The Euro has fallen from roughly 1.49 to the dollar to 1.43 in a mere two days, which is a huge move. Many pundits have argued that the ECB’s newly accommodative stance is the trigger, but there may be additional forces at work. Most experts have deemed the idea that any eurozone member would exit the currency to be simply inconceivable, that it would be too costly and disruptive. But with the hair shirt that Greece is being asked to wear, all bets may be off.
As of this juncture, this reports in Der Spiegel does not appear to have gotten traction among the Usual Suspects in the MSM. Headline: “Greece Considers Exit from Euro Zone” (hat tip readers John M and Illya F).
SPIEGEL ONLINE has obtained information from German government sources knowledgeable of the situation in Athens indicating that Papandreou’s government is considering abandoning the euro and reintroducing its own currency.
Alarmed by Athens’ intentions, the European Commission has called a crisis meeting in Luxembourg on Friday night…
Sources told SPIEGEL ONLINE that Schäuble intends to seek to prevent Greece from leaving the euro zone if at all possible. He will take with him to the meeting in Luxembourg an internal paper prepared by the experts at his ministry warning of the possible dire consequences if Athens were to drop the euro.
“It would lead to a considerable devaluation of the new (Greek) domestic currency against the euro,” the paper states. According to German Finance Ministry estimates, the currency could lose as much as 50 percent of its value, leading to a drastic increase in Greek national debt. Schäuble’s staff have calculated that Greece’s national deficit would rise to 200 percent of gross domestic product after such a devaluation. “A debt restructuring would be inevitable,” his experts warn in the paper. In other words: Greece would go bankrupt.
It remains unclear whether it would even be legally possible for Greece to depart from the euro zone. Legal experts believe it would also be necessary for the country to split from the European Union entirely in order to abandon the common currency. At the same time, it is questionable whether other members of the currency union would actually refuse to accept a unilateral exit from the euro zone by the government in Athens.
Yves here. So what will they do if Greece refuses to observe niceties and bolts anyhow? Send in tanks? I’m curious as to what punishments might be visited on Greece if it chooses to exit. Iceland had a very rocky six months when its banking system failed but it is now on track for a solid recovery. This example cannot have been lost on Greece. Back to the story:
What is certain….is that the measure would have a disastrous impact on the European economy.
“The currency conversion would lead to capital flight,” they write. And Greece might see itself as forced to implement controls on the transfer of capital to stop the flight of funds out of the country. “This could not be reconciled with the fundamental freedoms instilled in the European internal market,” the paper states. In addition, the country would also be cut off from capital markets for years to come.
Yves here. This “you’ll never borrow again” threat is greatly exaggerated. In fact, investors like borrowers who have cleaned up their balance sheets. That’s why Chapter 11 works. Argentina’s default and end of dollarization proved salutary, with the country now performing better on virtually every economic indicator than its Latin American peers. The big difference is that it did not have to recreate a stand-alone currency, which would be a huge operational hurdle for Greece. Back to the article:
In addition, the withdrawal of a country from the common currency union would “seriously damage faith in the functioning of the euro zone,” the document continues. International investors would be forced to consider the possibility that further euro-zone members could withdraw in the future. “That would lead to contagion in the euro zone,” the paper continues.
Moreover, should Athens turn its back on the common currency zone, it would have serious implications for the already wobbly banking sector, particularly in Greece itself. The change in currency “would consume the entire capital base of the banking system and the country’s banks would be abruptly insolvent.” Banks outside of Greece would suffer as well. “Credit institutions in Germany and elsewhere would be confronted with considerable losses on their outstanding debts,” the paper reads.
The European Central Bank (ECB) would also feel the effects. The Frankfurt-based institution would be forced to “write down a significant portion of its claims as irrecoverable.” In addition to its exposure to the banks, the ECB also owns large amounts of Greek state bonds, which it has purchased in recent months. Officials at the Finance Ministry estimate the total to be worth at least €40 billion ($58 billion) “Given its 27 percent share of ECB capital, Germany would bear the majority of the losses,” the paper reads.
The problem with some of this logic is that the Greek debt should already be written down severely. Most experts estimate losses in the range of 50% to 70%. So large losses exist but have not been recognized.
The interesting question is whether this threat by Greece is serious or mere posturing. We may find out sooner than many expect.