Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Greek transgender community hopes new law will improve lives

by Elena Becatoros

Associated Press

October 10, 2017

Before she had even reached puberty, Anna Kouroupou knew she wasn’t what her birth certificate said she was: a boy. But having herself officially declared female was a painful process, and one that could only legally be done if it included gender reassignment surgery.

Stigmatized, often abused and rejected, Greece’s transgender community is now hoping a controversial new law passed by parliament Tuesday will improve their daily lives and foster greater acceptance in what is often a deeply conservative society.

The law, passed with 171 votes in favor in the 300-member parliament, allows Greeks over the age of 15 to change the gender listed on their identity cards and other official documents at will, following a simplified procedure in court. Until now, those wanting to change how their gender is officially defined had to prove they had undergone sex-change surgery and psychiatric assessment.

“The legal recognition of gender identity is a huge positive step,” said 53-year-old Kouroupou, who began hormone therapy at the age of 17 and underwent gender reassignment surgery abroad at the age of 24. “The world of a trans person won’t change that easily,” but it will improve the daily problems and humiliations suffered by her community, she said.

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Greece Faces a Rerun of Its Refugee Winter of Discontent

by Daniel Howden & Apostolis Fotiadis

News Deeply

October 10, 2017

The shelter offered to Amira since she got to Europe amounts to a plastic sheet she has slept under for the past ten days. The Syrian mother of three was taken to Vathy, a camp on the Greek island of Samos where nearly 3,000 people are spilling out of a facility built for 700. She struggles to explain to her children, who lost their father in the war, why they must sleep rough being bitten by insects.

“I had protected them until now from the war, but I can no longer protect them here,” said the 32-year-old, who has no diapers for her five-month-old daughter. “It makes me want to scream, but I can’t, not in front of the children.”

October downpours have signaled the coming of winter on Greece’s Aegean Islands and with it the very real prospect of another fiasco to match the frozen misery of last year when six people died. While conditions have improved for asylum seekers on the mainland, the deal between the European Union and Turkey that staunched the flow of refugees and migrants in March 2016 aimed to deter future arrivals by confining them to “hot spot” camps on five Greek islands.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Why Germany's Shakeup Won't Help Greece

by Leonid Bershidsky

Bloomberg

September 28, 2017

Those cheering the looming departure of Wolfgang Schaeuble from the German Ministry of Finance should hold the champagne. His successor may not be as ornery, but southern Europeans -- and above all Greeks -- shouldn't expect any better treatment.

Schaeuble has held a wide range of positions since he was first elected to the German parliament in 1972; he's been interior minister, chief of staff to the chancellor and the leader of the Christian Democratic Union, the party now headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel; he nearly became president at one point and chancellor at another. Only one of his post-World War II predecessors at the Ministry of Finance has served longer than his eight years, and not by much. But Schaeuble has always served his party in whatever position it could offer, and he'll still be a formidable figure as speaker of the parliament, formally the second most senior office-holder in Germany after the president, just ahead of the chancellor.

Schaeuble's protestant philosophy of political service is important for the understanding of his tenure as finance minister. Of course, it took personal conviction to steer his unwavering course of austerity, balanced budgets and respect for rules. Schaeuble was trained at the University of Freiburg, where ordoliberalism was developed in the 1930s through 1950s. This theory married a liberal, pro-market approach with a strong state, whose role is to maintain a high level of social security. Ordoliberalism has faded somewhat since the 1970s, but it still influences much of German economic thinking, and Schaeuble was close to its origins in his formative years. As finance minister late in his life, he tended to lean toward the "ordo" part. He once confessed to his brother: "The older I get and the more I see as finance minister, the more skeptical I get about capitalism."

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Statement on Greek Banking System

International Monetary Fund
September 28, 2017

Mr. Poul Thomsen, Director of the European Department, made the following statement at the FT Investment Management Summit in London today:

"On the subject of the Greek banking system, let me emphasize that we see no financial stability concerns at all in Greece. The issue is that we need to be sure that there is a strategy to deal with Greece's exceptionally high level of nonperforming loans over the medium term. In this regard, we had suggested to update the 2015 asset quality review (AQR) by next spring. The European Central Bank (ECB) has instead proposed bringing forward the already scheduled stress tests and undertaking targeted asset reviews, suggesting that this will allow us to gather the information necessary to assess whether the current strategy for ensuring the soundness of the banking system is adequate, without having to go through a full asset quality review. We think that this is a constructive proposal that achieves the same broad objectives, and we are now discussing the exact modalities with our colleagues at the ECB."

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Monday, September 25, 2017

Draghi: ECB may frontload 2018 bank stress tests with view to Greece

Reuters
September 25, 2017

The European Central Bank may ‘frontload’ its bank stress test next year, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday, when asked if supervisors plan any early checks on the health of Greek lenders.

The International Monetary Fund has been pushing for a fresh asset quality review at Greek banks, possibly as part of an bailout review that is slated to start soon.

The ECB has rejected the call, saying that the next check is the regular 2018 stress test, but Draghi’s words suggest that ECB may be somewhat flexible with its timeline.

“The SSM (Single Supervisory Mechanism) will take its decision with full independence,” Draghi told members of the European Parliament.

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EU ends Greece's deficit procedure in positive signal to markets

Reuters
September 25, 2017

European Union states decided on Monday to close disciplinary procedures against Greece over its excessive deficit after improvements in Greece’s fiscal position, confirming the country’s recovery is on the right track.

The move, although largely symbolic, sends a new signal that Greece’s public finances are again under control, facilitating the country’s plans to tap markets after a successful issue of bonds in July which ended a three-year exile.

EU fiscal rules oblige member states to keep their budget deficits below 3 percent of their economic output or face sanctions that could entail hefty fines, although so far no country has received a financial penalty.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

When Is It Dangerous to Declare a Crisis Over?

by Jeremy Grant

Strategy & Business

September 18, 2017

When is it a good time to declare that a crisis is over? This is not an academic question. For people leading large organizations and governments, crises are part of the new normal. A recent PwC survey of chief executives found that 65 percent of CEOs had experienced at least one crisis in the past three years. About one-third predicted they would face more than one crisis in the next three years compared with just 16 percent who felt they’d face fewer.

There has been no shortage of corporate crises in the headlines recently, from the massive IT outage that hit British Airways in May, to the hack of Equifax data that was made public in early September. And for the past decade, the authorities that oversee the European economy have been grappling with a financial and economic crisis that began in 2007.

There is, of course, a natural tendency to want to see a crisis as being behind us when not all the facts support that view. Among the many cognitive biases humans grapple with is one that leads us to have, as Madan Pillutla, a professor in organizational behavior at London Business School puts it, a “more positive forecast for things than is statistically likely or possible.”

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

The eurozone may be back on its feet. But is Greece?

by Helena Smith

Observer

September 16, 2017

Is the eurozone on the mend? Jean-Claude Juncker certainly thinks so. The EU president was upbeat in Brussels last week as he gave his annual state-of-the-union address, proclaiming that “the wind is back in Europe’s sails”.

Juncker’s optimism appeared to match the view from Greece, the currency bloc’s problem child. In Athens only the previous week, the visiting French president, Emmanuel Macron, had been even more enthusiastic, declaring against the backdrop of the Acropolis that Greece’s prolonged crisis was over, and that therefore Europe’s was too.

Macron’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, went further, calling the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, “a real leader [who] works for the common good … a prime minister who works with great courage”.

But if progress on Greece’s privatisation programme is anything to go by, the eurozone’s most troubled economy is still in the foothills of recovery. Despite signs of resurgence – at 0.7%, Greece recorded two consecutive quarters of growth this year for the first time since 2006, and made a successful test return to the markets – foreign sell-offs have been plagued by red tape and political resistance.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A New Challenge Looms for Greece’s Far Left

by Yannis Palaiologos

Wall Street Journal

September 13, 2017

Among the casualties of Greece’s extended economic crisis has been the country’s establishment left. The near-decimation of the center-left Pasok party has meant that in recent years the political space between the governing Syriza party on the far left and the parties of the center-right has had little effective representation. But now, after many false starts, an effort is under way to re-energize the center-left with a new political party, and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is concerned.

Pasok governed Greece for 21 of the 30 years between 1981 and 2011, never dropping below 38% in parliamentary elections. Under the weight of its own mishandling of the country’s fiscal collapse, however, the party’s support nosedived to 12% from 44% in two-and-half years. By the January 2015 election, its support plummeted below 5%. Meanwhile, Syriza won 35% of the vote in 2015, up from less than 5% in the October 2009 election.

Several initiatives since then to regroup and unify the ranks between Syriza and the center-right New Democracy party achieved little. The legacy of fragmentation and conflicting personal strategies that long bedevilled the political center seemed impossible to overcome.

Meanwhile, Mr. Tsipras’s abandonment of his radical agenda and his embrace, however half-hearted, of the reform-and-austerity policies of his predecessors, made him a plausible candidate to take up the leadership of Greek social democracy.

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Forget the Parthenon: how austerity is laying waste to Athens' modern heritage

by Helena Smith

Guardian

September 12, 2017

Not that long ago I received a questionnaire through my door. How had the 1930s Bauhaus building in which I live survived the rigours of time? Who had designed it? Who was its first owner? And, the form went on, what were my memories of it?

Circulated far and wide across Athens, the questionnaire and its findings are part of a vast inventory of 19th- and early 20th-century buildings that now stand at the heart of a burgeoning cultural heritage crisis in Greece. At least 10,600 buildings are on the database and it is growing by the day.

Against a backdrop of economic recession – the price of three gargantuan bailouts to keep the debt-stricken country afloat – home maintenance has become a luxury few can afford. With bank loans frozen and cuts and tax increases straining budgets, many of the buildings have been allowed to fall into disrepair, or have been pulled down altogether.

“In the present climate, people just don’t have the money to restore them,” says Irini Gratsia, co-founder of Monumenta, the association of archaeologists and architects that is collating the database. “There is a great danger that many will be demolished not because their owners want new builds, but because they want to avoid property taxes announced since the crisis began.”

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Greece: Where Literally Sitting on Goldmine Is Not Enough to Make Money

by Sotiris Nikas, Paul Tugwell & Danielle Bochove

Bloomberg

September 11, 2017

Eldorado Gold Corp. has put Greece on the spot.

The Canadian mining company’s decision on Monday to suspend all its operations in Greece, citing delays in acquiring routine permits, puts the Syriza government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in a difficult position. Eldorado Gold is the largest foreign investor in Greece and its decision comes as the country, which is working on creating a sustainable path to exit its bailout program, tries to lure foreign investments.

“Irrespective of what will happen next, the damage for Greece as an investment destination is done and it is very significant,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence in London.

The Greek economy has shrunk by more than 25 percent since Europe’s sovereign debt crisis began in 2008. Since 2010, the country has been under bailout programs with stringent belt-tightening requirements. It has been working on attracting investments like Eldorado’s to end the bailouts and tackle high unemployment.

Eldorado’s decision “is a major blow for the Greek economy,” Mujtaba Rahman, managing director of Eurasia said. “It will make it harder for Syriza to successfully exit the bailout next year.”

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Eldorado Gold threatens to freeze Greek operations

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

September 11, 2017

Eldorado Gold, the biggest foreign investor in Greece, threatened to suspend its operations in the country in the first test for Alexis Tsipras and his leftwing Syriza government over their new policy of welcoming private investment.

Less than 48 hours after the premier told a business conference that a drive for “Grinvestment” had replaced the fear of a “Grexit” [from the euro], the Vancouver-based miner said it planned to put a $3bn mining investment in north Greece on hold because of delays in securing permits from the development ministry.

George Burns, chief executive, on Monday said Eldorado would shut all its operations in Greece on September 22 if key permits for two gold extraction projects were not issued in the next few days.

“This decision is not one we’ve taken lightly,” Mr Burns said in Athens. ‘We’ve held several meetings with development minister [George] Stathakis and were encouraged [to believe] the permits would be issued. But we’re still waiting.

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No escape from debtors’ prison for Greece

by Hugo Dixon

Reuters

September 11, 2017

Alexis Tsipras is desperate to avoid “suffocating supervision” of Greece’s actions when the country’s third bailout programme ends next August. At the weekend, he promised as much. But the best the Greek prime minister can hope for is that Athens will move from its current high-security prison to an open one – and that will happen only if he behaves.

Tsipras wants a clean exit from the 86 billion euro bailout so he has a good story to tell Greek voters in advance of an election that has to be held no later than September 2019. The socialist leader is currently trailing the conservative opposition in the opinion polls because of a string of broken promises and errors that have damaged the economy.

However, if Greece could escape its debtors’ prison – which involves detailed monitoring of the government’s actions by the euro zone and the International Monetary Fund and is seen as an affront to national pride – Tsipras might conceivably win a future election. Failing that, he might at least avoid an electoral wipeout and live to fight another day.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Emmanuel Macron to stress EU financial solidarity in Athens

by Anne-Sylvaine Chassany & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

September 7, 2017

Emmanuel Macron will make the case for an overhaul of the eurozone during a two-day state visit to Greece designed to mark the member of the single-currency union’s relative return to normality.

The French president and his wife are flying to Athens with about 40 French executives on Thursday to emphasise the need for more financial solidarity with weaker members of the eurozone, in the form of investment and a common budget to help prevent new existential crises in the bloc, Elysée aides said.

The leader is pushing for the EU to adopt tighter labour rules, more protective trade tools and more stimulus, in exchange for more budget discipline at home and deregulation in the French jobs market — a bargain that Germany is showing signs it might consider.

Mr Macron has said he would like each country’s contribution to the future eurozone budget to amount to “several” gross domestic product percentage points.

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Monday, September 4, 2017

Moscovici: Greek bailout was a ‘scandal’ for democratic procedures

by Sarantis Michalopoulos

EURACTIV.com

September 4, 2017

The Eurogroup’s handling of Greece’s bailout programme was a scandal in terms of democratic processes, Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici insisted in an interview with Corriere della Sera.

After eight years of crisis and tough austerity-driven policies, the French Commissioner admitted that the Eurogroup’s decisions “behind closed doors” on the Greek bailout was a scandal in terms of democratic processes.

In June, the much-awaited second assessment of Greece’s third bailout was successfully concluded. On Tuesday (5 September), Moscovici will meet Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos in order to start the negotiations on the third evaluation.

“It is a scandal in terms of democratic processes, not because the decisions were scandalous, but because by deciding in this way the fate of a nation, imposing detailed decisions on pensions, the labor market,” Moscovici told Corriere della Sera.

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Greek economy expands in second quarter, net exports help

by George Georgiopoulos

Reuters

September 1, 2017

Greece’s economy expanded for a second straight quarter between April and June, its statistics service said on Friday, driven by gains in exports and higher government spending.

The seasonally adjusted data showed gross domestic product expanded 0.5 percent in the second quarter from the first, at the same pace as in the previous three months, for which growth was upwardly revised.

Annual growth accelerated to 0.8 percent from 0.4 percent growth.

The economy’s gradual recovery after a deep recession that shrank it by a quarter and drove unemployment to record highs is boosting hopes that Greece will be able to emerge successfully from years of bailouts.

“The reading was in line with our forecasts. Growth was based on an increase in net exports and a continuing strengthening of consumption,” said National Bank economist Nikos Magginas.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Syriza revives radical policies to placate supporters

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

August 29, 2017

After the reforms came the backlash.

Greece’s cabinet may be focused on implementing economic reforms agreed in return for an €86bn third international bailout.

But the government has also revived some of its radical policies in an effort to placate its core supporters, fearful that the leftwing party has gone soft under pressure from the bailout monitors.

Measures adopted last month by the Syriza government of Alexis Tsipras, prime minister, take aim at the party’s traditional enemies: high-earning lawyers and doctors, foreign-trained academics and private investors from abroad.

A tax squeeze on Greek professionals is being tightened, new legislation on universities rolls back reforms aimed at boosting academic standards, and the authorities are further delaying a €1.5bn gold extraction project by Canada’s Eldorado Gold, the country’s largest foreign investor.

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Chastised by E.U., a Resentful Greece Embraces China’s Cash and Interests

by Jason Horowitz & Liz Alderman

New York Times

August 26, 2017

After years of struggling under austerity imposed by European partners and a chilly shoulder from the United States, Greece has embraced the advances of China, its most ardent and geopolitically ambitious suitor.

While Europe was busy squeezing Greece, the Chinese swooped in with bucket-loads of investments that have begun to pay off, not only economically but also by apparently giving China a political foothold in Greece, and by extension, in Europe.

Last summer, Greece helped stop the European Union from issuing a unified statement against Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. This June, Athens prevented the bloc from condemning China’s human rights record. Days later it opposed tougher screening of Chinese investments in Europe.

Greece’s diplomatic stance hardly went unnoticed by its European partners or by the United States, all of which had previously worried that the country’s economic vulnerability might make it a ripe target for Russia, always eager to divide the bloc.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Europe Owes More to a truth-teller in Athens

by Thanos Catsambas

Wall Street Journal

August 22, 2017

Few debacles in recent memory better represent the moral collapse of modern Greek society than the persecution of Andreas Georgiou. This endless ordeal is the culmination of failure at multiple levels of stakeholders, not least of which being the European institutions that have repeatedly bailed the country out over the past seven years.

From 1997 to 2009, a succession of Greek governments provided false data to the European Commission’s bureau of statistics, Eurostat. This led to three years of underreported deficits, which prevented Greece from taking earlier and more effective measures, according to EU rules. Reports from the Commission and the European Parliament have noted that some of these data were outright fraudulent. The term “Greek statistics” began to assume derogatory connotations.

Mr. Georgiou, a former member of the statistics department at the International Monetary Fund, in August 2010 took over the Greek statistics office, known as Elstat, and began to improve the quality of the data. His efforts helped remove the reservations international creditors had about the quality of the information coming out of Elstat.

Mr. Georgiou’s long-overdue truth-telling about the government’s finances revealed that Athens had been spending far beyond its means for many years. Crucially, the new reliability of Greek statistics also enabled the rescues that international creditors have offered Greece since 2010. Other eurozone governments and the IMF wouldn’t have provided these loans to save Greece from bankruptcy had they been unable to trust Elstat.

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Greece in Crisis: The Cultural Politics of Austerity

Edited by Dimitris Tziovas

I.B. Tauris Publishers

July 2017

Since 2010 Greece has been experiencing the longest period of austerity and economic downturn in its recent history. Economic changes may be happening more rapidly and be more visible than the cultural effects of the crisis which are likely to take longer to become visible, however in recent times, both at home and abroad, the Greek arts scene has been discussed mainly in terms of the crisis. While there is no shortage of accounts of Greece’s economic crisis by financial and political analysts, the cultural impact of austerity has yet to be properly addressed. This book analyses hitherto uncharted cultural aspects of the Greek economic crisis by exploring the connections between austerity and culture. Covering literary, artistic and visual representations of the crisis, it includes a range of chapters focusing on different aspects of the cultural politics of austerity such as the uses of history and archaeology, the brain drain and the Greek diaspora, Greek cinema, museums, music festivals, street art and literature as well as manifestations of how the crisis has led Greeks to rethink or question cultural discourses and conceptions of identity.

Dimitris Tziovas is Professor of Modern Greek Studies at the University of Birmingham. He has served as Director of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Birmingham and as Secretary of the European Association of Modern Greek Studies. He is the author of The Other Self: Selfhood and Society in Modern Greek Fiction and editor of Re-imagining the Past: Greek Antiquity and Modern Greek Culture.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Minister’s court win intensifies fears for rule of law in Greece

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

August 9, 2017

Fears for the independence of the Greek judicial system are mounting after the foreign minister won a court order freezing the bank accounts of a leading magazine over a reader’s letter describing him as a former “fanatical” Stalinist.

The ruling in favour of Nikos Kotzias has drawn sharp criticism from academics and public figures, who say it violates EU law on freedom of expression. It also highlights broader concern over perceived interference in the justice system by the leftwing Syriza government.

The concerns widened beyond Greece last week when senior eurozone officials warned the government that the continued prosecution of Andreas Georgiou, its former statistics chief, over claims he inflated the size of the country’s budget deficit in 2009, threatened to drive a wedge between Athens and its euro area creditors.

The affair comes as Brussels is already locked in stand-offs with Poland and Hungary over the rule of law that have raised questions over the EU’s ability to enforce the democratic standards at the core of the European project.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Lessons for the eurozone from Greece’s painful crisis years

by George Pagoulatos

Financial Times

August 7, 2017

Greece is finally growing again. But it has been arguably the eurozone’s greatest failure. Catapulted into a debt crisis with a 15 per cent government spending deficit in 2009, the country suffered eight years of economic contraction. Unemployment is still 23 per cent, youth unemployment 45 per cent. Greece’s “Great Depression” has been as deep as that of the US in the early 1930s, but twice as long.

Can Europe learn from the country’s painful experience? A first lesson is to reform at the top of the cycle. Greece had to adjust in recession because it failed to do so in its pre-crisis boom. Reforms should always be adopted in times of growth, when people are confident and losers can be compensated. An upswing can buy time to implement reforms, but should not be invoked as evidence that reforms are unnecessary. The eurozone is now in its strongest period of post-crisis recovery. But it should avoid complacency. Reforms are necessary for the long-term viability of the monetary union. We need a stabilisation budget and joint-borrowing capacity; greater risk sharing; and financial union to break the doom loop between banks and government.

After September’s election in Germany, and assuming Emmanuel Macron delivers domestic reforms in France, Europe will be at the top of its political cycle. This is the time to push ahead with eurozone reforms. They will require painful concessions: the Germans refuse joint deposit insurance or a fiscal backstop, the French are not keen to surrender control over the national budget and the Italians reject ceilings on bank exposure to sovereign debt. But something must give.

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Elstat suspends preliminary Greek GDP estimate after discrepancies

by Kerin Hope & Eleftheria Kourtali

Financial Times

August 7, 2017

Greece’s statistical agency will no longer public “flash” estimates of the country’s gross domestic product after delays in data collection have led to frequent revisions of official growth figures.

Elstat said on Monday that its second quarter GDP estimate for 2017, which was due to be announced on August 14, would not be made public. Instead it said the provisional estimate, which is calculated using a bigger range of inputs from the economy, would be published on September 1 as scheduled.

The agency said it decided to suspend the flash estimate “in order to explore the availability of the necessary data sources that would help improve the consistency of the flash estimate.”

An Elstat official said some data used to calculate the flash estimate was incomplete, making revisions necessary when updated figures arrived.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

A legal farce calls Greek reform into question

Financial Times
Editorial
August 6, 2017


After years of punishing austerity, Greece finally has grounds to hope it will regain its financial independence when its bailout programme ends next summer. The economy has returned to modest growth. Against expectations, Athens has hit its fiscal targets and secured a pledge of further debt relief from creditors. Yet despite the huge efforts made to put the public finances on a more sustainable trajectory, there remain serious doubts over the government’s commitment to reform the Greek state, rid institutions of political influence and guarantee the rule of law.

The conviction last week of Andreas Georgiou, the country’s former chief statistician, for “violating” his duties during the sovereign debt crisis, is especially worrying. Mr Georgiou has for six years been fighting accusations that, as head of Elstat, the statistical agency, he inflated Greece’s 2009 budget deficit, forcing the country to undergo deeper austerity.

No matter that he had been acquitted of these charges a few months earlier, only to have the case reopened. No matter that the EU’s statisticians — whose standards he was supposed to be following — have endorsed both the procedures he followed and the figures he produced, describing last week’s trial as a “preset farce”. Mr Georgiou — a former IMF official and thus part of a hated international technocracy — is a convenient scapegoat for the failures of Greece’s political class.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Greece scapegoats a statistician who only did his job

Washington Post
Editorial
August 4, 2017


In Greece, the lucrative tourism industry is threatened this summer by millions of oversized jellyfish washing ashore on the nation’s beaches. An even slimier development is the ongoing persecution of the country’s first independent chief statistician, whose tough-minded steps to straighten out Greece’s notoriously fraudulent economic data have been repaid with farcical prosecutions by a judicial system rapidly discrediting itself in the world’s eyes.

Andreas Georgiou, an American-trained economist who spent two decades working at the International Monetary Fund, was hired as Greece’s top statistician in 2010 as the country’s debt crisis was spiraling out of control. His goal was to honestly report economic data that for years had been fudged by politicians and officials seeking to minimize their own fateful fiscal mismanagement.

Having done just that, by applying reporting standards widely accepted across Europe, he is now scapegoated as the cause of the painful austerity program imposed on Greece by the IMF and European Union. Four times in recent years, an array of criminal accusations against Mr. Georgiou have been dismissed by prosecutors, only to be revived by judicial authorities amid fury by politicians and media outlets. This month, an Athens appeals court gave Mr. Georgiou a two-year suspended sentence — essentially for reporting accurate information to European authorities during the debt crisis.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

By convicting an honest statistician, Greece condemns itself

by Megan Greene

Politico

August 3, 2017

Greek economic data is completely unreliable. That’s what I told Andreas Georgiou — as politely as I could — shortly after he had been put in charge of the Greek statistics agency in 2010.

He must not have been surprised at my answer. After all, that was exactly the problem he had been hired to fix by ensuring that the agency broke free of political influence.

And fix it he did, injecting the agency with a stiff dose of independence and markedly improving the data it produced.

His reward? Prosecution and, ultimately, conviction.

On Tuesday, Georgiou was handed a two-year suspended sentence for “breach of duty” during his stint at the head of the statistics agency, Elstat — a travesty that goes beyond the unfair treatment of one statistician to questions about the progress of Greece’s economic recovery and the sustainability of the eurozone.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Eurozone officials in warning on Greece statistics trial ‘farce’

by Jim Brunsden, Arthur Beesley & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

August 2, 2017

Senior eurozone officials have warned that the continued prosecution in Greece of its former statistics chief is threatening to drive a wedge between Athens and its euro area creditors, only weeks after the country brokered a deal on the next stages of its €86bn bailout.

A suspended sentence handed down this week against Andreas Georgiou has prompted consternation among EU policymakers, reviving what many capitals fear is a series of politically motivated trials intended to restore the economic reputation of previous governments.

The long-running affair is likely to be put on the agenda of eurozone finance ministers in September amid “concern about the conviction across institutions”, said a diplomat. The judicial proceedings centre on Mr Georgiou’s time in charge of Elstat, the independent statistics agency set up as a condition of the first Greek bailout.

In remarks on Twitter that reflect deep unease in Brussels at Mr Georgiou’s conviction, Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission vice-president, said he was following developments with concern. It was “important that [the] independence of Elstat and people who do their jobs are protected in line with the law”, said Mr Dombrovskis, who has responsibility for euro affairs.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Former Greek data chief given suspended sentence

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

August 1, 2017

An Athens appeal court has handed Greece’s former statistics a two-year suspended sentence for “violating” his duties during the country’s sovereign debt crisis.

The conviction of Andreas Georgiou came as a surprise as the former chairman of country’s statistical agency, Elstat, had been acquitted of the same charges by another appeals court only eight months ago. The case was reopened by Greece’s top prosecutor on grounds that a possible misjudgment had occurred.

Mr Georgiou is seen by many in Athens as the victim of a campaign to shift the blame for Greece’s financial mismanagement away from the New Democracy government who ran the country in the run-up to the debt crisis and which is blamed for borrowing recklessly on international markets.

The former statistics chief is accused of deliberately inflating the 2009 budget deficit figure from 13.6 per cent to 15.4 per cent of gross domestic product so that Greece would be forced to seek additional bailout aid and prolong harsh austerity policies required by the EU and International Monetary Fund, his former employer.

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Greek Court Finds Former Statistics Chief Guilty of Breaching Duties

by Marcus Walker

Wall Street Journal

August 1, 2017

A Greek court found the country’s former top statistician guilty of breaching his duties, ruling he should have sought approval before he told European Union authorities of the full extent of Greece’s budget deficit at the start of its debt crisis.

The Athens Appeals Court handed Andreas Georgiou, head of Greece’s official statistics agency in 2010-2015, a two-year suspended jail sentence on Monday for his handling in 2010 of the revision of Greece’s deficit data for previous years.

Mr. Georgiou denies any wrongdoing and has won widespread support from international statisticians, who say he is the victim of unjust persecution.

The EU has repeatedly certified that Mr. Georgiou reported Greece’s fiscal data accurately, in contrast with earlier Greek practices that EU bodies have said deliberately hid the scale of the country’s deficits.

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Monday, July 31, 2017

Greece’s former data chief ‘violated’ his duties, court told

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

July 31, 2017

An appeals court prosecutor has called for Greece’s former statistics chief to be convicted for “violating” his duties during the period when the country was gripped by a worsening sovereign debt crisis.

Andreas Georgiou is accused of failing to hold the correct board meetings when he was chairman of Elstat, the Greek statistical agency, and of secretly endorsing austerity policies backed by the International Monetary Fund, his former employer.

“He neglected his duties by failing to hold the required monthly meeting of the board of directors . . . What did he want? To be the sole arbiter of Greek statistics and the star of the show?” prosecutor Lambros Patsavelis told a packed court in his summing up of the case against Mr Georgiou.

The former Elstat chief, who denies the charges, is facing his second trial over the affair after being acquitted in December by an appeals court. A senior Greek prosecutor ordered the case to be reopened with a different panel of judges, after examining documents from earlier hearings.

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Greece’s Road to Bailout Exit: 140 Reforms Down, Many More to Go

by Eleni Chrepa & Sotiris Nikas

Bloomberg

July 31, 2017

Greece’s hard times aren’t over.

A return to the bond market last week, the pledge of 8.5 billion euros ($9.5 billion) in new loans from euro-area creditors, the possibility of more money from the International Monetary Fund and a S&P Global Ratings outlook upgrade have coalesced to bolster investor sentiment that Greece has turned a corner.

Trouble is, much depends on the country implementing reforms -- dozens of the 140 measures agreed to are in various stages of application and more than 100 additional actions are needed to access the remaining 26.9 billion euros in funds before the current bailout program ends in August 2018.

While the evidence of belt-tightening is everywhere in Greece, from falling incomes to rising poverty, the country has less to show in terms of structural overhauls. Creditor demands for more measures threaten to become politically explosive as Greek citizens and businesses count the cost of the financial crisis that has thrown their lives into turmoil over the last seven years.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Crisis-Plagued Europe Sees a New Dawn After Greek Market Return

by Viktoria Dendrinou & Nikos Chrysoloras

Bloomberg

July 27, 2017

Five years after the sovereign debt crisis nearly tore the euro area apart, the currency bloc’s biggest problem child appears on the road to recovery as the region continues to tick off boxes underscoring its revival.

Greece sold 3 billion euros ($3.5 billion) of bonds this week for the first time since 2014, when the prospect of Alexis Tsipras’s election catapulted borrowing costs to unsustainable levels. The country’s return from the wilderness comes as a new French president has raised expectations about deeper economic integration following successive defeats of europhobic parties.

While there are still uncertainties clouding the euro area’s outlook, Greece’s rebound draws a line under a seven-year crisis, when the fight to preserve the currency union had become a daily routine.

“The euro zone’s recovery is real and political risk has receded,” said Manolis Galenianos, a professor of economics at the Royal Holloway, University of London. “This is not a facade.”

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Greece Still Hasn't Turned the Corner

Bloomberg
Editorial
July 26, 2017


Greece returned to the private debt market this week for the first time in years, raising 3 billion euros at a relatively affordable interest rate of 4.6 percent. That’s encouraging news -- but it doesn’t mean the euro zone’s most flattened economy is on course for sustained growth.

The economy is showing signs of life, growing a bit in the first quarter, and the government has gotten a tighter grip on the budget. But Greece’s long-term debt position is still dire, and its deeper structural reforms have barely begun. Greece hasn’t yet put its problems behind it.

Investors are apparently willing to take an optimistic view of their likelihood of getting repaid. The International Monetary Fund has helped fuel this optimism by approving “in principle” new assistance to Greece, which serves as a seal of approval for its policies and those of its euro-zone official creditors.

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Greek bond sale wins rare praise from Germany’s Schäuble

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

July 26, 2017

Two years ago Wolfgang Schäuble said “it would be better” for Greece to leave the eurozone. But in rare praise this week Germany’s steely finance minister struck a much warmer note.

“Greece has carried out many reforms and is on a good path,” said Mr Schäuble in a media interview — support that shows how far the country has come since the EU’s tense five-month stand-off in 2015 with the leftwing government of Alexis Tsipras.

His comments came in the same week that Greece returned successfully to the sovereign debt market with a €3bn bond offering, which was more than twice subscribed. A buoyant Mr Tsipras hailed the issue as “the most significant step towards ending this unpleasant adventure of the memorandum [bailout].” Euclid Tsakalotos, the finance minister, said Greece would hold another two or three bond sales in the coming months with the aim of building a sufficient cash buffer to keep the government afloat after it exits an €86bn bailout in August next year.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Greece stages a welcome return to capital markets

Financial Times
Editorial
July 25, 2017


It is precisely five years since Mario Draghi declared the European Central Bank ready “to do whatever it takes” to preserve the euro. With the eurozone’s recovery in full swing and the ECB starting to edge towards an exit from stimulus, there could be few better ways to mark the anniversary than a successful sovereign bond issue by Greece — the biggest casualty of the single currency area’s debt crisis.

The €3bn sale of a 5-year bond — of which about half came from existing investors who swapped their holdings of debt maturing in 2019 — is a tentative first step. It may say as much about investors’ desperate search for yield as it does about Greece’s rehabilitation with capital markets (a yield of 4.625 per cent on the new bond is less impressive than it seems, given the negative yield on German 5-year debt). Yet it is still a breakthrough to be celebrated.

The last time Athens was able to raise money on the open market was in 2014, shortly before the radical Syriza coalition arrived in government, throwing Greece’s bailout programme into disarray. Yet for all the turbulence, investors who bought those bonds — even as recently as February — stand to make a healthy profit.

Yesterday’s bond sale is a reflection of the progress Greece has made and a precondition of further progress.

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Greece Gets Solid Demand for First Bond Issuance in Three Years

by Nektaria Stamouli, Christopher Whittall & Emese Bartha

Wall Street Journal

July 25, 2017

Greece got solid demand Tuesday for its first bond issuance in three years, in what the government sees as the first of several moves that will enable the debt-ridden country to wean itself from new bailouts.

Tuesday’s deal included an invitation for holders of a bond coming due in 2019 to swap their securities for new ones due in 2022.

Greece sold €3 billion worth of the 2022 bond, Greek government officials and bankers said. About half of that is new money, and half is existing investors in the 2019 bond who switched, according to one of the banks managing the deal.

The new bond matures in August 2022 and will yield 4.625%. The 2019 bond is yielding around 3.2%, so investors will be paid a decent premium for participating in the swap.

Greek bonds have been on a tear of late. Greece paid €102.60 per €100 face value of the 2019 bond. A year ago, the bond was trading below €90.

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Greece Raises EU3 Billion in Bond Market Return After 3 Years

by Sotiris Nikas, Eleni Chrepa & Lyubov Pronina

Bloomberg

July 25, 2017

Greece raised 3 billion euros ($3.5 billion) in its first tapping of the bond market since 2014, with investors piling in on expectations the worst may be over for what was once the epicenter of Europe’s debt crisis.

Yield-hungry investors welcomed the new Greek paper, which carried a 4.625 percent yield. The sale by the sub-investment-grade rated country drew 6.5 billion euros in more than 200 offers, said a Greek government official, requesting anonymity because the information is not public. Greece’s last five-year bonds in April 2014 priced at 4.95 percent. Greece sold the new bonds along with a tender offer for the notes due 2019.

With the sale, the government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is seeking to chalk out a path for an exit from the current bailout program, which ends in August 2018, while also capping the country’s financing needs in 2019 -- expected to be about 19 billion euros. Greece decided to test the markets after it failed to convince creditors to immediately reduce its debt burden and was left out of the European Central Bank’s bond-purchase program.

The outcome “was better than we expected,” Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said in comments broadcast live on state-run ERT TV. “This is not the end. There will be a second and a third” bond sale to ensure the country exits its bailout program in August 2018, he said.

“Tsipras left behind ‘collision economics’ a long time ago, and has apparently decided that the best strategy for re-election in 2019 is to exit the bailout program,” Nicholas Wall, manager at Old Mutual Global Investors, said in e-mailed comments.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Greece Looks to Turn a Corner After Years of Economic Pain

by Liz Alderman

New York Times

July 24, 2017

Greece, long Europe’s economic problem child, is trying to prove that it has made progress in its recovery efforts by announcing plans to sell debt for the first time in years.

The proposed bond sale, the details of which were released on Monday, offered hope that Greece might at last be preparing to wean itself off the international bailouts totaling 326 billion euros, or about $380 billion, that it has relied on since 2010 to stay afloat.

The sale is a pivotal moment in the painfully fought efforts of Greece to recover from troubles stemming from the financial crisis that began on Wall Street nearly a decade ago and that at one point threatened to break up Europe’s currency union.

If investor interest is strong, it would be a landmark moment, not only for Greece but also for the eurozone, the 19 countries that use the euro. If Greece struggles to find buyers, however, the debt sale could represent yet another blow for a country that has only recently started to see signs of a turnaround after nearly veering out of the currency union just two summers ago.

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Greece names six banks for first bond issue since 2014

Financial Times
July 24, 2017

The Greek government has hired six banks to manage its return to the international bond markets after three years.

Goldman Sachs, Citi, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, BNP Paribas, and Bank of America Merrill Lynch will manage the deal to issue a five-year bond maturing in 2022 – Greece’s first since 2014. The new debt is due to launch tomorrow.

Greece’s left-wing Syriza government has eyed a return to the debt markets to underscore its economic rehabilitation after it was bought to the brink of a eurozone exit two years ago. The government has managed to secure its latest tranche of bailout cash and is looking to slowly build up its cash buffers ahead of the end of its current rescue programme in August 2018.

On Friday, S&P ratings upgraded its outlook on Greek government debt from stable to “positive” on the back of hopes the country will receive further debt relief from its EU creditors.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Greece on brink of return to sustainable growth, economists believe

by Tim Wallace

Daily Telegraph

July 23, 2017

Greece could be close to returning to sustainable economic growth at last after almost a decade of devastating recessions and crises, economists believe.

The country’s government is getting closer to restoring a degree of financial stability through the latest round of talks with the EU and the International Monetary Fund. After several false dawns, UBS’s chief economist for the region hopes that only a few more steps could be required to put the troubled economy firmly on the right track.

Gyorgy Kovacs believes that finalising the debt relief plan combined with Greece’s inclusion in the European Central Bank’s bond-buying programme would be one serious improvement, and that further improvements in economic sentiment, with the liberalisation of capital controls, is another.

“What we have seen is that, compared to the first quarter, there has been a positive turn in the economy. If we add on top of that the closure of the review, hopefully it will bring improved confidence into Greece,” he said.

“Hopefully it will allow the end of capital controls, or the easing of those.”

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Friday, July 21, 2017

To exit (to borrow from the markets) or not to exit: Greece’s new dilemma

by Theodore Pelagidis

Brookings Institution

July 21, 2017

Athens desperately needs to sell a 3 billion euro, five-year Greek government bond with a yield of around 4.5-4.7 percent as it strives to convince the markets—as well as domestic voters—that the economy is about to recover after eight years of depression and austerity. So, it is willing to pay much more than the 0.89-1.2 percent that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is currently charging as part of Greece’s bailout program. Indeed, on July 11, the ESM announced that 7.7 billion out of a total tranche of 8.5 billion euros would flow to the Greek state, of which 6.9 billion euros will cover loan maturities that expire this month. Then, on July 21, the board of the International Monetary Fund approved in principal a conditional loan worth as much as 1.6 billion euros for Greece—just the reassurance requested by many euro-area creditors. Yet Greece’s Gordian knot is far from untied and the most recent conditional acceptance by the fund regarding what amounts to a “precautionary stand-by arrangement” won’t translate to an immediate disbursement.

The urgent need for a “Grexit” to the global borrowing markets’ either amounts to a symbolic government effort to show investors that the economy is recovering or is something political. Despite recent optimism expressed about the likelihood of a Greed re-entry, its timing is far from guaranteed. According to the latest news, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF—also known as the troika—seem to have reacted by favoring a postponement of a bond issuance by Greece for the next few days, weeks, or even months. But questions remain, as the troika surely knew in advance about the Greek government’s intentions.

The IMF is insisting that Greece’s debt is hugely unsustainable, especially in the long-term. According to the fund, measures either taken or proposed so far by the Europeans, such as the 15-year interest deferral and maturity extension for some of the European Financial Stability Facility/ESM loans, won’t make the country’s debt burden sustainable. The IMF’s July 20 Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA) just confirmed this view. Greece is not qualified by any standard to exit its program and re-enter the markets. Among other things, such a move would add new debt to the already colossal burden it currently carries, which is equivalent to around 180 percent of GDP. So, even if Greece successfully borrows with a 4.5 percent interest rate, which will make the debt even more unsustainable, mainly by adding to the government’s gross financial needs (GFN).


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Greece Approved for $1.8 Billion Conditional Loan From IMF

by Marcus Bensasson, Viktoria Dendrinou & Andrew Mayeda

Bloomberg

July 21, 2017

The International Monetary Fund agreed to a new conditional bailout for Greece, ending two years of speculation on whether it would join in another rescue and giving the seal of approval demanded by many of the country’s euro-area creditors.

The Washington-based fund said Thursday its executive board approved “in principle” a new loan worth as much as $1.8 billion. The disbursement of funds is contingent on euro-zone countries providing debt relief to Greece.

“As we have said many times, even with full program implementation, Greece will not be able to restore debt sustainability and needs further debt relief from its European partners,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a statement. “A debt strategy anchored in more realistic assumptions needs to be agreed. I expect a plan to restore debt sustainability to be agreed soon between Greece and its European partners.”

IMF officials estimate that, even if Greece carries out promised reforms, the nation’s debt will reach about 150 percent of gross domestic product by 2030, and become “explosive” beyond that point. European creditors could bring the debt under control by extending grace periods, lengthening the maturity of the debt or deferring interest payments, the IMF said in a report accompanying the announcement.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Yes, Greece Can

by Marcus Ashworth

Bloomberg

July 19, 2017

Greece's hopes of returning to the debt markets after a three-year absence have been held up by one of its main creditors, the International Monetary Fund.

Under the strict conditions of its bailout, the country's debt burden is still too high to contemplate selling more debt, according to the IMF.

But there is a compromise option, which Greece should pursue.

The Hellenic Republic had been laying the groundwork to issue as much as 4 billion euros ($4.6 billion) in five-year bonds after repaying 6 billion euros of its existing debt this week. But the funds to pay down that debt came from the European Stability Mechanism, so Greece's overall debt hasn't been reduced, simply extended.

The IMF's opposition to issuing new debt doesn't stop Greece from shuffling its debt stack by lengthening maturities.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Greece aims to sell bonds for first time since 2014

by Kate Allen & Dan McCrum

Financial Times

July 17, 2017

Greece is looking to sell government bonds for the first time in three years in the latest sign of investor willingness to forget the past problems of former pariah sovereign borrowers.

The southern European nation is expected to sell a five-year bond this week or next, say bankers with knowledge of the plans.

Bond market conditions have steadied since the turbulence of last month when central banks signalled what appeared to be a co-ordinated shift towards monetary tightening, although benchmark yields have continued to tick upwards.

There is a “lot of positive momentum” and “credit markets still feel very healthy”, one banker said. “The market is open for Greece,” said another.

With much eurozone sovereign debt generating negative yields, investors are also on the hunt for paper offering better terms.

Last week an €813m auction of Greek 13-week treasury bills was priced at 2.33 per cent and attracted strong international demand, said the first banker.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Piraeus Bank Races to Reach ECB Target for Reducing Bad Loans

by Christos Ziotis

Bloomberg

July 17, 2017

The new chief executive officer of Piraeus Bank SA is trying to make up for lost time.

CEO Christos Megalou must offload 4 billion euros ($4.6 billion) in bad loans by the end of the year under a restructuring plan worked out with the European Central Bank’s supervisory arm months before he took over at the largest Greek lender.

"There is a decision of this management to accelerate the implementation of the restructuring plan in order to pay back state aid as soon as possible," Megalou said in an interview at the bank’s headquarters in Athens. Piraeus has received 2.72 billion euros in government funding since November 2015, and Greece’s rescue fund owns more than a quarter of the lender.

Megalou got a late start on the overhaul, joining the bank from Eurobank Ergasias SA only in March after a leadership struggle that makes him the third CEO in less than two years. Two predecessors stepped down in a dispute with Paulson & Co. Inc., one of the lender’s main shareholders.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Greece Should Avoid Tapping Bond Market Too Early, Says Central Bank Chief

by Tom Fairless & Nektaria Stamouli

Wall Street Journal

July 11, 2017

Greece’s central-bank governor said the country has no need to return to bond markets this year, and called on the government to focus instead on privatizations as a way to win investors’ confidence.

“I think it’s a bit early” to tap public markets, Yannis Stournaras said in his first comments on the issue since Greece reached a deal with its international creditors in mid-June.

“I think it would be even better, for instance, if Greece proceeds with two or three emblematic privatizations in the period to come. That would be more helpful to tap markets later,” he said.

The comments indicate a division among top Greek officials over how to get the crisis-struck country back on its feet. Greece’s privatization program, which has repeatedly missed targets set under the country’s bailout, is lately speeding up, despite Greece’s left-wing government initially opposing many of the projects.

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Q&A With Greek Central Bank Chief Yannis Stournaras

by Tom Fairless & Nektaria Stamouli

Wall Street Journal

July 11, 2017

Greece’s central bank Governor Yannis Stournaras suggested the country has no immediate need to return to international markets and said the government should instead focus on proceeding with some big privatizations to win investors’ confidence. He also said the country’s European creditors should specify debt-relief measures or else the country may need another bailout program. Here is an abridged transcript of his conversation with Journal reporters in Athens on Monday.

WSJ: Greece reached an agreement with its creditors in June. What do you think about it—doesn’t it just kick the can down the road again?

Yannis Stournaras: No, I think it is a good agreement. It was long overdue. It will remove uncertainty regarding the payment of Greece’s obligations in July so it is important as such. Of course I would have preferred to have more clarity on debt relief because the expression regarding the extension of maturities of interest payments and amortization from zero to 15 years does not say much and did not allow the [European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund] to work out a debt sustainability analysis. So I hope that soon the Eurogroup will say something more about that and preferably closer to the 15 years.

WSJ: So you don’t think it gave much clarity regarding Greece’s debt?

YS: No it didn’t. It gave a direction, we now know the Eurogroup thinks of extending maturities, interest and amortization payments. And the closer this extension is to 15 years the better. As you may know, in the Bank of Greece we have done a study which shows that at a minimum we need about 8.5 years of weighted-average extension of interest payments to secure debt sustainability. But this is only a minimum, this is at the margin. So I prefer something closer to 15 years that the Eurogroup has included in the statement.

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Greece’s Antismoking Effort Has One Major Problem: Greeks

by Nektaria Stamouli

Wall Street Journal

July 10, 2017

When Katerina Dervenioti decided in 2013 to open a bar in central Athens, she was sure of one thing: there would be no smoking. She had always disliked it, and after all the government had passed a law banning smoking in interiors back in 2009.

It took only a few hours after opening her cafe in a trendy Athens neighborhood to be sure of a second thing: Greeks believe rules are meant to be broken.

Despite the law, patrons at her vintage-inspired spot lighted up without a thought. She removed ashtrays, added signs and spoke to customers directly, but it was futile. Customers now smoke all they want, she said, starting early in the morning with coffee and ending late at night with a cocktail.

In Greece, star athletes celebrate championships with cigarettes dangling from their lips—star center Ioannis Bourousis of the Panathinaikos basketball team was seen toking on a cigar at a bouzouki bar after a big win in June.

Taxi drivers smoke while driving, holding their cigarettes out an open window only when they have passengers.

On a recent visit by Amin Mohamed to the local municipality office to take care of paperwork for his dry-cleaning business, the smoke was so thick that he finally asked the employee there to put out his cigarette. The employee simply opened a window and kept on smoking, he said.

“Nothing will ever change,” Mr. Mohamed said.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

UN Says Current Talks to Reunify Cyprus End Without Agreement

by Paul Tugwell & Georgios Georgiou

Bloomberg

July 7, 2017

Efforts of the past 10 days to reach a landmark deal to end over four decades of division on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus ended without agreement, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said.

Despite the strong commitment and engagement of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot delegations, Greece, Turkey, the U.K. and the European Union as an observer, “I am deeply sorry to inform you that the conference on Cyprus was closed without an agreement being reached,” Guterres told reporters early Friday in the Swiss resort of Crans Montana.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded the north to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority against a coup to unite the island with Greece. It went on to take more territory and thousands of people were displaced. An agreement to stitch Cyprus back together would draw a line under one of the world’s biggest diplomatic challenges.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Greece Has Eliminated Its Trade Deficit, But at a High Cost

by Colombe Ladreit de Lacharrière & Melina Kolb

Peterson Institute for International Economics

July 5, 2017


Greece has erased what used to be a very large current account deficit between 2007 and 2016. This would appear to be good news, but it is not. The reason is that the deficit was reduced by Greece cutting back on imports, not on boosting exports, a result of a dramatic drop in economic output.

A reduction of the trade deficit through a decrease in imports is usually welcome when high imports reflect an unsustainable boom. Greece's output gap, a measure of how much an economy is operating above or below its optimal level, was 8.9 percent in 2007 based on the latest data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Ideally, Greece would have eased the output gap to zero percent and lowered imports in the process. Instead, economic output collapsed to a level far below potential, with the gap reaching –11.8 percent in 2016.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Greek trash collectors back to work after 2-week protest

Associated Press
June 29, 2017

Greek municipal garbage collectors on Thursday decided to return to work after nearly two weeks of protests that left mounds of uncollected refuse in the streets amid a heatwave.

The municipal workers’ union, which wants employees on fixed-time contracts to be granted full-time jobs, said rubbish collection trucks would hit the streets beginning at midnight Thursday.

The decision came two days after unionists rejected a compromise proposed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that would see workers’ contracts renewed for several months until full-time hirings are arranged.

The leftist government had initially pledged permanent jobs for long-term contract workers, but it faced tight budget obligations under Greece’s international bailout agreements.

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Greece Gets Investor Thumbs Up on Possible Return to Bond Market

by Sotiris Nikas & Anchalee Worrachate

Bloomberg

June 29, 2017

If Greece returns to the bond market this year, Mark Dowding would be a buyer.

“We have been bullish on Greece over the past year or so,” said the partner and portfolio manager at BlueBay Asset Management in London, which owns some long-dated Greek bonds. “We’ve also formed the view that lenders would remain committed to helping Greece. I feel relatively confident that Greece will be returning to market in the second half of this year.”

The change in sentiment toward Greece -- the epicenter of the European financial crisis -- is reflected in the fact that country’s bond yields are the lowest since before the turmoil even as the debt remains deep in junk territory. Adding to investor confidence, Greece’s euro-area creditors agreed to release 8.5 billion euros ($9.5 billion) in new loans on June 15 even as they postponed until mid-2018 a binding decision on what measures they will provide to ease the country’s burden.

Although Athens has not definitively said it will be selling bonds this year, many in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s administration say the question is not if but when. A successful second bailout review, an improved economy and greater support from euro-area partners may embolden Greece to consider a return to the market for the first time since 2014. All indications are that yield-hungry investors would welcome new Greek paper even though the country isn’t part of the European Central Bank’s quantitative-easing program.