The media world is aflutter with recent revelations that Goldman may have facilitated Greece in creating an SPV that "rebalanced" budget payments via an interest rate swap arrangement, which the NYT describes as "a currency trade rather than a loan, [which] helped Athens meet Europe’s deficit rules while continuing to spend beyond its means." For those curious to get a much more detailed perspective on the mechanics of not just this, but a comparable Goldman-facilitated transaction, we suggest the following article in Risk Magazine, which focuses on a similar prior deal completed over six years ago. Yet we are fairly confident that all this barrage of information is merely a Houdini distraction act: the prospectus of the February 2009 securitization deal clearly delineates the mechanics of the deal; it was full public knowledge. Of course, a Europe gripped by sudden chaos due to their aggressive and quick "bail out" response with no regard for public backlash, is now taking full advantage of this recent "discovery" to make it seem that Greece and Goldman were hiding even more information: Bloomberg reports that "Greece was ordered by European Union regulators to disclose details of currency swaps it may have used to deal with the debts that threaten to swamp its economy." Germany's CDU has gone one step further and claims that the "Goldman deal broke the spirit of Euro rules." Alas, this is nothing but more scapegoating while Europe tries to find its bearings and, if possible, back out of the bail out while finding more pretexts to throw Greece out of the euro zone entirely. If it takes a Goldman smear campaign, so be it.
However, where the rub truly lies, and where things for Greece may get very hairy fairly quick, is in the interplay between the rating agencies and the rating of the Goldman underwritten swap agreement securitization SPV known better as Titlos PLC. As one recalls, it was precisely the rating agencies that were the proximal catalyst that started the collateral call cascade that ultimately resulted in AIG's failure and subsequent bailout (ignoring for a moment the pent up toxicity on AIG's books: both AIG then, and Greece now, are in deplorable shape: the question is what will bring it all to the surface). So here are some recent facts: On December 23, 2009, Moody's downgraded Titlos, following the prior day's downgrade of Greece itself from A1 to A2 with a negative outlook. Fact: last week Moody's said it could further downgrade Greece to Baa1. Fact: the Titlos PLC rating mirrors that of Greece itself. Fact: according to Moody's "Framework for De-Linking Hedge Counterparty Risks from Global Structured Finance Cashflow Transactions Moody's Methodology" a counterparty can enter into a hedge transaction with an SPV and continue to participate in that transaction without collateralizing its obligations so long as it maintains a long-term senior unsecured rating of at least A2. When (not if) Titlos is downgraded again, and its rating drops below the A2 collateralization threshold, look for AIG's margin call driven liquidity crisis escalation from the fall of 2008 to spread to Greece. And that's not all. The Titlos SPV itself may be null and void should the rating of the National Bank of Greece, as the Hedge Provider, drop below a "relevant rating" as defined in the hedge agreement. Should Greece then be forced, at Titlos' option, to unwind the swap agreement, and be forced to cash out to the tune of €5.4 billion (net of the 107.54 issuance price), look for all hell to break loose.