Greece Shows What Happens When The Welfare Ponzi Ends

Tyler Durden's picture

When no more money flows in, to fund outflows, then the jig is up for the pension fund ponzi. This, as evidenced by the 'punching, kicking, and tearing at clothes' that a Greek pension fund manager endured recently, is exactly what has begun in Greece. As Reuters reports, the fund manager "enraged" here audience when she asked the Greek journalists to 'double their contributions' to their social security fund, and spent the night in hospital for her efforts to keep the ponzi alive. It was a brutal sign of the fury many Greeks feel at the way the country's debt crisis has dashed hopes of a comfortable old age. As New Democracy's leader noted: "From July 2010 it was obvious that a debt restructuring would be inevitable. While foreign banks were unloading their Greek government bonds, no one moved to tell Greek pension funds to do something, that a haircut was coming." Under a law passed in 1997 and refined in 2007, pension funds have to place 77% of any surplus cash in a pool of 'common capital' which must be invested only in Greek government bonds or Treasury bills (T-bills). So the PSI saved German and French banks but crushed Greek pensioners...

 

Via Reuters:

...

 

For hours the leader of the Greek journalists' social security fund had been chairing a meeting about disastrous losses on retirement savings caused by the country's economic collapse. "She tried to present herself as the fund's savior and asked (members) to double contributions to 6 percent of salaries," said one of those present that night at the Titania hotel. Spanopoulou, 58, did not succeed.

 

When she rose to leave around midnight, enraged fund members first swore, then waded in punching, kicking and tearing at her clothes, according to witnesses. A bodyguard managed to bustle her out of the room, but another group caught her just outside the hotel and gave her a second beating. She spent the night in hospital.

 

It was a brutal sign of the fury many Greeks feel at the way the country's debt crisis has dashed hopes of a comfortable old age. Greece's pension funds - patchily run in the first place, say unionists and some politicians - have been savaged by austerity and the terms of the international bailout keeping the country afloat.

 

...

 

Many savers blame the debacle on the Bank of Greece, the country's central bank, which administers three-quarters of pension funds' surplus cash.

 

...

 

Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a lawmaker in the ruling coalition's conservative New Democracy party and former interior minister, said: "From July 2010 it was obvious that a debt restructuring would be inevitable. While foreign banks were unloading their Greek government bonds, no one moved to tell Greek pension funds to do something, that a haircut was coming."

 

...

 

The losses compound the woes of Greek pensioners, many of whom have seen their income fall; further cuts are expected as part of the latest austerity package voted through parliament in November.

 

The Bank of Greece rejects the criticism, arguing its room for maneuver was limited. ...

 

... "The government ... knew it was heading for a haircut and did nothing for these people, which I find hard to stomach."

 

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS

 

...

 

Under a law passed in 1997 and refined in 2007, pension funds have to place 77 percent of any surplus cash in a pool of "common capital" managed by the Bank of Greece. The law requires the common capital to be invested only in Greek government bonds or Treasury bills (T-bills). The remaining 23 percent of funds can be invested in other assets, such as mutual funds, shares and real estate.

 

The aim of the measures, officials said, was to ensure that most of the money was safely tucked away for a steady return. In the good times, this worked. But it was to have disastrous consequences when the credit crunch that began in 2007 led to a crisis in sovereign debt.

 

...

 

Amid the wrangling over exactly who bought what when, one thing is clear: when the financial storm struck, the pension funds remained heavily exposed.

 

...

 

In the end, however, the pension funds appear to have suffered an even bigger loss.

 

...

 

Former Labour Minister George Koutroumanis told Reuters the losses were unavoidable. "How could we have asked to protect our own pension funds and let all the others take the blow, it could not have worked that way," said Koutroumanis, whose former department is in charge of the pension system. "The billions of euros that pension funds lost because of the PSI was a significant hit. But it has to be weighed against the need to ensure the viability of the country in the euro and the system's continued funding."

 

...

 

... Konstantinos Amoutzias, president of the bank's employee union. "We have asked the Bank of Greece since the summer to provide us with data on the investment of our funds and they haven't answered us yet."

 

A senior Bank of Greece official, who declined to be named, said: "Any fund which has asked for data on transactions and market prices has received it." He added that, for reasons of legal confidentiality, the central bank could not reveal full details, such as the names of the banks from which it had bought government bonds in the secondary market.

 

Vaso Voyatzoglou, secretary general of insurance at the bank employees' union OTOE, said: "Eventually all pension funds will end up suing the Bank of Greece in order to find out what exactly happened and how they lost their money."

 

THE HUMAN COST

 

...

 

"We should not have illusions that our pension fund will recoup what it lost from the haircut on its government bond holdings," he said. "It's very hard to get by as a pensioner the way things are going."

 

...

 

Many pensioners have to get by on less, including Yorgos Vagelakos, a 75-year-old former factory worker, and his wife, who live in Keratsini, a working-class district near Athens. "We can barely afford to buy our grandchildren anything, not even a colorful notepad. When they ask us for one, we change the subject and then we cry," Vagelakos said in the tiny yard of his house.

 

His pension of 650 euros a month supports himself, his wife Anna and, when possible, the family of his 42-year old-son, who is unemployed. "Thankfully my younger son and his wife have a job," he said.

 

Tax increases and high prices have hit hard. "We have slashed everything by 50 percent. At night we keep the light off to save on our electricity bill. We have become vegetarians from cutting back. We can't take it anymore," Vagelakos said, talking while his wife cooked cauliflower and potatoes for lunch, a meal that would also feed the family of their elder son, who has two children.

 

...