Sunday, February 26, 2012

Nothing to fear but the lack of fear itself

February 26, 2012

What to read into the following? At an event for CFOs and finance directors in London this week, I asked the audience whether Greece would end up leaving the euro zone. Every single hand went up. Asked whether more countries than Greece would leave, roughly two-thirds of the audience agreed they would.

Coming a week after an agreement on a second international bail-out for Greece, such certainty that the country would have to exit the euro was striking. It may be that an audience in London, albeit a cosmopolitan one, is prone to misjudge the willingness of the euro-zone creditors to keep lending money to Greece even if the country’s programme goes off-track again. But I still think their judgment is right, for three reasons.

First, the demands being made of Greece will be almost impossible to meet: they will eventually need more money or some kind of forbearance. Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany's finance minister, and Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s prime minister, have both suggested in recent days that a third bail-out may well be needed.

Second, there is a finite amount of times that creditor nations can justify bail-outs to their taxpayers, and the poisonous manner in which the latest package was agreed suggests this point may already have been reached. There is a good chance that approving extra money is becoming politically impossible. The Greeks themselves may well give up on the whole process, too.


No comments: