Greece just moved a step closer to securing more bailout funds as its political leaders finally agreed on a whole new set of austerity measures. With that, several market watchers are probably wondering "Will this save Greece from a default? What's next for the Greek economy? And who is Happy Pip's lucky Valentine?"
Now I'm not sure how to go about the last question, but here are some things you absolutely must know about the Greek debt deal:1. More austerity means more "social costs."
How would you react if your country's government announces more wage and pension cuts? For the Greek workforce, a resounding "Hell no!" doesn't quite cut it. With their government's proposal to slash the minimum wage by 22% and lay off more public sector workers as part of its belt-tightening measures, it's not surprising that thousands of Greeks marched in the streets to protest.
Come to think of it, the Greek jobless rate already reached a record-high of 20.9% in November last year as Greece marked its fifth year in a recession. The new set of austerity measures, which was required by the Troika of lenders (EU, IMF, and ECB) before releasing another tranche of bailout funds, would entail even more painful sacrifices from the Greeks. Then again, it seems that the social and economic costs would be far greater if Greece defaults.2. Euro zone finance ministers are still not impressed.
Recall that Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the Eurogroup, set three conditions that need to be fulfilled before the rescue funds are finally released. First was that the Greek Parliament should approve the new austerity reforms to ensure that the country's lawmakers are on board with the proposals. Second, a proposal on an additional 325 million EUR worth of spending cuts for 2012 need to be passed next week. Lastly, Juncker required Greek coalition party leaders to make "strong political assurances" that they would implement the austerity measures.
And how many of those requirements has Greece met so far? Yep, that's right... None!
Bear in mind that the deadline of Greece's next debt payment on March 20, 2012 is fast approaching. Unless euro zone finance ministers and the Troika of lenders are convinced that Greece is committed to another round of austerity measures, they might decide against releasing the bailout funds that Greece needs to avoid a default. Yikes!3. Bondholders need to sacrifice profits.
As I mentioned earlier, euro zone finance ministers are demanding another set of spending cuts on top of the austerity measures proposed by the Greek government. Since the Greek economy is already up to its neck in job cuts and wage reductions, the Greek government seems to have no other choice but to turn to its creditors for help.
One of its largest creditors, the ECB, is already facing immense pressure to forego profits on its estimated 45 billion EUR worth of Greek debt holdings. Although ECB President Mario Draghi made no mention of the ECB's plans regarding Greek bonds, he expressed his confidence that the debt deal would fall through and that the central bank could provide indirect assistance.
Private bondholders, along with euro area central banks, are also being asked to take voluntary losses to make it easier for Greece to repay its debt. If all its bondholders agree on a write-down of Greek bonds, Greece might be able to trim its debt-to-GDP ratio from 160% to 120% by year 2020.
For now, Greece appears to be on the right track when it comes to securing the 130 billion EUR bailout package to be able to make its payment on the 14.5 billion EUR worth of debt obligations due next month. Greek officials also seem to be doing everything within their means to make sure that austerity measures are passed and all the requirements are met within schedule.
However, a lot of uncertainty still clouds the Greek economy's fate in the longer run. Even if the next tranche of bailout funds could save Greece from a potential default next month, it doesn't guarantee that the country won't run into the same problem a few more months down the road. By then, will the Greek economy be able to endure yet another round of austerity measures? Or will it admit defeat and eventually exit the euro zone?