Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Greece: Behold the Default Spiral

Wall Street Journal
May 31, 2011

Guy LeBas, chief fixed income strategist at Janney Capital Markets, tossed this chart into a research note he published today on the possibilities that the Greece situation could develop into a full-blown European contagion. He writes:

Greece is in the midst of a classic default spiral, one of the great paradoxes of the financial markets. In its simplest form, a debt spiral begins when an issuer, be it a corporation, municipality, or country faces an upcoming obligation which it needs to refinance. If the markets deem that issuer to be a poor credit risk, that issuer’s cost of selling new debt to pay off its upcoming obligation rises, increasing expenses and further impairing credit quality.

If this cycle raises financing costs to unsustainable levels, say 24 – 25%, it becomes wholly impossible for the issuer to pay off upcoming obligations by issuing new ones, hence ensuring a default and earning the name debt or default spiral. As a default spiral is a self-sustaining game, the only way for an issuer to solve a default spiral is by breaking the rules of the game, namely via obtaining external assistance (being acquired, or, in our example, obtaining low cost loans from other governments) or by defaulting. The only way that the first option, obtaining support, can work is if that support somehow restores confidence in the spiraling issuer.


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