Greece meets its final countdown one more time

A constant sad theme of this website has been the way that Greece got into economic trouble and then had a so-called “shock and awe” rescue which made everything worse and plunged it into what can now be called a great depression. Last week’s official national accounts detail just continued the gloom.

The available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 4 th quarter of 2016 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms decreased by 0.4% in comparison with the 3 rd quarter of 2016, while it increased by 0.3% in comparison with the 4 th quarter of 2015.

I pointed out last week that the trumpeting of European Commissioner Moscovici only a day before was in very bad taste.

After returning to growth in 2016, economic activity in is expected to expand strongly in 2017-18.

You see Monsieur Moscovici and his colleagues have a serial record of saying a recovery is just around the corner. For example the 0.3% annual increase in GDP compares with 2.9% forecast in the spring of 2015.  There is a familiar theme here because if we look at the forecasts from the spring of 2016 they forecast more or less the same ( 2.7%) for 2017. This repeated failure where an optimistic forecast bears no relationship to reality has gone on since 2012 which was when the original 2010 bailout forecasts told us Greece would return to economic growth and from 2013 onwards would grow by you’ve guessed it by 2%+ per annum. As PM Dawn told us.

Reality used to be a friend of mine
Reality used to be a friend of mine
Maybe “why?” is the question that’s on you mind
But reality used to be a friend of mine.

The truth was that Greece had to be forecast as growing as otherwise the national debt numbers would look out of control and could not be forecast to be 120% of GDP in 2020. That was a farcical benchmark which exploded as it was chosen so as not to embarrass Portugal and Italy who cruised through it anyway. Greece of course blasted through it and the major reason was the economic depression.

The Great Depression

I will keep this simple so GDP in the third quarter of 2008 was the peak for Greece at 60.8 billion Euros and at the end of 2016 it was 44.1 billion Euros. So a decline of 27.5% which certainly qualifies as a Great Depression.

Austerity

Macropolis has pointed out the scale of the austerity applied to Greece and let us start with taxes.

The Greek economy has been burdened with 35.6 billion euros in all sorts of taxes on income, consumption, duties, stamps, corporate taxation and increases in social security contributions. When totting all this up, it is remarkable that the economy still manages to function.

Of course you could easily argue that in more than a few respects it does not function as we switch to the expenditure or spending ledger.

During the same period, the state has also found savings of 37.4 billion euros from cutting salaries, pensions, benefits and operational expenses.

So 5 months worth of economic output at current levels. Also like a dog chasing its tail they cry has gone up for what can be called “Moar, moar”.

The IMF’s Thomsen, now the director of its European Department, recently argued that Greece doesn’t need any more austerity but brave policy implementation. Somehow, though, the discussion has ended up being about finding another 3.5 billion euros in taxes and cuts to pension spending.

Of course dog’s have the intelligence to eventually tire of chasing their tale whereas the Euro area establishment continue with the same old song.

The official view

The ESM or European Stability Mechanism is the main supplier of finance to Greece these days and its head Klaus Regling has this on repeat.

Then, public creditors eased lending conditions significantly. This reduced the economic value of the country’s debt by around 40 per cent. As a result, Greece enjoys budgetary savings of about €8 billion annually — the equivalent of about 4.5 per cent of gross domestic product — and will continue to do so for years to come.

Sometimes what is true can be misleading. You see it is summed up in the word timing. Greece had an austerity program front loaded onto it and it was hit hard by it as I have described. Later the Euro area changed tack and made the loans much cheaper but by then it was too late as Greece was plunging into an economic depression at a rate exceeding 8% per annum in 2011 and much of 2012.

In spite of the calamitous situation Klaus told the Financial Times in late January  that the future was bright.

Greek debt levels are no longer cause for alarm

Of course Klaus has to churn out such a line in an attempt to distract attention from this.

The European Financial Stability Facility and the European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s rescue funds, have disbursed €174 billion to Greece.

This brings me to a point where Bloomberg are to some extent peddling what might be labelled fake news today.

The 2-year yield is now 180 basis points higher than the 10-year yield

You see Greek bond yield twitter if I may put it like that refers to something which exists but is not the source of funding for Greece any more a reflects a market which as I have pointed out many times barely trades. Even Bloomberg points this out.

volumes are low, with just 26 million euros trading during January on the inter-dealer platform.

With volumes so low it is easy for those with vested interests to manipulate such a market.

Trouble ahead

Where a crunch can come is when a bond needs redeeming. This is where all the proclamations to triumph and success met a hard reality of a lack of cash or another form of credit crunch. Eyes are already turning to July on that front.

Greece faces a few maturities in the coming months, but the heavy lifting is in July, when 6.2 billion euros of debt matures.

This is the capital issue I highlighted on the 30th of January.

We can bring in that poor battered can now because the Euro area and the IMF thought they had kicked it far enough into the future not to matter whereas the IMF is now having second thoughts.

The Euro area can talk all it likes about interest repayments but this ignores the fact that it cannot repay the capital which might make Euro area taxpayers mull another of the promises of Klaus Regling.

We would not have lent this amount if we did not think we would get our money back.

In a couple of months time another 1.4 billion Euros is due. This is owed to the ECB and we know that the first rule of it’s debt fight club is that every last cent must be repaid.

The IMF

My theme about the IMF has been that it has been twisted by politicians so that it no longer is an institution dealing with trade balance problems. The Greek data for 2016 bear this out as with all the improvements Greece should be exporting more especially as many of its economic partners had a better economic year.

The total value of exports-dispatches, for the 12-month period from January to December 2016 amounted to 25,411.4 million euros (28,198.4 million dollars) in comparison with 25,879.3 million euros (28,776.8 million dollars) for the corresponding period of the year 2015, recording a drop, in euros, of 1.8%

So simply no as we mull again the lack of economic reform in Greece and note that the trade issue got worse and not better.

The deficit of the Trade Balance, for the 12-month period from January to December 2016 amounted to 18,551.2 million euros (20,310.3 million dollars) in comparison with 17,745.3 million euros (19,439.6 million dollars) for the corresponding period of the year 2015, recording an increase, in euros, of 4.5%.

Comment

Today’s Eurogroup meeting in Greece is being badged as a “last chance saloon” which of course is a phrase that long ago went into my financial lexicon for these times as it occurs so regularly. Still did the band Europe know how much free publicity the future would provide for their biggest hit?

It’s the final countdown.
The final countdown

Meanwhile as its economic prospects are kicked around like a football Greece itself is pretty much a bystander. If only it was a final countdown to a default and devaluation meaning it would leave the Euro. Meanwhile some reports are bizarre as this from the fast FT twitter feed last week proves.

Greece made a stunning exit from three years of deflation and low price growth in January

Greek workers and consumers however will be rueing any rises in prices as we wonder how higher prices in the UK can be a disaster according to the FT but higher prices in Greece are “stunning”?

Podcasts

I have been running a private trial of putting these updates out as podcasts as the world continues to change and move on. I thought I would ask how many of you use podcasts?

Greece is drowning under all the debt its “rescue” brought

After looking at the recent economic success of Spain on Friday, which was confirmed this morning by the official data showing 3.2% GDP growth in 2016 it is time to look at the other side of the Euro area coin. This is a situation that continues to be described by one of the songs of Elton John.

It’s sad, so sad
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s getting more and more absurd
It’s sad, so sad
Why can’t we talk it over
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word

This is the situation facing Greece which is on its way back into the news headlines after of course another sequence of headlines proclaiming a combination of triumph and improvement. What is triggering this is some new analysis from the IMF or International Monetary fund and it is all about the debt burden. It is hard not to have a wry smile at this as the IMF has been telling us the burden is sustainable for quite some time in spite of it obviously not being so as I have regularly pointed out in here.

The IMF analysis

The Financial Times has summarised it like this.

Greece faces what is likely to be an “explosive” surge in its public debt levels that within decades will mean it will owe almost three times the country’s annual economic output unless given significant debt relief, the International Monetary Fund has warned in a confidential report.

Not that confidential then! Or perhaps conforming to the definition of it in Yes Prime Minister. Worrying after some better news in relative terms from the World Economic Forum suggesting that Greece was a lot further down the list of national debt per person (capita) than you might think. Japan of course was at the head at US $85.7k per person and intriguingly Ireland second at US $67.1k per person but Greece was a fair way down the list at US $32.1k each. Of course it’s problem is relative to the size of its economic output or GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

If we look at the detail of the IMF report it speaks for itself.

The fund calculated that Greece’s debt load would reach 170 per cent of gross domestic product by 2020 and 164 per cent by 2022, “but become explosive thereafter” and grow to 275 per cent of GDP by 2060.

If we switch to Kathimerini we find out the driving force of the deterioration in the debt sustainability analysis.

Greece’s gross financing needs are estimated at less than 20 percent of GDP until 2031 but after that they skyrocket to 33 percent in 2040 and then to 62 percent by 2060.

If we step back for some perspective here we see confirmation of one of my main themes on Greece. This has been that the debt relief measures have made the interest burden lighter but have done nothing about the capital debt burden which has in fact increased in spite of the PSI private-sector debt reprofiling. We can bring in that poor battered can now because the Euro area and the IMF thought they had kicked it far enough into the future not to matter whereas the IMF is now having second thoughts. In short it has looked at the future and decided that it looks none too bright.

The crux of the matter is the amount of the austerity burden that Greece can bear going forwards. Back in May 2016 the IMF expressed its concerns of future economic growth.

Against this background, staff has lowered its long-term growth assumption to 1¼ percent, even as over the medium-term growth is expected to rebound more strongly as the output gap closes.

That will do nothing for the debt burden and will have been entwined with the extraordinary amount of austerity required under the current plans.

This suggests that it is unrealistic to assume that Greece can undertake the additional adjustment of 4½ percent of GDP needed to base the DSA on a primary surplus of 3½ percent of GDP.

As an alternative the IMF suggested something of a relaxation presumably in the hope that Greece could then sustain a higher economic growth rate.

The Euro area view

This was represented last week by Klaus Regling of the European Stability Mechanism or ESM.

I think it’s really important for Greece because it will reduce interest rate risk and improve Greek debt sustainability.

What was that Klaus?

we are dealing here with a bond exchange, where floating rate notes disbursed by the ESM and EFSF to Greece for bank recapitalisation will be exchanged for fixed coupon notes. There are measures related to swap arrangements that will reduce the risk that Greece will have to pay a higher interest rate on its loans when market rates go up………In addition, the EFSF waived the step-up interest rate margin for the year 2017 on a particular loan tranche. A margin of 2% had originally been foreseen, to be paid from 2017 on.

As you can see each time Greece is supposed to pay more they discover it cannot and we need more “short-term” measures which according to Klaus will achieve this.

All this will go a long way in easing the debt burden for Greece over time, according to our debt sustainability analysis. It could lead to a cumulative reduction of the Greek debt to GDP ratio of around 20 percentage points over the time horizon until 2060.

It does not seem a lot when you look at the IMF numbers does it. Also Euro area ministers repeated something which they have said pretty much every year of the crisis, from the FT.

Mr Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch finance minister, said that Greece was recovering faster than anyone expected.

Really? What was that about fake news again?

Retail Sales

We can learn a lot from these numbers and let us start with some badly needed good news.

The overall volume index in retail trade (i.e. turnover in retail trade at constant prices) in November 2016, recorded an increase of 3.6%.

Although sadly some of the gloss fades when we note this.

The seasonally adjusted overall volume index in November 2016 compared with the corresponding index  of October 2016 recorded a decrease of 0.2%.

So overall a welcome year on year rise and the strongest category was books and stationery. However perspective is provided if we look at the index which is at 69.7 where 2010 was 100. As that sinks in you get a true idea of the economic depression that has raged in Greece over the period of the “rescue” and the “bailout”. Most chilling of all is that the food beverages and tobacco index is at 55.6 on the same basis leaving us with the thin hope that the Greeks have given up smoking and fizzy drinks.

Also it is far from reassuring to see the European Commission release consumer confidence data for Greece indicating a fall of 3.4 to 67.8.

Comment

There is much to consider here but we find ourselves looking back to the Private-Sector Initiative or debt relief of 2012. I stated back then that the official bodies such as the ECB and IMF needed to be involved as well because they owned so much of the debt. It did not happen because the ECB said “over my dead body” and as shown below what were then called the Troika but are now called the Institutions pursued a course of fake news.

Thanks to Michael Kosmides of CNN Greece who sent me that chart. As we note the fake news let me give you another warning which is that Greece these days depends on its official creditors so news like this from Bloomberg last week is much less relevant than it once was.

The yield on Greece’s two-year bonds surged 58 basis points to 7.47 percent, while those on benchmark 10-year bonds rose 22 basis points to 7.13 percent as of 2:41 p.m in London.

The real issue is that Greece desperately needs economic growth and lots of it. As I pointed out on December 16th.

Compared to when she ( Christine Lagarde of the IMF) and her colleagues were already boasting about future success, the Greek economy has shrunk by 19%, which means that the total credit crunch contraction became 26%

 

 

 

What should we do about the International Monetary Fund?

Yesterday’s events give us an opportunity to look again at one of the longest-running themes of my writing on here. This is the role of the IMF and to do so I would like to take you back to the 8th of June 2010 when I pointed out this.

1. It has plainly changed from an organisation which helps with balance of payments problems to one which helps with fiscal deficits. Whilst this may suit politicians, taxpayers and voters should in my view be concerned about the moral hazard of one group of politicians voting to increase funds available to help another group of politicians which may include themselves.

This was my response back then to the way that the Dominique Strauss-Khan who was Managing Director of the IMF at the time allowed it to get involved in the Euro area crisis. There was an obvious issue in a French politician doing this and of course the IMF has continued with French political heads. It worried me at the time on various grounds one of which was that poor third world countries were in essence financing a bailout of a much wealthier area overall which could afford to collectively pay for it. In my opinion the reason for this was that whilst Euro area political leaders ( including the French Finance Minister at the time one Christine Lagarde) were proclaiming “shock and awe” in fact the Euro area response was a mess. The so-called rescue vehicle the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) was anything but which my updates from back then show. Over time they have proved this as it was later replaced with the European Stability Mechanism or ESM.

But the fundamental point here was that a modus operandi which involved balance of payments problems was replaced by a fiscal one. This line could be covered up to some extent in Greece as it also had a balance of payments problem but not for example in Ireland which has surpluses pretty much as often as the UK has deficits!

Greece

This of course has been a debacle for the IMF where whatever reputation it had for economic competence has come a cropper as Greece was plunged even further into recession and in fact has yet to emerge from the economic depression created. This contrasts with the official view which I pointed out on March 30th of this year.

but from 2012 onward, improved market confidence, a return to credit markets, and comprehensive structural reforms, are expected to lead to a rebound in growth.

There was supposed to be economic growth starting in 2012 and then running at around 2.1% for two years and then pick-up to 2.7% in 2015.. Then once that obviously did not happen we got the “Grecovery” theme which did not happen either. Along the way we got a “mea culpa” from the IMF as well as something of a hand brake turn as the advocate of austerity became a fan of fiscal deficits.

However something was wrong and at least some in the IMF knew it’ Let me take you back again to the 8th of June 2010.

Mr.Boutros-Ghali (Egypt’s Finance Minister) went on to give us some idea of one of the areas he feels that trouble and hence further demands for funds might come from. He told the Reuters news agency that Greece’s problems were not over yet and there were doubts about its ability to implement the reforms demanded by the IMF and European Union in return for a 110 billion euro aid package.

 

“We are not out of the woods,” he said in the interview. “The measures they have been required to implement are fairly tough. And there are in some areas doubts whether they are able to continue implementing such tough measures.”

He was of course correct and it is a sad indictment of these times that official sources are still claiming progress on reforms when reality has been very different. After all Greece would not be in the state it is in if they had worked or even been applied. In my opinion there is something worse than the mistakes which is the way that there has been deliberate dissembling and misrepresentation of not only what is going to happen but what is happening at the time.

The implication that the IMF is free

Another feature of IMF aid is the way that it is presented as a type of SPV and sadly not the Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle driven mostly by Captain Blue in my and many other’s childhoods. These official SPVs ( such as the EFSF) are off-balance sheet vehicles which allow politicians to obfuscate about the state of play. Back to June 8th 2010 again.

Politicians should stop implying that the help provided by the IMF is in effect free. For example US Treasury Secretary Geithner suggested that moves to expand the IMF “wouldn’t cost a dime”. This is one of those superficially true statements that are very dangerous. If you are liable for something it does not cost anything until it goes wrong. Just to quote the IMF itself there are “doubts” over Greece. Any proper accounting system allows for the possibility of things going wrong. After the experience of the last two years we should know the implication of sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich and assuming there are no problems around…

In other words it is presented as “free” until it isn’t at which point phrases such as “this could not have been reasonably expected” and words such as “counterfactual” are deployed as weapons. Missing from the conversation is how people who were are regularly told are so intelligent and thus need to be paid highly have been wrong again! This of course brings us to the concept of responsibility.

Christine Lagarde

I have been critical of the IMF’s Managing Director quite a few times on the grounds that she has been intimately involved with the disastrous bailout of Greece via her roles as French Finance Minister and Managing Director of the IMF. Not everyone has spotted this as the Financial Time has proved this morning as it reviews her.

a blow to her previously unblemished reputation for managerial competence

But even the FT which appears ever keen to stand firmly behind any establishment vehicle has to admit this.

A conviction for negligence is somewhat at odds with a commitment to “the highest standards of efficiency and technical competence”.

Mind you perhaps something in the past has influenced this.

The Financial Times therefore argued earlier this year that she deserved reappointment for a second term on merit.

Is negligence the new definition of merit? I will have to update my financial lexicon for these times. This next bit is full on internal contradictions and effectively self-critiques.

It found her guilty of negligence because she did not appeal against the eventual decision — but it has not imposed any sentence, and the verdict will not result in a criminal record. Short of full exoneration, this is the mildest possible verdict.

This is an unusual verdict from an unusual court. Politicians who sit on the special tribunal may well have wished to avoid a tougher ruling that would have deterred ministers from making delicate decisions in future.

Comment

There are a litany of issues here. We see yet again that the more important you are the less you are apparently responsible for anything. Someone lower down the scale would have received punishment if they had been found guilty of negligence yet the leader of the world’s major financial organisation apparently can shrug it off. Punishment is for the little people only it would seem.

This leaves the IMF as a whole in an even bigger hole. As the economic world shifts east towards places like India and China it looks ever more like a western and to some extent French fiefdom. At the same time more of its bailouts have gone rogue of which Greece is the most extreme example. The worst part is the way that this is all covered-up and the truth is bent and miss shaped.

The only hope we have is that this statement from the IMF turns out to be like one about a manager from a football club’s board of directors.

In this context, the Executive Board reaffirms its full confidence in the Managing Director’s ability to continue to effectively carry out her duties.

Oh and “outstanding leadership” also needs to go into my financial lexicon for these times. Although we do need perhaps to go through the Looking Glass of Lewis Carroll.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

 

 

6 years down the line and Greece is still arguing with its creditors

A clear candidate for the saddest story and indeed theme of my time on here has been the economic depression inflicted on Greece. If I had my way Christine Lagarde could finish at the current trial she is involved in and then could move onto one with her former Euro area colleagues about proclaiming “shock and awe” for Greece back in 2010. This involved promising an economic recovery in 2012 which in fact turned into an economy shrinking by 4% in that year alone. Compared to when she and her colleagues were already boasting about future success, the Greek economy has shrunk by 19%, which means that the total credit crunch contraction became 26%. I also recall the bailout supporters attacking those like me arguing for another way ( default and devalue) for saying we would create an economic depression which in the circumstances was and indeed is simply shameful. Instead they found an economy on its knees and chopped off its arms too.

A new hope?

We have seen some better economic news from Greece as 2016 has headed towards irs end. An example of this came yesterday.

The unemployment rate was 22.6% compared to 23.1% in the previous quarter, and 24%  in the corresponding quarter of 2015……The number of unemployed persons decreased by 1.8% compared with the previous quarter and by 5.9% compared with the 3rd quarter of 2015.

As an economic signal we need also to look at employment trends.

The number of employed persons increased by 0.9% compared with the previous quarter and by 1.8% compared with the 3rd quarter of 2015.

Thus we see an improvement which backs up the recent information on economic growth.

The available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 3 rd quarter of 2016 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms increased by 0.8% in comparison with the 2 nd quarter of 2016…… In comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2015, it increased by 1.8% against the increase of 1.5% that was announced for the flash estimate of the 3rd quarter.

So we have some growth although sadly more of the L shaped variety so far than the V shape one might expect after such a severe economic shock. Another anti-achievement for the program. But there are hopes for next year according to the Bank of Greece.

Specifically, the Bank of Greece expects GDP to grow by a marginal 0.1% in 2016, before picking up to 2.5% in 2017 and further to 3% in 2018 and 2019, supported by investment, consumption and exports.

Let us hope so although we have hear this sort of thing plenty of times before. Indeed those thinking that Fake News is something only from 2016 might like to look back at the officials and their media acolytes who pushed the Grecovery theme around 2013. Also this by the Bank of Greece as its highlight needs to be considered in the light of the economic depression I have described above.

An unprecedented fiscal consolidation was achieved, with an improvement in the “structural” primary budget balance by 17 percentage points of potential GDP over the period 2009-2015, twice as much as the adjustment in other Member States that were in EU-IMF programmes;

Not everything is sweetness and light

The obvious issue is the way that a lost decade ( so far..) has caused something of a lost generation.

the highest unemployment rate is recorded among young people in the age group of 15-24 years (44.2%). For young females the unemployment rate is 46.9%.

Also the Bank of Greece gives us its own fake news unless of course Mario Draghi is wrong at every ECB press conference.

Substantial structural reforms have been implemented in the labour and product markets, as well as in public administration.

Trouble,Trouble,Trouble

One way of looking at this comes from the current trend to issue policy statements on Twitter as everyone apes President-Elect Trump. From the IMF on Monday.

debt highly unsustainable; no debt sustainability without both structural reforms and debt relief

Of course we have known that for years and perhaps it might like to talk to the Bank of Greece about structural reforms! The next day we got this.

Debt relief AND structural reforms essential to make ’s debt sustainable & bring back growth.

The IMF has in effect told us that it is no longer willing to join in with the Euro area austerity fanatics.

On the contrary, when the Greek Government agreed with its European partners in the context of the ESM program to push the Greek economy to a primary fiscal surplus of 3.5 percent by 2018, we warned that this would generate a degree of austerity that could prevent the nascent recovery from taking hold. We projected that the measures in the ESM program will deliver a surplus of only 1.5 percent of GDP, and said this would be enough for us to support a program.

There are two main issues here where we see the path of austerity but also debt relief. The latter is a big issue as you see private-sector creditors took their pain in 2012 but the ECB has been unwilling to allow the official creditors to take their share and at most has been willing only to contribute the profits it made on its Greek bond holdings. Profits out of such pain spoke for its past attitude eloquently I think. Going forwards though this is an official creditor issue as they own the vast majority of Greek debt now.

The European Union’s commissioner for economic affairs was quick to respond.

Writing in the Financial Times, Pierre Moscovici rebuffed claims made by senior IMF officials this week that Greece’s debt is “highly unsustainable” and that the country needs further comprehensive tax and pensions reform.

Monsieur Moscovici has made all sorts of ridiculous statements in my time of following this issue such that it makes me wonder if he has any grasp of the concept of truth, which is quite an irony when he goes on to say this.

In this era of ‘post-truth’ politics, it is more important than ever not to let certain claims go unchallenged,

It may not have been the best of times for the main lending vehicle the ESM (European Stability Mechanism) which of course has produced anything but in Greece, to call 2016 “exciting” and predict this ” 2017 will be another exciting year”. Still it does now have a Governor of the Day and a Wheel of Governors which it is rumoured sees the Italian and Greek ones spin into the distance if you get it right or should that be wrong?

Meanwhile there is something rather familiar about 2017.

Compared to previous announcements, this means an increase of, in total, €7 billion. The EFSF funding volumes are increased by €13 billion to execute the short-term measures for Greece.

To give you an idea of the scale here Greece owes the EFSF some 130.9 billion Euros and the ESM 31.7 billion which is part of an 86 billion Euro plan. This means that these days when you see headlines about yields on Greek bonds they are much less relevant as Greece borrows from official sources. Frankly it would immediately be insolvent if it did not.

Comment

There are lots of issues here but let me use the IMF statement to highlight the crux of the matter.

While Greece has undertaken a huge fiscal adjustment, it has increasingly done so without addressing two key problems—an income tax regime that exempts more than half of households from any obligation (the average for the rest of the Euro Zone is 8 percent) and an extremely generous pension system that costs the budget nearly 11 percent of GDP annually (versus the average for the rest of the Euro Zone of 2¼ percent of GDP).

You see this in essence is where the crisis began. An inability to tax, often meaning the better-off, which combined with a generous pension system was also looking like a car-crash relationship. Yet 6 years of reforms later we are at deja vu which the appropriate sorry seems to be the hardest word of Elton John tells us is.

It’s sad, so sad
It’s a sad, sad situation.
And it’s getting more and more absurd.

Meanwhile the current government has done this as Maria Kagelidou of ITV News tells us.

promises 1.6 million pensioners on less than €850/month will receive one off 13th pension. €300 min. Total €617mil

A nice Christmas gift? In isolation of course but how can Greece afford this? Maria sent me some details which I will omit because they are identifiable but I will simply say that tax payments have been accelerated and it looks like the money has been borrowed from the future one more time.

 

 

 

 

Greece sees its economic depression continue with ever more debt

This morning has seen yet another outbreak of a theme which has been positively shameful so far. That is the barrage of establishment and official rhetoric proclaiming an economic recovery in Greece or Grecovery for short. In some ways it was even present back at the original bailout agreement in May 2010 when the “shock and awe” turned out to be about this.

Just as a reminder Greece was supposed to return to growth in 2012 (1.1%) and then 2.1% for two years before growing at 2.7% until the end of time.

This morning’s Grecovery outbreak has been reported by The Greek Analyst.

Tsipras says is “entering growth stage,” calls on creditors 2 deliver debt relief.

The Prime Minister is also reporting that a 1.7 billion Euro tranche of debt relief will be provided today by the Euro area.

What about debt relief?

The Euro area partners are providing some of this to Greece via the way that their official vehicle the ESM or European Stability Mechanism lends to it so cheaply. Its President Klaus Regling pointed this out on the 10th of this month.

– because our loans have long maturities and very low interest rates, less than 1% for instance from the ESM. This provides savings for the Greek budget of over €8 billion every year in saved debt service payments, and that corresponds to about 4.5% of Greek GDP.

The problem for Greece is that it is piling up foreign debt albeit in the same currency as it uses in this instance. It would like to issue its own but this seems to be something which remains just around the corner. After all Greece can borrow at 1% and at what rate do you think markets would lend to it at?

One possible route where the Euro area could continue to provide help would be via the bond buying QE of the ECB. However that seems to have faded away as well probably due to what is implied by this from Mr. Regling.

but it depends if we get the missing information, the missing data, to be sure that the target on net arrears clearance has really been met by the end of September

For all the promises of reform and steps forward taken this all look rather, same as it ever was.

The debt continues to pile up

The official story was that the debt to GDP ratio would decline to 120% by 2020 but last week’s report to Eurostat told us this.

The deficit of General Government for 2015, in accordance with ESA 2010, is estimated at 13.2 billion euro (7.5% of Gross Domestic Product), while the gross consolidated General Government debt at year-end 2015 is estimated at a nominal value of 311.7 billion euro (177.4% of Gross Domestic Product).

Actually a fall in the total debt burden was reported there but sadly it has risen since to 315.3 billion Euros as of June according to Eurostat. So whilst the interest-rate paid has been slashed the overall or capital burden has continued to rise.

If we move to the fiscal deficit the numbers were affected by yet more banking bailouts to the tune of 7.71 billion Euros. That seems to be an eternally emptying pot doesn’t it? But you may also note that even after over 5 years of austerity there was still a fiscal deficit of around 6 billion Euros.

GDP

This can be summarised simply by reminding ourselves that the economy of Greece was supposed to grow from 2012 onwards and then looking at the actual numbers.

2012  GDP 191.2 Billion Euros

2013 GDP 180.7 Billion Euros

2014 GDP 177.9 Billion Euros

2015 GDP 175.7 Billion Euros

That is about as clear a definition of an economic depression as you can get. Greece was hit by the credit crunch then the Euro area crisis then the botched bailout and then of course saw the run on its banks last year.

Ordinarily a recovery out of this should be both strong and sharp or what is called a V-shaped recovery. However the latest (PMI) business survey was sadly more of the same.

The performance of Greece’s manufacturers during September followed the trend of inconsistency that has so far defined 2016. Again, the sector slipped back into contraction after declines in production and new orders were reported, with goods producers citing a combination of deteriorating demand conditions and a lack of liquidity at firms as the prominent factors behind the latest falls

The monetary position

There is a troubling issue to address and this is the amount of Emergency Liquidity Assistance still being provided by the ECB. Whilst this has fallen it is still at 51.8 billion Euros which reminds us of the E or Emergency part.

If we look at Greek bank deposits (household and business) we see that they nudged higher in August to 123. 9 billion Euros. But this compares to a past peak of above 164 billion Euros in the autumn and early winter of 2014. So a clear credit crunch which has loosened a little but not much.

House Prices

If we move to assets backing bank lending then there is little good news for the banks from this reported by Kathimerini yesterday.

The biggest drop in house prices since the outbreak of the crisis has been recorded in the northern and northeastern suburbs of Attica, and to a somewhat lesser extent in the south of the region, with rate declines exceeding 50 percent against an average drop of 40-45 percent across Athens, according to Bank of Greece figures since 2009.

The impact of the economic depression has been added to by rises in property taxation as part of the austerity measures. Looking at the new index provided by the Bank of Greece I see that the most recent numbers for the second quarter of this year show new properties falling in price by 0.6% and older ones by 0.5% making them 2.5% and 2.3% cheaper than a year before respectively.

If we move to a deeper perspective then the numbers are chilling. The older properties index was based at 100 in 2007 made 101.7 in the third quarter of 2008 and is now 58.5. That is another sign of an economic depression especially as we note that annual growth has been negative every reading since 2009 began.

Tourism

This had been a bright spot for the Greek economy but these latest numbers do not help. From Kathimerini.

August saw a major decline in tourism revenues, which dropped 9.2 percent on an annual basis, according to data released on Friday by the Bank of Greece. This has brought the losses for the economy in the first eight months of 2016 to 750 million euros year-on-year.

Comment

The Greek economic depression continues to inflict suffering and pain on its people as Keep Talking Greece has pointed out this morning.

230,000 children live in households without any income and 39.9% of Greece’s population cannot afford basic goods and services, like food and heating.

According to the latest report published by the Greek Statistics Authority (ELSTAT)

Whilst the Euro area has seen growth return and maybe edge higher if today’s business survey is accurate Greece seems to have been left behind one more time. The industrial turnover figures for August did show a rise of 0.2% on a year before but the previous number had shown a decline of 18%.

Even Japonica who are the biggest investors in Greek government debt admit this.

From 2001 to 2015, Greece added only 10 cents in GDP for each additional euro of debt, compared to EZ peer average 45 cents.

Actually according to them Greece has very little debt at all.

Greece 2015 YE Balance Sheet Net Debt, correctly calculated in accordance with international accounting or statistics rules is 41% and 58% of GDP, respectively.

Meanwhile the best way out for Greece is as I have argued all along as Sheryl Crow reminds us.

A change would do you good
A change would do you good

 

 

The Greek economic depression continues to the sound of silence

Today it is time again to look at what has been in my time as a blogger a regular and indeed consistent contender for the saddest story of all. This is of course the issue proclaimed as “shock and awe” by Euro area ministers such as Christine Lagarde back in May 2010 as they sent Greece spiralling into an economic depression from which it shows little sign of returning. This was accompanied by a media operation where those who argued for a different course of action were smeared with claims that they would damage the Greek economy. How shameful that was!

Instead we got austerity and claims of an internal devaluation instead of the old IMF strategy where the austerity was ameliorated by a currency devaluation. Oh and promises of reform which remain in the main just that promises. Eventually there was a default but by then it was not enough partly because the official creditors refused to take part. Drip by drip we have had confessions of failure as the IMF first decided its sums were wrong and more recently has become a fan of fiscal stimulus rather than austerity. Just as a reminder Greece was supposed to return to growth in 2012 (1.1%) and then 2.1% for two years before growing at 2.7% until the end of time.

An economic depression

How do we measure this? Well the first signal is that Greek GDP was 19.5% lower in the second quarter of this year than it was in the second quarter of 2010 when “shock and awe” was proclaimed. So that is a severe depression or Great Depression. There is no other way of putting that.

If we move to the present position then we see this.

Available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 2nd quarter of 2016 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms increased by 0.2% compared with the 1st quarter of 2016 against the increase of 0.3% that was announced for the flash estimate.

Sadly even this brief flicker of candle light gets sucked up by the gloom when we look at the annual comparison.

In comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2015, it decreased by 0.9% against the decrease of 0.7% that was announced for the flash estimate of the 2nd quarter on August 12, 2016.

We have other signs of a depression here. Firstly the fact that so far there is no rebound. Ordinarily however bad things are economies eventually rebound in what is called a V-shaped response but here we have a much grimmer L shape as in a collapse and then no recovery. Also numbers in such a situation are mostly revised upwards but as you can see it has in fact been downwards.

Wages

An important signal of these times has been the behaviour of wages and especially real wages well we have seen nothing like this. There is an index for Greek wages for different sectors so let us start with manufacturing which at the start of 2010 was at 95.9 and at the start of 2016 was at 45.5 and had fallen by over 9% in the preceding year. It is not the worst example as the wages of the professional and scientific sector fell from 100.8 to 45.9 over the same time period.

Just so you see both sides of the coin the best number was for the information sector which only and by only I mean comparatively fell from 89.8 to 80.9.

Retail Trade

This sadly is one of the worst examples of the economic depression. You may wish to make sure you are sitting comfortably before you read that on a scale where 2010=100 then Greek retail trade was 69.8 in June. Grimmest of all is that food is at 78.1.

Is it getting any better or Grecovery as some were proclaiming in 2013? Take a look for yourself.

The overall volume index in retail trade (i.e. turnover in retail trade at constant prices) in June 2016, recorded a decrease of 3.6% compared with the corresponding index of June 2015, while compared with the corresponding index of May 2016, recorded an increase of 3.7%.

May must have been dreadful mustn’t it?

The Monetary System

We see regular proclamations of recovery but regular readers will recall the situation last year when Greece saw capital flight on a large-scale. Capital Greece sums it up like this.

Greece΄s banking sector saw a 42 billion euro deposit outflow from December to July last year.

They try to put a positive spin on the data but it tells a rather different story.

Greek bank deposits dropped slightly in July after a rise in the previous two months………Business and household deposits fell by 160 million euros, or 0.13 percent month-on-month to 122.58 billion euros ($138.3 billion), their lowest level since November 2003.

That means the credit crunch is ongoing.

Export Led Growth

One of the ways that the “internal devaluation” was supposed to benefit Greece was via foreign trade. This should impact in two ways. Firstly exports would be more price competitive and rise and secondly imports would fall in sectors where Greek producers can replace them. How is that going? From Kathimerini.

exports of Greek products dropped to their lowest point in the last four years in the first half of 2016, posting an annual decline of 8.1 percent to 11.8 billion euros, against 12.8 billion in January-June 2015. Excluding exports of oil products, the annual decline came to 1.4 percent.

So the oil price fall has had an impact except care is needed here if it was counted when we were being told this was getting better. Especially troubling considering the efforts of the ECB to reduce the value of the Euro came from this.

There was a notable decrease in exports, including oil products, to non-EU countries, where they fell by 14.6 percent compared to June last year.

An area which had shown signs of hope was tourism where I recall better numbers and hope for the future but sadly the Bank of Greece has another tale.

In January-June 2016, the balance of travel services showed a surplus of €2,991 million, down 6.7% from a surplus of €3,205 million in the same period of 2015…….The decrease in travel receipts resulted from a 1.6% decline in arrivals and a 4.9% fall in average expenditure per trip.

Just in case someone wants to deploy the scapegoat of 2016 which is of course Brexit that has so kindly given the poor much abused weather a rest. well see for yourself…

Receipts from the United Kingdom increased by 24.8% to €388 million.

Actually it is people from outside the European Union who have stopped going to Greece for a holiday it would appear.

while receipts from outside the EU28 dropped by 21.9% (June 2016: €469 million, June 2015: €601 million).

Any thoughts as to why?

Comment

As we review the scene there is a familiar austerity drumbeat.From Kathimerini.

Tens of thousands of pensioners will see their auxiliary pensions slashed by between 10 and 12 percent on Friday morning, while in some cases the cuts will even exceed 40 percent…..This second wave of cuts will affect 144,000 pensioners, after a first one hit just under 67,000 retirees in August.

Odd that because we have been told so many times that reform has been completed. Oh and we have been told so many times that the banks are fixed as well.

Greece’s four systemic banks increased their provisions for nonperforming loans by a total of 1 billion euros during the second quarter of the year

By systemic they mean toxic under the Britney definition.

I’m addicted to you
Don’t you know that you’re toxic
And I love what you do
Don’t you know that you’re toxic

Meanwhile the Greek depression continues to the Sound of Silence.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains within the sound of silence

 

“Breakthroughs” for Greece actually mean more debt for longer

There are many sad components of the Greek crisis and only on the 9th of this month I pointed out how the whole episode is like groundhog day or more realistically year. An example of this occurred late last night.  Here is Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijesselbloem.

We achieved a major breakthrough on which enables us to enter a new phase in the Greek financial assistance programme.

We have learned to be very careful with phrases like “major breakthrough” as the original hype of “shock and awe” reminds us. The Financial Times also decided to join in with the hype.

Greece reaches breakthrough deal with creditors

Care is needed with headlines written at 5 am after a long night and as discussed above particular care is needed with Greece so let us take a look at the deal.

Greece needs more funding

This is a regular feature of the ongoing story where despite all the hype Greece remains unable to fund itself in the financial markets but needs to refinance in debt. In particular the first rule of Greek fight club is on its way. That is that the ECB (European Central Bank) must always be repaid whatever the circumstances! Some 3.5 billion Euros is required by July if we include a component for the IMF (International Monetary Fund) as well. This meant that Greece did have something of a hold on its creditors but it has not used it. Also it is hard to avoid the thought that two of the main creditors the ECB and the IMF always insist on 100% repayment of capital which of course blocks debt relief.

The details of the funding to be provided are shown below.

The second tranche under the ESM programme amounting to EUR 10.3 bn will be disbursed to Greece in several disbursements, starting with a first disbursement in June (EUR 7.5 bn) to cover debt servicing needs and to allow a clearance of an initial part of arrears as a means to support the real economy. The subsequent disbursements to be used for arrears clearance and further debt servicing needs will be made after the summer.

You may note that this only mentions debt servicing and clearing arrears and not boosting the Greek economy for example. This is a rather dystopian style future which seems to be all about the debt and not about the people. Indeed those who have claimed that this whole process is like something from the world of the novel Dune do get support from this.

Do the Greek people get anything?

This does not seem to be much of a reward.

The Eurogroup also welcomes the adoption by the Greek parliament of most of the agreed prior actions for the first review, notably the adoption of legislation to deliver fiscal parametric measures amounting to 3% of GDP that should allow to meet the fiscal targets in 2018,

Ah so austerity is now spelt “fiscal parametric measures” in the way that the leaky Windscale nuclear processing plant became the leak-free Sellafield. What do the Greeks have to do? Well here it is.

the pension reform

Back on the 9th of this month I pointed out what this actually means in practice.

Sunday night of overhauls of the Greek tax and pension systems…..All 153 coalition lawmakers backed the legislation, which is worth 5.4 billion euros in budget savings.

In other words the Greek economy will be given another push downwards. This is happening in a country which has not be growing at over 2% per annum since 2012 in the original “shock and awe” “breakthrough” but as of the latest data has done this.

Available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 1 st quarter of 2016 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms decreased by 0.4% in comparison with the 4 th quarter of 2015, while it decreased by 1.3% in comparison with the 1 st quarter of 2015.

The economy is still shrinking in what we must now call a DEPRESSION. This is a human crisis on a large-scale which seems to have been forgotten in the hype above. Also anyone with any sense can see that such a situation makes the debt ever more unaffordable and in that sense is self-defeating.

What about debt relief?

The cat was put amongst the pigeons by this from the IMF.

So Greece is the new Japan or at least it would be. Except of course Japan has surpluses elsewhere and can finance itself extremely cheaply and these days even be paid to finance itself. Of the two graphs it is the second which is the most significant and let me show you the IMF text on it.

Gross financing needs cross the 15 percent-of-GDP threshold already by 2024 and the 20 percent threshold by 2029, reaching around 30 percent by 2040 and close to 60 percent of GDP by 2060.

Firstly the situation is now so bad the numbers which first went to 2020 and then 2040 now go to 2060 in a confirmation of my To Infinity! And Beyond! Theme. But also there is a debt filled future where in 2060 Greece will be spending 60% of its GDP on financing its GDP. This even had the IMF singing along to the nutty boys.

Madness, madness, they call it madness
Madness, madness, they call it madness
I’m about to explain
A-That someone is losing their brain.

What have they done?

Right now they have done nothing at all except make sure that the left hand of the Euro area taxpayer ( represented by the European Stability Mechanism) pays out the right hand of the Euro area taxpayer as represented by the ECB. Or an example of round-tripping.

Of course the last effort at debt restructuring did not go so well mostly because of the first rule of ECB fight club. Here is the Jubilee Debt Strategy.

At the end of 2011, before the ‘debt relief’, Greece’s government debt was 162% of GDP

Ah so the “breakthrough” is for it to rise to 250% by 2060?! Most people can see the problem there. However rather than a solution what we have seen overnight is yet more can-kicking as nothing will be done until 2018. As Oasis so aptly put it Definitely Maybe.

For the medium term, the Eurogroup expects to implement a possible second set of measures following the successful implementation of the ESM programme.

Oh and considering the track record so far this is simply breath-taking.

For the long-term, the Eurogroup is confident that the implementation of this agreement on the main features for debt measures, together with a successful implementation of the Greek ESM programme and the fulfilment of the primary surplus targets as mentioned above, will bring Greece’s public debt back on a sustainable path over the medium to long run.

Comment

So we see that the “breakthrough” is in fact yet another example of kicking the problem a couple of years ahead. This passes a few elections and the UK Brexit referendum but will weaken the Greek economy even more. It is a particular shame that at least part of the Financial Times seems to have joined the trend to copy and pasting official communiques.

Meanwhile ever more heroic efforts are required from the ordinary Greek for what exactly? Every number is fudged as for example the IMF view on trend growth goes from -0.6% per annum to 1.3%. If this were true it would be an oasis of good news in a desert but the truth is that this is backwards financial engineering so that the debt numbers do not look even worse. A bit like this really from the IMF.

it is no longer tenable to base the DSA on the
assumption that Greece can quickly move from having one of the lowest to having the highest productivity growth rates in the eurozone.

Hands up anyone who actually believed that?

Meanwhile let me end with some lighter relief even if it is of the wry variety. I need to pick my words carefully so let me say that there have been rumours that the Clintons ( yes those 2…) never had a loss making futures trade putting them ahead of Buffett and Soros. Well this does not apparently apply to all the family. as if their son-in-law had not closed large losses on his Greek bond fund he might be in profit today.