Saturday, 20 June 2015

Greece's Debt Rattle

Russia, Greece sign €2bn deal on Turkish Stream gas pipeline



Reuters / Umit Bektas

RT,
19 June, 2015
Russia and Greece have signed a deal to create a joint enterprise for construction of the Turkish Stream pipeline across Greek territory, Russian Energy Minister Aleksandr Novak said. The pipeline will have a capacity of 47 billion cubic meters a year.
The construction costs are about €2 billion and the parties will sign a roadmap Friday, Novak told RIA at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum.

The Greek extension of the Turkish Stream project is called the South European pipeline in the memorandum signed on Friday, Novak said, adding that the construction will start in 2016 and be completed by 2019.

The two countries will have equal shares in the company, Novak said.Construction of the pipeline in Greece will be financed by Russia, and Athens will return the money afterward.

The Russian shareholder in the joint enterprise will be state-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB), Novak said.

Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said the Friday meeting was"historical".

"The pipeline will connect not only Greece and Russia, but also the peoples of Europe,” Lafazanis was quoted as saying by Sputnik news agency. Our message is a message of stability and friendship... The pipeline we are beginning today is not against anyone in Europe or anyone else, it is a pipeline for peace, stability in the whole region."

The 1,100 kilometer Turkish Stream pipeline will have four lines and an annual capacity of up to 63 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas. About 16 bcm will be supplied to Turkey while the remaining 47 bcm will go to a hub on the Greek - Turkish border to be transported onwards to Europe.
In December 2014, Russia cancelled the South Stream gas pipeline project because the EU was constantly blocking the deal. South Stream would have delivered 63 bcm of gas to Europe, bypassing the current routes through unreliable Ukraine.

EU shouldn’t view itself as ‘hub of universe’ – Greek PM



Europe shouldn’t view itself as a “hub of the universe” and it has to understand that the center of world economic development is shifting to other regions, said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, speaking at St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

The world differs from what it was before. We in Europe had an illusion for a long time of literally being a hub of the universe, as a center of the world and continued to see and rely only on our direct surroundings," he said.


In the meantime, Tsipras added the economic center of the planet has already shifted” as new powers are playing a more and more important role on an economic and geopolitical level.”




International relations are getting more and more multipolar, Tsipras said, referring to the role of the G8, the G20, regional cooperation in Asia and the BRICS partnership.
The Eurasian [Economic] Union is a new formation of regional integration and is a potential example of new sources of wealth production, benefits and new economic powers,” the Greek PM said.

He also said that the vicious circle“ of western sanctions triggered by the Ukrainian crisis must end.

The crisis in Ukraine has opened a new wound in the heart of Europe, a wound of instability,” Tsipras said. And this is a very bad sign for international relations because instead of prosperity and economic cooperation in the region, we see processes leading to war, militarization, and sanctions.”


READ MORE: Greek journalists were 'coached' by IMF to report with pro-austerity bias – ex-envoy

The European Union should find its way back to its statutory principles: solidarity, democracy [and] social justice," Tsipras said. "By sticking to policies of austerity, and policies which harm social cohesion, which aggravate the recession, this is impossible.”

"Bank Holiday" Preparations Begin In Greece, Lines Form At Athens ATMs



Deposit flight from Greece's ailing banking sector has been running north of €500 million per day this week as the threat of capital controls casts a pall over the Greek government's efforts to reassure the public and head off a terminal bank run.

Sparking a panic has been the most powerful tool at the troika's disposal to bring PM Alexis Tsipras to the negotiating table and force Syriza to either concede to pension cuts and a VAT hike or risk social and political upheaval in the face of dark ATMs and public protests - we said this first in February and finally even the Greek government realized just what game Europe is playing.

Until now, Greeks had taken the barrage of headlines in stride with a stoic fortitude that would impress Marcus Aurelius but now, it appears as though the 'institutions' might have finally broken their spirits.

IMF Humiliates Greece, Repeats It Will Keep Funding Ukraine Even If It Defaults




One week ago, we were stunned to learn just how low the political organization that is the mostly US-taxpayer funded IMF has stooped when, a day after its negotiators demonstratively stormed out of the Greek negotiations with "creditors",  Hermes' ambassador-at-large Christone Lagarde said that the IMF "could lend to Ukraine even if Ukraine determines it cannot service its debt."

In other words, as Greece struggles to avoid a default to the IMF on debt which was incurred just so German banks can remain solvent and dump trillions in non-performing loans to US hedge funds and Greek exposure, and which would result in the collapse in the living standards of an entire nation (only for a few years before an Iceland-recovery takes place, one which Greece would already be enjoying had it defaulted in 2010 as we said it should), and as the "criminal" IMF does everything in its power to subjugate an entire nation, or else let it founder, the IMF told Soros' BFFs over in Kievthat no matter if they default to its private creditors (in fact please do since Russia is among them), the IMF would keep the debt spigot flowing.

Courtesy of the US taxpayer of course.

Fast forward one week when, with Greece one step closer to a full-blown financial collapse, the IMF comes out and tell Ukraine - which already passed a law allowing it to impose a debt moratorium at any moment - not to worry, that even in a default it will keep providing unlimited funds. From Reuters:







Ukraine's efforts to strike a debt restructuring deal with its creditors will allow the International Monetary Fund to continue to support the country even if the talks are not successful, the head of the IMF said on Friday.
 
"I ... welcome the government's continued efforts to reach a collaborative agreement with all creditors," IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a statement. "This is important since this means that the Fund will be able to continue to support Ukraine through its Lending-into-Arrears Policy even in the event that a negotiated agreement with creditors in line with the program cannot be reached in a timely manner."

We will pass comment on this latest grand IMF hypocrisy and ask if Greece would rather be in Kiev's place which at the behest of "Western" leaders, it sold, liquidated, and otherwise "lost" all of its gold. Or, like Ukraine, Athens is willing to part with its $4 billion in gold just to appease the Troika as it sells all of its 112.5 tons of official gold to unknown buyers. A transaction which would buy Greece about 3-6 months of can kicking and a few stray smiles from Chrstine Lagarde.



Inciting Bank Runs as a Negotiating Tactic

 Raúl Ilargi Meijer



19 June, 2015


The troika of Greek creditors has gone into full-frontal morals-be-damned attack mode, handpicking arms from a weapons arsenal we haven’t seen used before, and that we never should have seen in an environment that insists – and prides – on presenting itself as a union, both in name and in spirit. Now that they are being used, there no longer is such a union other than in name, in empty words.

This has turned into the kind of economic warfare one would expect to see between sworn and lethal enemies, that the US would gladly use against Russia for instance, but not between partners in a union founded on principles based entirely and exclusively on being mutually beneficial to everyone involved.

Those principles, and everything that has been based on them, the common currency, the surrender of ever more sovereignty on the part of the nations involved, the relinquishing of national powers to the various supra-national bodies in Brussels, has for everyone involved been based on trust. Nobody would ever have signed up to any of it without that trust. But just look where we are now.

When spokespeople at the troika side of the table stated on Thursday that they don’t know if Greek banks will be open on Monday, they crossed a line that should never even have been contemplated. This is so far beyond the pale, it should by all accounts, if everyone involved manages to keep a somewhat clear head, blow up the union once and for all. If a party to a negotiation that can’t get its way stoops to these kinds of tactics, there is very little room left for talk.

And all EU nations should understand by now that this is not about Greece anymore, it’s about all of them. Any member nations that does not fall into -goose- step with Brussels must from here on in be prepared to deal with attempts to crush it economically and politically.

Whatever trust there once was is now gone. And trust, once blown, is painfully difficult to regain. The negotiations on the Greek debt crisis have become just another dirty business deal, and have nothing to do anymore with conversations between equal partners in a union. Even though that is still what they’re supposed to be. Officially.

Translation: there are no equal partners in Europe. There only ever were in name. When people thought they signed up for a tide to lift all boats. The Greek crisis has destroyed that lift-all-boats notion once and for all. All that’s left of the union is power politics, of those (s)elected to represent all member nations, working to crush one of them with all weapons at their disposal.

One of those weapons is utilizing the media to incite a bank-run in Greece, aimed at paralyzing the Greek government into full submission. The run-up to the bank-run has been building up steam ever since Syriza took over 5 months ago, but apparently not fast enough for the troika.

The threat has always been simmering below the surface; what changed is that the moral constraint which kept the creditors from speaking out loud in public about it, was dropped yesterday. And that changes everything.

The European Union cannot deliberately aim at a bank-run in an individual eurozone member nation without quashing the very trust that holds the union together. The only remaining question after this is: who’s next in line?
This is from the Guardian:

Greece is facing a full-blown banking crisis after a meeting of eurozone finance ministers broke down in acrimony and recrimination on Thursday evening, bringing the prospect of Greek exit from the eurozone a step nearer. Some €2bn of deposits have been withdrawn from Greek banks so far this week – including a record €1bn yesterday – triggering fears that a breakdown in talks would spark a further flight of funds.
[..] leaders of the eurozone and the IMF aimed bitter criticism at the leftwing Greek government, accusing it of lying to its own people, misrepresenting and misleading other EU leaders, refusing to negotiate seriously, and taking Greece to the brink of catastrophe.

Not negotiating seriously’ translates as ‘not doing what we tell you to do’. It’s absurd to claim that Syriza, which has tabled an entire range of proposals, one even more detailed than the other, does not attempt to negotiate seriously. It’s a claim the Greek side can make just as well. The underlying tendency is that the troika does not see the talks as taking place between equal partners. And that is lethal for the whole idea behind the European Union. It’s its instant death even if people will be slow to realize it.
Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, said there was an urgent need for dialogue “with adults in the room”. She added: “We can only arrive at a resolution if there is a dialogue. Right now we’re short of a dialogue.”

This is something only a juvenile mind would come up with. Lagarde is obviously not worried about her reputation, she feels -nigh- omnipotent, but she really should be. She’s causing enormous damage to the IMF, and its future standing in the world. There are many IMF member nations who now know they can and must expect to be treated in the same way should there ever be a conflict involving their nation and the Fund.
Lagarde has taken a tough line on debt talks with Athens over the past four months, since the radical leftist Syriza government took control and insisted creditors drop proposals for further austerity as the price of releasing the last tranche of bailout funds. At the talks in Luxembourg she reportedly introduced herself to Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis as “the criminal in chief”, in reference to Tsipras’s claim earlier this week that the IMF bore “criminal responsibility” for the situation in Greece.
Pierre Moscovici, the European commissioner for economic affairs, who has been more sympathetic to the Greek case, said: “There’s not much time to avoid the worst.” He appealed to the Tsipras government to return to the negotiating table, making it plain that Athens has been treating its creditors and EU partners with contempt.

Who’s been treating whom with contempt? Have the Syriza team ever been treated as equal partners in the conversation? This is perhaps best expressed by Bob Dylan’s “It’s a restless hungry feeling that don’t mean no-one no good; when everything I’m-a-sayin’, you can say it just as good”.
Dijsselbloem demanded that the Greek government act quickly to restore trust and stem the haemorrhaging of deposits. “It’s a sign of great concern for the future,” he said. “It can be dealt with, but it requires quick action.”

It’s Greece that caused the deposit flight? The only sense in which that could be true is that is has refused to bend over and let the troika have its way with its democratically elected government.
Top officials from the ECB told the meeting that Greece might need to impose capital controls within days. They said the banks would be open on Friday. “On Monday, I don’t know,” Benoit Coeure from the ECB board was said to have told the ministers.

There is no longer even any semblance of equality among partners either in the eurozone or at the negotiating table. It’s important to see this not just in the light of the current talks, but in that of future of the European Union as a whole, and in that of future talks about debts that EU member nations have incurred with any of the troika parties.

What the antagonism is about is really quite simple. Though the fact that the troika is split doesn’t make it any simpler. The IMF won’t budge on imposing additional austerity measures, but wants Europe to execute debt relief. Europe is more flexible on austerity but refuses debt relief.

Or, actually, it says debt relief can be discussed, but only after Greece has signed on for a list of demanded ‘reforms’. For the Greeks, that’s the wrong way around. Not in the least because the EU floated debt relief back in 2012 but has never delivered.

Politicians and media in countries like Germany and Holland have engaged in so much rhetoric about Greeks living lavishly off other nations’ taxpayers’ money that they fear for their political careers if they were to offer an overt restructuring and tell the truth about wat actually happened in the bailouts.
The IMF’s Olivier Blanchard this week held out some vague idea of even longer maturities and even lower interest rates as the definition of debt relied for Greece, but what is needed is a much more comprehensive restructuring. Along the lines of a 50% or so reduction of the debt.

The problem is that Germany, France and Holland used the money that Greece now supposedly owes, to bail out their own banks. And never presented it domestically this way. But that is not Greece’s fault, or its responsibility.

The second main issue, austerity measures, comes in the shape of ‘reforms’ to the Greek pension system. Which badly needs a revamp, and Syriza is the first to acknowledge that. What it doesn’t want, though, is for the system to be cut first, and changed only later. Because that would mean that many Greeks who are already in dire need would from one day to the next be made even poorer.

And since any comprehensive change to the pension system would be laborious and time consuming even under advantageous circumstances, and there is little faith that Europe wouldn’t stretch it out even further, cutting now and talking about it later is not acceptable for Varoufakis and his people.

To add to the vicious irony of the situation, as Paul De Grauwe noted, Greece is illiquid -it has no access to capital markets-, but it’s not insolvent.

[Greece's] headline debt burden of 175% of GDP in 2015 vastly overstates the effective debt burden. The latter can be defined as the net present value of the expected future interest disbursements and debt repayments by the Greek government [..] Various estimates suggest that this effective debt burden of the Greek government is less than half of the headline debt burden of 175%.
[..] the effective debt burden of the Greek government is lower than the debt burden faced by not only the other periphery countries of the Eurozone but also by countries like Belgium and France. This leads to the conclusion that the Greek government debt is most probably sustainable provided Greece can start growing again[..]. Put differently, provided Greece can grow, its government is solvent. [..]
Today Greece has no access to the capital markets except if it is willing to pay prohibitive interest rates that would call into question its solvency. As a result, it cannot rollover its debt despite the fact that the debt is sustainable. There is something circular here. If Greece is unable to find the liquidity to roll over its debt it will be forced to default. [..] The expectation that the Greek government will be faced with a liquidity problem is self-fulfilling.

If the ECB would simply include Greece in its €60 billion a month QE bond-buying scheme, and buy Greek bonds as well as allow Athens to access international capital markets through one of Mario Draghi‘s whatever-it-takes statements, the crisis would be lifted in very substantial ways, in a heartbeat.

Instead, the troika part of the ‘negotiations’ does not involve trying to find such a solution, what they want is for Greece to give in, give up, bend over, and take it up the …

The powers that be are so full of hubris and of themselves that they ignore the fact that their actions today sow the seeds for the demise of all three of their constituencies, IMF, ECB and EU.

None of these institutions has any raison d’être or any claim to fame unless there is explicit trust in what they represent. That trust is now gone, and it’s hard to see how it can ever be recovered.

Whatever happens to Greece going forward, that is perhaps the biggest gain its dramatic crisis will gift to the rest of Europe, and indeed the world. Which therefore owe it a debt of gratitude, and of solidarity.

Also from the Automatic Earth



Debt Rattle June 19 2015


Greek Finance Minister Yianis Varoufakis, left, at what appears to be his lowest point. Photo / Getty Images

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