While our earlier discussion of the implications of Greece's exit from the Euro are critical reading to comprehend the real-time game of chicken occurring in front of our eyes, JPMorgan's somewhat more quantifiable estimates of the costs and contagion, given the results of the Greek election have raised market expectations of an exit of Greece from the Euro, also provide key indicators and flows that should be monitored. Identifying what has gone wrong with Greece's co-called 'adjustment' program, they go on to identify key transmission mechanisms to Spain and Italy, how it could potentially improve (Marshall-Plan-esque) and most critically, given the exponentially growing TARGET2 balances, if and when Germany throws in the towel.
JPMorgan: Greek Contagion
The results of the Greek election have raised market expectations of an exit of Greece from EMU. How exactly could this exit happen and what flows should we monitor?
Market forces could induce a Greek exit. A potential deadlock between the Greek government and the Troika which terminates funding from the EU/IMF, has the potential to create fear and panic and accelerate the capital and deposit flight out of Greece. Once this capital flight accelerates Greece would likely have to ultimately introduce capital controls. With EU funding being cut and the economic situation deteriorating, Greece will likely to start paying at least part of salaries and pensions in promissory notes or Greek bonds.
Greek banks have run out of ECB eligible collateral already and can only access Bank of Greece’s ELA, but even with ELA, the collateral, typically loans, is not unlimited. They have already borrowed €60bn via ELA which, assuming 50% haircut corresponds to around €120bn of loan collateral. Outstanding loans are €250bn, so Greek banks have a maximum of €130bn of remaining loan collateral which allows for a maximum of €65bn of additional borrowing from Bank of Greece’s ELA.
This corresponds to around 40% of Greek bank deposits which stood at €170bn as of the end of March. The true maximum amount that Greek banks can borrow via ELA is likely though to be significantly smaller because not all loans are accepted as collateral via ELA. The alternative is for Greek banks to be allowed to issue more government guaranteed paper but the ECB can, with a 2/3rd majority, block a steep and unsustainable increase in Bank of Greece’s ELA. This would effectively cut Bank of Greece off from TARGET2 and force it to eventually issue its own money.
Unfortunately, we need to wait until the end of June for the ECB’s monthly MFI balance sheet data to get an accurate picture of the impact of Greek elections on deposits. Anecdotal evidence from the Greek press and elsewhere suggests that deposit outflows re-accelerated post elections.
It is often stated that Greece’s low primary deficit (projected at 1% or €2bn in 2012) increases the incentive for Greece to walk away from the bailout agreement. This is not true, in our view, given that Greece is still on the hook for the €6.3bn that is needed to clear general government arrears and the extra €23bn that is needed to complete the bank recapitalization plan. And as described above, a deadlock with Troika raises the risk of an accident that leads to Greece’s departure via market forces even if this was not the original intention of the Greek government.
The consequences for Greece would be clearly negative, if not catastrophic following an exit: high inflation, fuel shortages, big reduction in living standards, increase in social tensions or even unrest, political isolation internationally. This is why the chances of a Greek exit should be logically significantly below 50%.
What would the consequences for the rest likely to be?
The main direct losses correspond to the €240bn of Greek debt in official hands (EU/IMF), to €130bn of Eurosystem’s exposure to Greece via TARGET2 and a potential loss of around €25bn for European banks. This is the cross-border claims (i.e. not matched by local liabilities) that European banks (mostly French) have on Greece’s public and non-bank private sector. These immediate losses add up to €400bn. This is a big amount but let's assume that, as several people suggested this week, these immediate/direct losses are manageable. What are the indirect consequences of a Greek exit for the rest?
The wildcard is obviously contagion to Spain or Italy? Could a Greek exit create a capital and deposit flight from Spain and Italy which becomes difficult to contain? It is admittedly true that European policymakers have tried over the past year to convince markets that Greece is a special case and its problems are rather unique. We see little evidence that their efforts have paid off.
The steady selling of Spanish and Italian government bonds by non-domestic investors over the past nine months (€200bn for Italy and €80bn for Spain) suggests that markets see Greece more as a precedent for other peripherals rather than a special case. And it is not only the €800bn of Italian and Spanish government bonds still held by non-domestic investors that are likely at risk. It is also the €500bn of Italian and Spanish bank and corporate bonds and the €300bn of quoted Italian and Spanish shares held by nonresidents. And the numbers balloon if one starts looking beyond portfolio/quoted assets. Of course, the €1.4tr of Italian and €1.6tr of Spanish bank domestic deposits is the elephant in the room which a Greek exit and the introduction of capital controls by Greece has the potential to destabilize. In this respect, it is important to keep a close eye on Chart 1.
What has gone wrong with the Greek adjustment program?
After all, Greece has managed to reduce its primary deficit by 8 percentage points in two years, something that no other country has achieved. And according to Bank of Greece, given announced cuts, unit labour costs are likely to be down by 13% this year vs. the end of 2009, an adjustment that is only comparable to Ireland’s “success” story. From a technocrat’s point of view, this must be impressive performance.
Perhaps the best way to understand what went wrong with the Greek adjustment program is to compare it with Iceland’s program. On Nov 3rd 2011, the IMF issued the verdict on its 3-year adjustment program for Iceland. The IMF’s verdict was that its “program for Iceland was a success” due to 4 factors:
- the decision not to make taxpayers liable for bank losses.
- the decision not to tighten fiscal policy during the first year of the IMF program.
- preservation and even strengthening of Iceland’s welfare state during the crisis.
- prudent use of capital controls. The IMF said: “capital controls were necessary and are now seen as useful addition to policy toolkit”.
Although permissible under EU treaties, factor 4 is admittedly not consistent with a monetary union. But none of the remaining 3 factors were present in the Greek program. No debt relief was given to Greece early, the fiscal adjustment was front-loaded rather than back-loaded (a massive 5% deficit reduction was required in the first year only), and not much attention was paid to protecting those at the low end of the income distribution.
How could the situation improve?
The Marshall plan for Greece is probably the best hope. Much has been said about Greece’s Marshall plan over the past months but little has been done. Estimates are close to €20bn or 10% of Greek GDP. Assuming Greece is changing its bureaucrat and deficient administrative/tax/legal structures quickly enough to allow for fast absorption of these funds, a Marshall plan has the potential to at least stop and perhaps reverse the economic decline.
Clearly such a Marshall plan represents a transfer from the core to periphery. These transfers are necessary in a monetary union where the core diverges from the periphery or, more correctly, Germany diverges from all the rest. Charts 2 and 3 show that both TARGET2 imbalances and real GDP levels continue to show a widening gap between Germany and the rest.
Without these transfers the likelihood of repeated crisis in the euro area will remain very high especially if tight financial conditions, uncertainty and lack of private sector investment condemns the periphery to a path of rising unemployment and never ending economic decline. And unfortunately Greece is not alone in facing these persistent headwinds. As we highlighted in F&L April 27th, the drag from tight financial conditions on periphery remains heavily negative.
It is possible that necessary fiscal transfers are not politically feasible or that Germany is eventually far too different from the rest to coexist in a monetary union. In this case the horrific scenario of a break up becomes more likely. We would like to make two observations: 1) it is less painful and makes more economic sense for Germany rather than periphery to leave. See above discussion on consequences of a Greek exit for Greece, 2) the cost of a breakup is rising exponentially over time. Bundesbank TARGET2 balance reached a new high of €644bn in April.