Overnight, and only about a year after the last deal on Greece debt relief was agreed on, we got a fresh Greece debt reduction deal. The deal, in my opinion, is once again no more than a fudge, but for now at least, it puts the so-called “Grexit,” as well as default fears, on the backburner until at least after the German federal election next October.
As expected, it was politics and not economics that was the main driver that forged the deal on Greece. No, it won’t change a notch the fact that Greece will never be able to pay back its debt without new haircuts that should include the public sector, which, for a country like Germany, is politically not conceivable until after their elections next year.
In this context, an interesting and noteworthy small incident occurred at the press conference after the extremely complicated compromise was reached in Brussels on the new re-profiling of Greece’s debt. Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Financial Stability Facility CEO Klaus Regling and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde couldn’t answer all the questions from the press immediately. Maybe, they also have still to look deeper into the deal.
Notwithstanding that annoying detail, the top finance policymakers tapped each other on the back once they came to their agreement. I have no other choice than to remain skeptical about the final outcome, whenever that comes, while the European Union can-kicking exercises continue as it has always done since the crisis erupted in 2009.
In the meantime, we still will have to wait until the Eurogroup formally decides by Dec. 13 on the disbursement after it gets the necessary clarity on the outcome of the debt buyback by Greece and on which for now the necessary details completely fail. It’s important to take notice that the Troika would be obliged to take other measures than the ones now agreed upon if the planned buyback of Greek debt falls short. For a long-term investor, it’s difficult if not impossible to build any confidence at all while all that EU muddling forward shows no sign of abating.
Meanwhile, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released its latest sobering economic outlook, wherein it states the global economy (trade) is weakening again and the risk of a new major contraction cannot be ruled out.
A significant drop in confidence, if not a complete lack of confidence, has taken place over the last few months at a time when deleveraging, simultaneous fiscal consolidation in various developed countries that have caused larger than expected multipliers and weakening global trade are cited as the key causes of the weaker outlook.
The two main cases in point are at this moment firstly the relentlessly ongoing eurozone crisis and the way it is managed, and secondly the fiscal cliff and debt-ceiling situations in the United States. If the fiscal cliff is not avoided, the OECD expects a large negative shock that could bring the United States and the global economy into a recession.
Notwithstanding, the eurozone remains the greatest threat to the world economy, although some progress in its adjustment undertakings and strengthening of institutions are notable. That said, still-justified solvency fears for EU banks and their sovereigns continue to feed on each other due to the vicious and unsustainable cycle of a system where governments guarantee the banks and bank holdings of government bonds.
The eurozone continues to experience an extremely fragile and probably only temporary equilibrium, with far too great of divergences among its member states in such areas as unemployment rates and competitiveness. At the same time, it is witnessing significant fragmentation pressures that could bring the eurozone in danger at any time. The eurozone needs urgently and first sustainable growth, which is unfortunately not expected until 2014, at the earliest.
What will happen before then is anybody’s guess.
The OECD also says the United States must not go over the fiscal cliff, which is only 34 days away, and if it doesn’t go over the cliff, the United States will continue to grow further by an estimated 2.2 percent this year, 2 percent in 2013 and 2.8 percent in 2014. However, these growth projections are too low to make a healthy dent in unemployment, which is expected at 7.8 percent in 2013 and 7.5 percent in 2015.
In short, the United States is still growing, while its unemployment rate remains too high. But that notwithstanding, it still remains the best place of all the big developed economies. Please keep in mind the OECD warns that if the United States would be unable to handle in a serious manner its fiscal cliff situation, that fact by itself could quickly turn into a huge negative force for the United States itself and the whole world economy.
The emerging economies will depend heavily on what happens in the near term in the Unites States. In my opinion, the eurozone is in a class by itself and will remain a long-stretched Greek drama.
Under these circumstances, long-term investors could do well remaining extremely prudent and try not to fall into the trap of wishful thinking. Maybe it is not such a bad idea to remember what John Adams said: “Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
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