A positive outcome to the Greek parliamentary vote on 13.5 billion euros worth of new austerity measures was supposed to calm the equity markets in the United States. It didn't. The Dow fell 121 points Thursday bringing the two day post-election total drop to 434 points.
Greece's parliament approved the new package seen as the key to securing the next tranche of international aid worth some 32 billion euros by the thinnest of margins. The final vote was 153 for, 128 against, and 7 expelled from PASOK and New Democracy for breaking with party lines.
Meanwhile, in the streets, protestors attempted to break into parliament and lobbed Molotov cocktails (which are becoming somewhat of a staple in Athens these days) at police who repelled the rioters with tear gas, stun grenades, and a water cannon. A two day general strike
...halted public transport, shut schools, banks and government offices [and caused] garbage [to] pile up on the streets.
Adding insult to injury, Greek unemployment rose to a record 25.4% in August. Forbes columnist Tero Kuittinen recently expressed concern that the 33% unemployment rate for the age bracket which encompasses Greeks 25-34 could destabilize the country further and lead to extreme social unrest as
...these people are facing the prospect of never building a career in their chosen fields as aging peers cling to their jobs and an army of new college graduates march out each spring.
Thursday's vote was supposed to ameliorate all of this as Prime Minister Antonis Samaras had promised that a positive vote would get Greece back on track to recovery. In what must have come as a bitter disappointment, EU Commissioners announced late Thursday afternoon that despite the positive vote, the decision on whether to disburse the next tranche of aid to Greece would not be made for weeks:
Euro-area finance ministers may not make a decision on unlocking funds for Greece until late November as they await a full report on the country's compliance with the terms of its bailout, a European Union official said.
This news likely contributed to the sour mood on Wall Street Thursday.
The delayed payment could be the death knell for Athens. As Wall Street veteran and Out Of The Box author Mark Grant notes,
The Greek government...will run out of money on November 16 and the country has debt payments to be made on November 21.
In a piece entitled "We Aren't In Kansas Anymore", Grant goes on to discuss what he calls "The Three Cliffs", the first of which is Greece. Grant notes that the IMF has refused to provide anymore support to Greece until the country can prove that its debt burden is sustainable -- otherwise the money is just being thrown into a blackhole. Of course, Greece cannot pay back its debt under any scenario. It is impossible.
Grant calculates Greece's debt-to-GDP the common sense way; by taking into account all of its debts including bank debt and corporate debt guaranteed by the government, guaranteed derivatives, and regional debt:
With an actual debt to GDP ratio now around 800% I think it can be said with certainty that the task [of repayment] is impossible even as the Troika says the same ratio is 190%. The difference between my number and their number is just what is counted. I count in exactly the same fashion as IBM or GE tallies up their balance sheet.
Grant also dispels the popular myth that Greece could "disappear and it wouldn't matter" or, put another way, that Greece is so little no one should care. On the contrary,
...with a total of $1.5 trillion in debts a default would be cataclysmic.
The second of Grant's Three Cliffs is Spain. Grant calculates Spain's debt-to-GDP the same way he figures the number for Greece:
...the actual debt to GDP ratio for Spain is about 245% and not the 90% number concocted by the EU to give the illusion of a prettier party dress....hey will be forced to the wall and the total price tag will amount to around $400-500 billion in my estimation. This includes bank debt guaranteed by the nation, their sovereign debt plus the regional debt that has been guaranteed by the nation.
The third cliff is of course the U.S. fiscal cliff and I have discussed this at length in other articles.
Ultimately, Grant concludes that investors should concern themselves above all with capital preservation in the months ahead. The risks are multiplying and they are real. Investors should either move to cash and gold (GLD) or go short equities (SPY) (QQQ) (FEZ).