danger zone. Asian markets tumbled on weak economic data and reaction to the Greek crisis. But European equity markets have moved higher. French and Spanish governments are due to issue debt and we will then get a chance to see the market reaction.
- Would the Greeks reject the bailout if put to a vote? It is hard to see the vote passing as it means a decade of austerity. On the other hand, a referendum for staying in the euro zone in conjunction with the one on the present deal could pass.
- I don’t see how the Greek FinMin’s move to call off a referendum would be successful. Now that this opportunity was given to the Greek people, the concept that the right to vote would be snatched away (in the cradle of Democracy no less) is a blow that would almost certainly lead to riots and mass civil unrest. The referendum realistically has to take place in my view. The question is more what will be in the referendum. Will it be a narrow issue of the recent Brussels bailout or a larger issue around EZ membership.
- I think France and Germany are done with Greece. I have always said they would cut Greece loose if they create problems for the larger periphery economies of Spain and Italy. They want to use them as an example pour encourager les autres and worry about ring-fencing the problem at Greece, fixing the banks, and getting Italian yields down. The ECB is the real question mark here. EZ banks are now applying pressure, saying bank liquidity and credit is gone without ECB monetising debt.
- The Greek and Italian governments look weak. Both could topple soon - and eventually will. I doubt that Italy will push through austerity soon, especially if the government is toppled. That means that Italian bond yields will march higher and the euro zone will be in an existential crisis. The threat of an Italian default is Armageddon for euro zone banks and would lead to a mass insolvency. US banks would be affected too - through the credit default swaps market. This puts the ECB and the euro zone to the crucial test.
Those are the latest thoughts. I will update this post with links and refine it as the data is available. But I will hit the send button to get it out there now.