Greece said it has no plans for a debt restructuring even as German officials openly discuss the possibility and investors charge a record amount to insure the country’s obligations.
“Restructuring is not an issue we’re discussing,” Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou said in an interview Saturday in Washington. “The pain and the cost” of doing so would be greater than repaying lenders, he told reporters the same day.
Greece found support from International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde after German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted as saying “further measures may have to be taken” if Greece fails a June audit. German Deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer told Bloomberg News last week that restructuring “would not be a disaster.”
Traders are betting on a default. The cost of insuring Greek government debt rose to a record 1,155 basis points on April 15, according to CMA prices for credit-default swaps. The contracts indicate investors see about a 63 percent chance the nation will default within five years.
Restructuring would “create realized losses across the global banking system — but mainly in Europe,” David Zervos, head of global fixed-income strategy at Jefferies & Co. in New York, said in a note to clients on April 15. “Markets are rightly nervous.”
Greece’s aid program was designed on the assumption that the country would repay debt rather than restructure, and “nothing has changed,” Strauss-Kahn said as he hosted the IMF’s semi-annual meetings in the U.S. capital. Lagarde said April 14 at the same talks that “there is no discussion about debt restructuring, none whatsoever.”
The yield on 10-year Greek debt rose 55 basis points to 13.83 percent on April 15, widening the spread over German bunds to a record 1,045 basis points. The euro dropped from a 15-month high versus the dollar on concern of the first default by a euro-area country. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.
“The issue of Greece is not whether there will be debt restructuring, but when it will be done, and whether it will be an orderly market-oriented debt exchange or disorderly like in Argentina,” Nouriel Roubini, the economist who predicted the global financial crisis, said at a conference in Kazakhstan on April 15.
Greece has asked euro-area partners to consider rescheduling all of its debt, the Wall Street Journal reported citing people familiar with the matter who weren’t identified. A finance ministry press officer in Athens, who declined to be identified citing government policy, denied the report.
Lucas Papademos, an adviser to Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and a former vice president of the European Central Bank, suggested April 9 that extending maturities of debt would be one option to consider after implementing measures attached to a 110 billion-euro loan package from the European Union and IMF.
Asked April 16 about the possibility, Papaconstantinou declined to comment directly. Rescheduling all debt and pushing back maturity of European loans is “not the same thing,” he said in Washington. “The official sector can choose to do so.”
European Central Bank governing council member Ewald Nowotny said he sees “no need” for a restructuring by Greece. Such a step “would be very harmful and not efficient,” he said in an April 16 interview with Bloomberg News in Washington.
Questions over Greek finances are mounting while the country steps up efforts to reduce its budget deficit. Greece last week outlined 26 billion euros in cuts and 50 billion euros in asset sales.
The Wall Street Journal reported that IMF officials believe Greece’s debt burden is unsustainable and should be restructured. William Murray, an IMF spokesman, said yesterday that “there is absolutely no truth” to the story. Martin Kotthaus, a spokesman for Schaeuble, said there is “no basis” for a Financial Times report that German officials are considering a plan to let holders of Greek bonds swap them for safer securities guaranteed by euro-member countries.
Greece isn’t the only euro-area country relying on support from neighboring governments and the IMF. Officials are preparing a plan to support Portugal, and Ireland has also received a bailout.
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