Greek Debt Crisis: Why Not Try Dollarization?

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Includes: ERO, FXE, GRDOW
by: Daryl Montgomery

Like a thousand page novel that never gets to the climax, the Greek debt crisis is still dragging on. Terms have yet to be worked out for the aid package from the EU and IMF and the Germans seem hesitant about providing it. The market reacted by pushing yields on two-year Greek bonds above 13% today. Even with the proposed aid, Greece's debt problem will merely be put on hold until next year and not solved.

Greece is only 2% of the EU economy, yet its debt crisis has had an outsized impact on global markets. Funds have flowed out of Europe into North America and Asia because of it. This has particularly benefited the U.S. and Canadian dollars and weakened the euro. Constant talk about the potential collapse of the euro currency union has accompanied these moves. This has happened not just because of Greece, but also because of looming problems in Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy.

There have been suggestions that Greece leave the euro currency union, at least temporarily, and start reusing the drachma. This would be more than disruptive to say the least. I have seen no one recommend the obvious solution of dollarization. This doesn't mean Greece would use U.S. dollars; it would still use the euro, but not as a member of the currency union. Dollarization is the generic term for when one country uses another country's currency. Panama and Ecuador for instance use American dollars as their official currency, although neither is part of a currency union with the United States. In early 2009, Zimbabwe dealt with its hyperinflation problem by allowing foreign currencies to be used in the country. One of those currencies was the euro.

The EU should consider handling the problem with Greece by temporarily suspending it from the currency union with the understanding it would still be using the euro. Greece could rejoin when its debt problems were finally resolved. This of course might not be soon. At some point a country accumulates so much debt that default becomes inevitable. That point differs for every country. Greece looks like it's already gotten to that state with its debt to GDP ratio over 100%. The debt to GDP ratio for Japan is going to be over 200% though this year and it is still functioning better than Greece. Japan has its own currency though and can therefore print any amount of extra money if need be. It has funded its spending internally by borrowing the massive savings of its people. That game is over, however, and the situation there could eventually turn ugly almost overnight as occurred in Greece.

While Greek bond interest rates and spreads are hitting new highs, the euro itself is trying to stabilize. A look at its chart shows that it has so far made a triple bottom in late March, early April and mid-April trading. Traders are obviously getting bored with selling the euro down and the currency will be due for a rebound soon. How long that lasts depends on how the EU handles its member countries ongoing debt problems. So far, it's been only an unending number of promises with no results out of Brussels.

Disclosure: None relevant.