Posted by WARREN MOSLER on December 16th, 2009
That spread for its own banks that it guarantees shows a serious funding issue.
During a period of euro weakness funding problems could become worse and spread to other euro nations.
When foreign govts. buy euros for their portfolio of fx reserves, they have to hold them in some kind of account or security. Most probably opt for eurozone national govt paper. Same with international institutional investors.
When they stop adding to their euro portfolios and/or reduce them, they stop buying and/or sell that paper.
The new holders of euro (those who buy the euros when portfolios sell them) may or may not buy that same govt paper, and the euros may instead wind up as excess reserves at the ECB in a member bank account, or even as cash in circulation as individuals who don’t trust the banks turn to actual cash. The banks with the excess reserves may or may not buy the National govt paper or even accept it as repo collateral, to keep their risk down, and instead simply hold excess reserves at the ECB.
Markets will clear via ever widening funding spreads as national govt paper competes for euros that are otherwise held as ‘cash reserves.’ The amount of reserves held at the ECB doesn’t actually change, apart from some going to actual cash.
What changes are the ‘indifference levels’- yield spreads- between having cash on your books and holding national govt paper risk. And the ability to repo national govt paper at the ECB doesn’t help much.
Would you buy Greek paper today if you were concerned it might default just because you could repo it at the ECB, for example?
Also, while Americans go to insured banks and Tsy secs when they get scared, Europeans exit the currency as they have a lot more history of hyper inflation.
That means a non virtuous cycle can set in with a falling euro making National govt funding problematic, which makes the euro continue to fall.
This happened a little over a year ago due to a dollar funding liquidity squeeze.
The Fed bailed them out with unlimited dollar swap lines and the euro bottomed at something less than 130 to the dollar.
This time it’s not about dollars so the Fed can’t help even if it wanted to.
And the ‘remedies’ of tax hikes and/or spending cuts Greece intends to pursue will only make it all worse, especially if undertaken by the rest of the eurozone as well. Fiscal tightening will only slow the economy and cause national govt. revenues to fall further, unless the taxes are on those taxpayers who will not reduce their spending (no marginal propensity to spend) and the spending cuts don’t reduce the spending of those who were receiving those funds.
And the treaty prevents ECB bailouts of the national govts. so any bailout from the ECB would require a unified Fin Min action and an abrupt ideological reversal of the core monetary values of the union towards a central fiscal authority.
This is somewhat analgous to what happened to the US when the original articles of confederation gave way to the current constitution in the late 1700′s..
By Anna Rascouet and Christos Ziotis
Dec. 16 (Bloomberg) — Greece sold 2 billion euros ($2.9 billion) of floating-rate notes privately to banks, eight days after Fitch Ratings downgraded the nationâ€™s debt as the government struggles to cut the European Unionâ€™s largest budget deficit, two bankers familiar with the transaction said.
The securities, which mature in February 2015, will yield 250 basis points, or 2.5 percentage points, more than the six- month euro interbank offered rate, or Euribor, they said. Thatâ€™s 30 basis points higher than a similar-maturity Greek fixed-rate bond when converted into a floating rate of interest, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Greek bonds have fallen in the past week, with two-year note yields rising by the most in more than a decade on Dec. 8, when Fitch cut the nationâ€™s credit rating to BBB+, the lowest in the euro region, citing the â€œvulnerabilityâ€ of the nationâ€™s finances. Prime Minister George Papandreou has been unable to convince investors he can reduce a deficit the government says will rise to 12.7 percent of gross domestic product this year, after the economy shrank 1.7 percent in the third quarter.
â€œSelling bonds via a private placement can be a double- edged sword at this point,â€ said Luca Cazzulani, a fixed-income strategist in Milan at UniCredit Markets & Investment Banking. â€œOn the one hand, it shows that Greece can always find buyers for their bonds. But the market might take it as a sign that they only have this channel left.â€
Greek bonds rose snapped two days of declines today, with the yield on the 10-year note dropping 11 basis points to 5.62 percent as of 10:26 a.m. in London. It rose as much as 29 basis points yesterday to 5.76 percent, the highest since April 3.
Concern some countries may struggle to pay their debt was reignited after Dubaiâ€™s state-owned Dubai World said on Dec. 1 it wanted to restructure $26 billion of debt. The premium, or spread, investors demand to hold Greek 10-year bonds instead of German bunds, Europeâ€™s benchmark government securities, rose as high as 250 basis points yesterday, the highest closing level since April 2. It narrowed to 239 basis points today.
The participating banks in yesterdayâ€™s private placement were National Bank of Greece SA, Alpha Bank AE, EFG Eurobank Ergasias SA, Piraeus Bank SA and Banca IMI SpA, the bankers familiar with the transaction said. Italyâ€™s Banca IMI was the only foreign-based in the group.
The government paid â€œgenerousâ€ terms, said Wilson Chin, a fixed-income strategist in Amsterdam at ING Groep NV.
â€œI guess you have to pay some liquidity premium, given the sale was done at the end of the year,â€ he said. â€œI would be very surprised if they continue to use this method into the first quarter of next year. That would probably be taken as a sign the market isnâ€™t working for them.â€
Greek bonds are the worst performers after Ireland among the debt of so-called peripheral euro-region countries this year, handing investors a 3.5 percent return, according to Bloomberg/EFFAS indexes.
In a private placement, issuers offer securities directly to chosen private investors as opposed to selling them through an auction or via a group of banks.
Papandreou pledged in a speech two days ago to begin reducing the nationâ€™s debt, set to exceed 100 percent of GDP this year, from 2012. The European Commission estimates the ratio at 112.6 percent of GDP this year, second only to Italy.
â€œIn the next three months we will take those decisions which werenâ€™t taken for decades,â€ Papandreou said in Athens. He said many choices will be â€œpainful,â€ though he promised to protect poorer and middle-income Greeks.
Credit-default swaps on Greece rose 1 basis point to 238.5, according to CMA DataVision, after surging 25.5 basis points yesterday. Such swaps pay the buyer face value in exchange for the underlying securities or the cash equivalent should an issuer fail to adhere to its debt agreements. A basis point on a contract protecting $10 million of debt from default for five years is equivalent to $1,000 a year.