The Effect of a Greek Default
By Spectrum IFA
This article is published on: 23rd June 2015
It is difficult to say exactly what the outcome will be if Greece defaults on its debt. Many people believe that this would lead to Greece exiting from the Eurozone and possibly also from the EU. However, there is still some opinion that there will not be a ‘grexit’.
The fact that Greece has missed a repayment to the IMF earlier this month is not actually considered to be a default. This is because the IMF agreed to bundle all its loans to Greece together, so that the various payments that were due during this month are now due at the end of the month. This has provided Greece with some much needed time, during which it can try to reach an agreement with its creditors.
If Greece does not make the payment due to the IMF by end of June, it will then be classified as being in arrears and could be locked out of further IMF funding. This potential default scenario would present a number of challenges – not least the fact that it seems likely that Greece will anyway need a third bailout package, but this could be difficult with IMF involvement.
Should we be worried about our investments in Euros (or any other currency for that matter)? What about our Euro bank deposits – are these safe?
The uncertainty with the Greek situation has created some short-term volatility in stock markets, but this is not the only factor causing this. Whilst important, the Greek situation is probably less of a long-term investment issue than the prospect of increases in interest rates (and the effect on bond yields), as well as issues surrounding the oil price and the still existing possibility of a continuing slowdown in Chinese growth.
If there is a Greek exit, there may be some immediate selling-off of risk assets but longer-term, the economic impact to the rest of Europe should be limited. In the main, this is because most of the Greek debt is now held by ‘official creditors’ (for example, the ECB, the IMF and the EU). We have a different situation now compared to 2011 and the exposure of banks to any Greek debt should be cushioned by the stronger capital requirements that are now in place under international banking regulations.
There is some concern about possible contagion into the peripheral Eurozone countries, which could result in some pressure on those countries’ bond yields. However, it is important to know that public finances in these countries have improved compared to a few years ago and a number of reforms have been implemented that have improved the underlying economies. So any adverse effect on the countries’ bond yields is likely to be short-term. In reality, a bigger potential effect on bond yields is the prospect of increases in interest rates.
During the last month, there has been large amount of deposit withdrawals from Greek banks and again, there is some concern that this could spill over into the peripheral Eurozone countries. The question has also been raised that if there is a Greek exit from the Eurozone, could this lead the way for other countries to do the same?
You may recall the famous Mario Draghi speech back in July 2012, when he said ……
“Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough”.
“To the extent that the size of the sovereign premia (borrowing costs) hamper the functioning of the monetary policy transmission channels, they come within our mandate.”
There is great belief in Mario Draghi’s ability to ‘pull the rabbit out of the hat’ when it seems that all is lost, despite the fact that he often has to battle against some other members of the ECB Governing Council to put in place a solution to a problem. However, it is his final point above that is actually key to what might be needed now for Greece.
If Greece defaults on its debts technically, the ECB could classify Greece as insolvent and this should really prohibit Greek banks from receiving further support from the Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) programme, since it is government bonds that are used as collateral. However, the ECB has the power to keep the ELA lifeline open, especially if it considers this to be in the best interests of the Eurozone.
If necessary, the ECB can also increase liquidity in the banking system by increasing the amount that is injected via the Quantitative Easing (QE) program. Of course, it will need to ensure that this does not drive inflation too quickly (since this is its primary mandate), but coming from a base of such low inflation, there is a lot of room.
I am writing this article over the weekend between the Eurozone Finance Ministers’ meeting of 19th June and the emergency EU Summit that on Greece is taking place on 22nd June. By the time that you read this article, maybe a deal will have been reached. In the meantime, the ECB has already increased ELA funding to Greece, following a further increase in deposit withdrawals from Greek banks. What seems clear to me is that this is to avoid a collapse in the Greek banking system and the risk of this spreading – perhaps even beyond the Eurozone.
My personal opinion on this is that a deal will be reached – maybe not at the emergency summit, but by the end of the month. What choice does Greece have but to give some way on the issues that are proving to be the barrier – pensions and VAT. After all, if the funding lifeline to Greece is cut off, where is Greece going to get the money from to pay its pensions at all? Other countries have already had to swallow the bitter pill that the Troika gave out, but they have suffered the pain and come out the other side on the road to recovery.
However, it may be that the Troika must also give a little for the sake of reducing the risks for the broader international financial markets and banking community. If a deal can be reached, there will be a third bailout package for Greece, but whether or not the same discussions will be taking place in another six months’ time remains to be seen.
As for our own investments, having a multi-asset approach with broad geographical diversification can protect against some of the movements that we may see in the period ahead. Choosing the right investment manager, particularly one who considers risk management to be a key part of the process, is also very important. Part of our role at Spectrum is to help our clients achieve both of these objectives.
The Greek situation is putting pressure on the Euro and if a deal is reached, this should help the Euro to recover a bit in the short-term. Beyond this, the effect of the QE program should depreciate the value of the Euro. On the other hand, there is also a potentially growing issue around Sterling to consider, and that is that the media is hyping up the possibility of the UK exiting the EU (‘brexit’ as well as ‘grexit’?)’. As this gathers momentum, we can expect it to put pressure on Sterling.
A final point is that markets generally only react to uncertainty, which is what we are seeing now. However, we should remember that the investment decisions we make are usually being made for the long-term and so whilst there may be short-term issues that we have to navigate around, we should try not to lose sight of our long-term goals.
The above outline is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute advice or a recommendation from The Spectrum IFA Group to take any particular action on the subject of investment of financial assets or the mitigation of taxes.