Thursday, April 24, 2014

Athens Lacking Only Elgin as Windows Erase Crisis

April 24, 2014

The marble paving stones have been relaid in Athens’s Syntagma Square, the site of pitched battles between police and protesters during the worst of Greece’s economic crisis.

Yannis Stournaras has replaced his sixth-floor window overlooking the square. It was pierced by an errant bullet during one of the riots in 2010.

“I changed the window because I decided this era has ended,” Stournaras, the 57-year-old finance minister, said in an interview.

The cosmetic changes around the city’s central plaza signal Greece’s emergence from the crisis that made Athens the fuse to Europe’s debt bomb. Earlier this month, the country completed its first bond sale in four years, bookending a period when it was bailed out twice and completed the biggest-ever sovereign restructuring. As the country teetered on the brink of a political and economic abyss, Syntagma, bounded by the national Parliament, luxury hotels, office buildings and a McDonalds, served as the backdrop for televised reports beamed globally on the chaos.

Now, Athens Mayor George Kaminis, a 59-year-old native of New York City, is sketching out a return to normalcy in a city dubbed the most unlivable in western Europe since 2010 by Mercer, the consulting division of New York-based Marsh & McLennan Cos.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

EU Confirms Greece Beat Its Budget Targets in 2013

Wall Street Journal
April 23, 2014

Greece beat its budget targets last year, Europe's statistics agency said Wednesday, confirming a dramatic turnaround in the country's public finances and opening the way for fresh debt reduction measures by Greece's euro-zone partners in the months ahead.

According to the data, Greece achieved a primary budget surplus—before counting debt payments—of €1.5 billion in 2013 ($2.08 billion); one year ahead of expectations and higher than the goal set by the country's international creditors who stipulated that Athens aim for a balanced primary budget last year.

The data is a "reflection of the remarkable progress Greece has made in repairing its public finances since 2010," Simon O'Connor, a spokesman for the European Commission said at a news conference in Brussels.

Last year's primary surplus represents the first by Greece in a decade, and the confirmation from Eurostat Wednesday comes almost exactly four years after Greece sought the first of two successive international bailouts to fix its budget problems and overhaul its economy.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Greek politics: Remaking the political landscape

April 19, 2014

Greece’s chances of recovery after six years of misery are improving. Its first bond offering in four years, seen as a test of confidence, did much better than expected. Tourists are flocking in for Easter; hoteliers predict a record 19m visitors will come this year. One long-blocked resort project on Crete seems poised to go ahead, raising hopes that foreign investment may flow into other industries such as electricity and ports. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and often one of Greece’s harshest critics, spoke encouragingly to young Greek entrepreneurs during a quick visit to Athens on April 11th.

Yet the new optimism does not seem to be trickling down to most voters. Unemployment fell slightly in January, but still stood at 26.7%. The social safety-net is stretched so thin that only one in ten of the unemployed gets any benefits. Private-sector workers complain of being paid months in arrears. An estimated 35% of Greeks now live in poverty, according to social workers and charities.

No wonder Greece’s clientelist political system is in tatters. It was once a politician’s responsibility to find jobs in the public sector for his (rarely her) constituents. Ambitious MPs extended their patronage to the private sector. “My application for an assistant supermarket manager’s job was picked on merit, but it wasn’t approved by the local MP—he wanted someone else,” says Simos, a 28-year-old economics graduate now working in Germany.

Angry voters used to shout “Thieves, traitors” outside parliament as lawmakers waved through a string of unpopular reforms demanded by Greece’s creditors. The centre-right New Democracy (ND) and the PanHellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), partners in a fractious coalition with only a two-seat majority in parliament, are now widely blamed for the collapse of the patronage system that they built during 30 years of alternating in power.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Θεωρίες και Άκρα

του Αριστείδη Χατζή

Τα Νέα

17 Απριλίου 2014

Κατά τη διάρκεια της κρίσης χύθηκε πολύ μελάνι για ανοησίες. Από τους ψεκασμούς και τις διάφορες θεωρίες συνωμοσίας μέχρι την ακατάσχετη πολυλογία και εσχατολογία που δημιουργούσε περισσότερο θόρυβο παρά διάλογο.

Μία από τις ανόητες θεωρίες, που ευτυχώς μας άφησε χρόνους αυτές τις ημέρες, είναι και η θεωρία των δύο άκρων. Η θεωρία αυτή ήταν βλακώδης, όχι βέβαια γιατί δεν υπάρχουν τα δύο άκρα. Όσο θα υπάρχει ένα ισχυρό ναζιστικό κόμμα στην Ελλάδα και όσο θα δραστηριοποιούνται αριστερές τρομοκρατικές οργανώσεις μικρού και μεγάλου βεληνεκούς μπορεί κανείς κάλλιστα να μιλά για δύο άκρα. Είναι τα άκρα της βίας.

Όμως η «θεωρία των δύο άκρων» είναι κάτι άλλο. Σύμφωνα μ’ αυτήν το ένα άκρο βέβαια είναι η Χρυσή Αυγή. Το άλλο όμως είναι ο ΣΥΡΙΖΑ. Σε κάποιες εκδοχές ακόμα και το ΚΚΕ. Δεν χρειάζεται βέβαια να εξηγήσω γιατί είναι θηριώδης ανοησία να συγκρίνεται το ΚΚΕ με τη Χρυσή Αυγή χρησιμοποιώντας το επιχείρημα του σταλινισμού. Όσοι κάνουν αυτό το λάθος έχουν μείνει ακόμα στο 1949 ή πάντως δεν φαίνεται να έχουν ξεπεράσει το 1974. Ανεξάρτητα των επίσημων πολιτικών θέσεων του ΚΚΕ, δεν μπορεί κανείς να μη διακρίνει τη σιωπηρή μεν αλλά ηχηρή από πολλές απόψεις αποδοχή της κοινοβουλευτικής δημοκρατίας. Η απόσταση της ρητορικής από τη συμπεριφορά του κόμματος είναι τόση που μόνο ένας κακόπιστος (και ταυτόχρονα ανόητος) θα το τοποθετούσε μαζί με τη Χρυσή Αυγή. Ο τρόπος που το ΚΚΕ διαχειρίστηκε πολιτικά την κρίση είναι ενδεικτικός. Η σωφροσύνη του μάλιστα του στοίχισε (και συνεχίζει να του στοιχίζει) πολύ ακριβά.

Αλλά πάμε στον ΣΥΡΙΖΑ, γιατί αυτός είναι ο πραγματικός στόχος αυτής της θεωρίας. Η σκοπιμότητα ήταν βέβαια να πληγεί καθώς επιχειρεί να μετατραπεί σε κόμμα εξουσίας. Ο ίδιος ο ΣΥΡΙΖΑ έκανε ό,τι μπορούσε για να δικαιώσει αυτήν τη θεωρία. Από τη μια δεν φαίνεται να είναι καθόλου επιλεκτικός στα στελέχη του. Ανάμεσά τους υπάρχει μεγάλος αριθμός ανθρώπων που δεν θέλουν να έχουν καμία σχέση με τη φιλελεύθερη κοινοβουλευτική δημοκρατία ευρωπαϊκού τύπου. Είναι περιθωριακοί, είναι ακίνδυνοι αλλά είναι φωνακλάδες. Ο θόρυβος που προκαλούν κάνει πολύ κακό στον ΣΥΡΙΖΑ και αυτό το καταλαβαίνουν πλέον ακόμα και όσοι υποτιμούσαν το πρόβλημα. Από την άλλη, η συμπεριφορά πολλών στελεχών του απέναντι στο πραγματικό άκρο, τους τρομοκράτες, είναι απαράδεκτα αμφίσημη. Όχι βέβαια γιατί ο ΣΥΡΙΖΑ έχει οποιαδήποτε σχέση με την τρομοκρατία αλλά γιατί πολλοί οπαδοί του κόμματος την αντιμετωπίζουν με αισθήματα συμπάθειας - και ο ΣΥΡΙΖΑ δεν θέλει να τους αποξενώσει.

Ό,τι και να πει κανείς για τα πολιτικά αλλά και τα στρατηγικά λάθη του ΣΥΡΙΖΑ (κι εγώ έχω να πω πάρα πολλά!) δεν μπορεί να μην αναφωνήσει «αιδώς Αργείοι» σ’ αυτούς που πρωταγωνίστησαν στη στοχοποίησή του με όπλο τη θεωρία των δύο άκρων. Διότι αντί να στοχεύσουν στην απαράδεκτη και καταστροφική οικονομική πολιτική που προτείνει, προσπάθησαν να τον παρουσιάσουν ως λεοντή για το αριστερό άκρο. Το αστείο είναι ότι τελικά αποδεικνύεται ότι οι ίδιοι ήταν πολύ περισσότερο «άκρο» από το υποτιθέμενο «άλλο άκρο».

Όλες οι πρόσφατες αποκαλύψεις για τις υπόγειες διαδρομές ΝΔ και Χρυσής Αυγής τι άλλο φανερώνει; Εδώ δεν μιλάμε για 2-3 απίθανους τύπους που εξελέγησαν τυχαία και λένε μπαρούφες στη Βουλή αλλά για τον γενικό γραμματέα της Κυβέρνησης. Ακόμα και το σήριαλ με το ευρωψηφοδέλτιο της ΝΔ είναι αποκαλυπτικό. Για να μην αναφέρουμε την ανατριχιαστική θεσμικά πρόταση δημοψηφίσματος για το τζαμί.

Πώς τα κατάφεραν έτσι τα κόμματα του Κωνσταντίνου Καραμανλή και του Λεωνίδα Κύρκου, τα δύο κατεξοχήν ευρωπαϊκά κόμματα της Μεταπολίτευσης; Δεν είναι όμως ώρα για δακρύβρεχτες αναδρομές. Έχουν και τα δύο τώρα μια ιστορική ευκαιρία (και οι ηγεσίες τους φαίνεται να το αντιλαμβάνονται). Η ΝΔ είναι ιδιαίτερα τυχερή γιατί οι φασίστες, οι ψεκασμένοι και η λαϊκή ακραία συντηρητική δεξιά αναζητούν αλλού την τύχη τους. Ας τους κουνήσει το μαντήλι οριστικά κι ας μετεξελιχθεί επιτέλους σε σοβαρό ευρωπαϊκό φιλελεύθερο συντηρητικό κόμμα. Ο ΣΥΡΙΖΑ αρχίζει να αντιλαμβάνεται ότι ο δρόμος για την εξουσία περνάει από την Κεντροαριστερά. Ας μετεξελιχθεί επιτέλους σε ένα πραγματικά προοδευτικό σοσιαλιστικό κόμμα της Ευρωπαϊκής Αριστεράς.

Ας πετάξουν από πάνω τους τα άκρα και όλες τις θεωρίες που τα συνοδεύουν.

* Ο Αριστείδης Χατζής είναι αναπληρωτής καθηγητής Φιλοσοφίας Δικαίου και Θεωρίας Θεσμών στο Πανεπιστήμιο Αθηνών.

Εδώ θα βρείτε το άρθρο (όπως δημοσιεύθηκε στα Νέα)

Εδώ θα βρείτε το άρθρο στην ιστοσελίδα των Νέων

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Greece to stabilise this year, but recovery road will be long

April 16, 2014

The outlook for Greece's economy has improved but analysts say the revival in investor sentiment that led Athens to tap the bond markets again this month still needs to be backed up by better data, a Reuters poll found.

After six straight years of recession that has reduced the economy by about a quarter of its size and driven unemployment to a record of nearly 28 percent, Greece's economy is expected to begin a long road to recovery this year.

Thursday's poll of nearly 35 economists and strategists taken in the past week pointed to an expansion of just 0.3 percent this year, lower than the EU/IMF projection of 0.6 percent the Greek central bank's forecast of 0.5 percent growth.

Those growth projections are not far behind consensus expectations for the euro zone economy as a whole.

"There are increasing signs the Greek economy is stabilizing and we expect to see a positive reading in terms of GDP growth at some quarter down the road this year," said economist Angelos Tsakanikas at IOBE, a research firm.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Tide Is Turning for Greece—and the Euro Zone

by Simon Nixon

Wall Street Journal

April 13, 2014

Greece's return to the bond markets last week was a symbolically important moment for the euro crisis. For the country at the center of the crisis to draw €20 billion ($27.77 billion) of foreign demand for a five-year bond yielding under 5% shows that the market now believes Greece will stay in the euro zone, that it won't collapse into chaos and that any further debt relief will be provided by official rather than private lenders. A year ago, there were few takers for that bet.

But this was only the latest in a series of remarkable developments this year that show how far market sentiment toward Southern Europe has changed.

This shift began in January when the nationalized Spanish lender Bankia was able to issue an unsecured bond. Since then, Madrid has sold shares in Bankia to international investors. Other Spanish banks, along with Italian, Austrian and even Greek banks, have raised capital.

Buying bank equity is a bigger bet on economic recovery than buying sovereign bonds since there is no implicit guarantee from the European Central Bank.


This could be the moment for Greece to default

by Wolfgang Münchau

Financial Times

April 13, 2014

While the financial world is celebrating the Greek return to the bond markets, I am asking myself this question: is this a good time for Greece to default on its foreign debt? It is not a subject of polite conversion in Brussels or Athens. Nor does it appear to be a popular subject for investors’ conferences.

For the first time since the crisis Greece is in a position to default. It has a primary budget surplus – before interest payments. The European Commission has forecast the primary surplus to reach 2.7 per cent of gross domestic product this year, rising to 4.1 per cent in 2015. The Greek current account registered a first surplus. Greece is no longer dependent on foreign investors.

Of course, just because you are in a position to default does not mean that you should. So how should one think about this?

Greece is probably now close to the bottom of its economic slump, which started six years ago. Between 2008 and 2013 real GDP shrank by 23.5 per cent and investment by 58.4 per cent. The most recent labour force survey showed unemployment at 26.7 per cent in January. The rate of youth unemployment in 2013 stood at 60.4 per cent. Bank loans to businesses were down at an annual rate of 5.2 per cent in February. Non-performing loans have reached a level of 38 per cent of the total. Bank deposits are shrinking.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

For Bond Investors, Greece Is The Word

by Alen Mattich

Wall Street Journal

April 10, 2014

Not only have investors forgiven Greece for its sovereign debt default only two years ago, but they seem to have forgotten that many of the same economy’s problems persist.

Indeed, the scale of investors’ collective charitableness and amnesia towards what was until recently a market pariah is only made starker by the fact that Sweden couldn’t offload the whole of Wednesday’s bond issue.

Greece raised 3 billion euro in five-year bonds at a 4.95% yield, amid 20 billion euro of orders from 550 accounts. Sweden’s 3.5 billion krona 2025 government bond issued this week only received 3.31 billion krona in bids at an average yield of 2.25%.

Around the time of the default, Greek 10-year yields were hitting 30%. What a difference a couple of years makes.

The difference isn’t just Greece’s economic fundamentals, though they have changed somewhat for the better. The depression is expected to bottom this year, with the economy returning to modest growth of 0.6% after contracting 3.7% in 2013 and 6.4% in 2012.


Greece’s return to the markets: The prodigal son

April 14, 2014

The journey has been an epic one, but Greece has reached, if not the destination, at least a waymark. The last time that its government raised long-term funds was in March 2010, just weeks before the markets lost confidence in Greece altogether, forcing its first bail-out. This week the Greek government returned to the markets, raising €3 billion ($4.1 billion) in five-year bonds at a yield of just under 5% in a heavily oversubscribed issue.

The amount might be small and the yield high compared with borrowing costs in other rescued countries, such as Portugal, whose five-year notes were trading at around 2.6%. But the notion of any bond issue at all still prompts eye-rubbing, given the depth of the Greek crisis. Six consecutive years of recession have seen the economy shrink by a quarter, prompting social and political turmoil that at its worst seemed quite likely to push Greece out of the euro zone. For most of the past four years a return to the markets on any terms seemed inconceivable, a view underscored by vaulting bond yields (see chart).

Over this period Greece has been wholly reliant on help from euro-zone governments and the IMF to meet its financing needs. In May 2010 it received its first three-year bail-out, of €110 billion. The aim then was that it should start tapping the markets again as early as 2012. Instead within less than two years Greece required a second and even bigger bail-out, raising the total amount of funding from euro-zone lenders and the IMF to €246 billion by 2016, equivalent to 135% of last year’s GDP.


Friday, April 11, 2014

Is Greece really out of the woods?

by Desmond Lachman


April 11, 2014

Judging by this week’s successful Greek international bond placement, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Greek economy is finally out of the woods. For not only was the Greek government successful in placing EUR 3 billion in bonds at the lowest interest that Greece has enjoyed since the onset of the crisis in 2010, but it has found that its bond issue was six-times oversubscribed.

Before placing too much weight on the market’s apparently rosy assessment of Greece’s economic prospects, it is well to recall the market’s very poor track record in anticipating the Greek sovereign debt crisis. As late as mid-2009, the Greek government only had to pay as little as 18 basis points more than the German government did on its long-term bond issues. And it did so despite extraordinarily large domestic and external economic imbalances in the Greek economy that would soon lead to the largest sovereign debt default in history.

There are all too many reasons to think that despite the market’s present optimism Greece will relapse into crisis before the year is out. Among the more troubling of these reasons is that the Greek government has simply lost the political willingness to persevere with austerity and structural reform that might support an economic recovery. This has been all too apparent in the government’s protracted negotiations with the troika over the last review of the IMF-EU program. And it will become even more apparent should Greece exit the IMF-EU program and no longer be under the troika’s tutelage.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Trouble Brews for Greece Despite Good News on Bond Sale

by Matina Stevis and Marcus Walker

Wall Street Journal

April 10, 2014

Greece's successful return to the markets Thursday was a triumph of politics—and it is in politics where the risk to the country's recovery lies.

A good-news operation has been under way since the start of the year. Once the target of vocal criticism by euro-zone politicians and officials involved in the bailout process, Greece has been getting praise from all quarters.

European Union officials say that at the heart of this turnaround in mood is the alliance forged between Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Ms. Merkel arrives in Athens on Friday—her second visit since Mr. Samaras took office in summer 2012. Greece's return to longer-term market borrowing just 24 hours before serves as the perfect red carpet for the German leader.

But behind the good news, not all is well with Greece's economic resurrection.


Greece Triumphs in Bond Odyssey

by Richard Barley

Wall Street Journal

April 10, 2014

So Greece is back. Investors placed €20 billion ($27.7 billion) of orders for its €3 billion five-year bond, and as a result the final yield came in at just 4.95%. For a country that restructured its debt only two years ago, that is a remarkable result.

The final yield is not only way beneath the initial suggestions that Greece's bond could yield 5.25% to 5.5%, implying that investors have given up a lot of potential gains already; It also is less than Ireland paid when it issued its first postcrisis five-year bond. True, Ireland did so in July 2012, when Spain was teetering on the brink of junk status and investors still had doubts about the survival of the euro. But Ireland, which is far more creditworthy than Greece, paid a yield of 5.9% then.


Greece Gets Strong Demand for Bond

Wall Street Journal
April 10, 2014

Greece Thursday wrapped up its first longer-term bond sale in four years to strong demand, a nod to the glut of spare cash flooding financial markets as well as the steps taken by Greece to repair its battered economy.

Greece will raise €3 billion ($4.14 billion) by selling bonds that mature in 2019. The sale attracted more than €20 billion of demand, according to bankers working on the deal.

The bankers said the five-year bond would price to yield 4.95%—a sharply lower price tag than initial suggestions in the range of 5.25% to 5.5%. About 550 investor accounts placed orders, they added. The finance ministry said close to 90% of the demand came from abroad.

"[Greece is being] viewed differently. The Greek bond issuance is a turning point in the sovereign bond crisis," said Achilles Risvas, managing partner at Dromeus Capital Management in Switzerland, who said he is participating in the new Greek bond issue. "The European periphery obviously still presents highly attractive yields. The recent rally in bonds has pushed yields to record lows."


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Greece to Issue First Long-Term Bond Since Bailout

Wall Street Journal
April 9, 2014

Greece is poised to issue on Thursday its first long-term bond since its international bailout four years ago.

The country will sell at least €500 million ($689.9 million) of five-year bonds, according to one of the banks running the deal. People familiar with the matter said it could run to a total of €2.5 billion, and that yields will be around 5.25% to 5.5%.

Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley are the banks hired to manage the sale.

The deal will cap an important milestone in Greece's rehabilitation following a crippling debt crisis that left the cash-strapped country frozen out of global bond markets and needing two bailout packages and a €200 billion debt restructuring to stave off financial collapse.

Booming demand for higher-yielding bonds amid record low interest rates, coupled with fading concerns about the euro-zone debt crisis, is also supporting Greece's return as investors ramp up exposure to countries they had previously given a wide berth.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Greek rebound is astonishing

by Hugo Dixon


April 8, 2014

Greece is undergoing an astonishing financial rebound. Two years ago, the country looked like it was set for a messy default and exit from the euro. Now it is on the verge of returning to the bond market with the issue of 2 billion euros of five-year paper.

There are still political risks, and the real economy is only now starting to turn. But the financial recovery is impressive. The 10-year bond yield, which hit 30 percent after the debt restructuring of two years ago, is now 6.2 percent.

Two of the country’s big four banks – Piraeus and Alpha – have raised 3 billion euros of equity between them in recent weeks to reinforce their balance sheets after a stress test orchestrated by the central bank. Eurobank, another big lender, is planning to follow suit with a 3 billion euro issue later this month.

The changed mood in the markets is mainly down to external factors: the European Central Bank’s promise to “do whatever it takes” to save the euro two years ago; and the more recent end of investors’ love affair with emerging markets, meaning the liquidity sloshing around the global economy has been hunting for bargains in other places such as Greece.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Greece Nears Bond-Market Resurrection

by Ben Edwards

Wall Street Journal

April 4, 2014

Two years ago, Greece was forced to restructure its debts to avoid a default. Now it’s on the verge of making a bond-market comeback.

Earlier this week, the Greek finance minister Yannis Stournaras said the country would issue its first long-term bond since its international bailout by June. Some analysts reckon the deal could come sooner rather than later.

Commerzbank’s rates strategists said a likely upgrade of Greece by credit rating company Moody’s Investors Service on Friday “could do the trick” for the Greek debt agency “to dip a toe into the primary market over the next weeks, possibly as early as next week.”

Any deal would underscore what has been a remarkable turnaround for Greece, a country that many doomsayers had confidently predicted would exit the euro zone as it struggled to cope with mounting debts. Its debt pile was still at 175.6% of gross domestic product at the end of 2013–by far the highest in the euro zone. Even so, the planned bond sale is likely to be well received. Greece’s 10-year bonds were trading with yields a nudge above 6% Friday according to Tradeweb, the lowest since 2010. They were trading above 30% as recently as 2012. Yields fall as prices rise.