What Happens if the Greeks Default?
Andrew Lilico, writing in the London Telegraph, gives us the answer to that question with a series of short bullet points. I might not agree with all of them, but he is looking in the right direction. (quoting from http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/andrewlilico/100010332/what-happens-when-greece-defaults/)
“It is when, not if. Financial markets merely aren’t sure whether it’ll be tomorrow, a month’s time, a year’s time, or two years’ time (it won’t be longer than that). Given that the ECB has played the “final card” it employed to force a bailout upon the Irish – threatening to bankrupt the country’s banking sector – presumably we will now see either another Greek bailout or default within days.
“What happens when Greece defaults. Here are a few things:
- Every bank in Greece will instantly go insolvent.
- The Greek government will nationalize every bank in Greece.
- The Greek government will forbid withdrawals from Greek banks.
- To prevent Greek depositors from rioting on the streets, Argentina-2002-style (when the Argentinian president had to flee by helicopter from the roof of the presidential palace to evade a mob of such depositors), the Greek government will declare a curfew, perhaps even general martial law.
- Greece will redenominate all its debts into “New Drachmas” or whatever it calls the new currency (this is a classic ploy of countries defaulting)
- The New Drachma will devalue by some 30-70 per cent (probably around 50 per cent, though perhaps more), effectively defaulting 0n 50 per cent or more of all Greek euro-denominated debts.
- The Irish will, within a few days, walk away from the debts of its banking system.
- The Portuguese government will wait to see whether there is chaos in Greece before deciding whether to default in turn.
- A number of French and German banks will make sufficient losses that they no longer meet regulatory capital adequacy requirements.
- The European Central Bank will become insolvent, given its very high exposure to Greek government debt, and to Greek banking sector and Irish banking sector debt.
- The French and German governments will meet to decide whether (a) to recapitalise the ECB, or (b) to allow the ECB to print money to restore its solvency. (Because the ECB has relatively little foreign currency-denominated exposure, it could in principle print its way out, but this is forbidden by its founding charter. On the other hand, the EU Treaty explicitly, and in terms, forbids the form of bailouts used for Greece, Portugal and Ireland, but a little thing like their being blatantly illegal hasn’t prevented that from happening, so it’s not intrinsically obvious that its being illegal for the ECB to print its way out will prove much of a hurdle.)
- They will recapitalise, and recapitalise their own banks, but declare an end to all bailouts.
- There will be carnage in the market for Spanish banking sector bonds, as bondholders anticipate imposed debt-equity swaps.
- This assumption will prove justified, as the Spaniards choose to over-ride the structure of current bond contracts in the Spanish banking sector, recapitalising a number of banks viadebt-equity swaps.
- Bondholders will take the Spanish Banking Sector to the European Court of Human Rights (and probably other courts, also), claiming violations of property rights. These cases won’t be heard for years. By the time they are finally heard, no one will care.
- Attention will turn to the British banks. Then we shall see…”
Or the EU can kick the can down the road yet another time, as many mainstream candidates expect. The ECB will blink. Some way will be found to find money yet again, and politicians everywhere will pray that something happens that saves the system – like the Greeks suddenly start to pay taxes and Greek and Irish GDP jumps up to 5%. Nouriel Roubini has outlined a very clear plan for restructuring. It is not without pain, but there are ways, if they can join what Greg Weldon calls a twelve-step plan for European bankers to deal with reality.
Sidebar: for the record, there are reportedly massive bank runs in Greece, especially on large uninsured deposits.
It is hard to understand how people can ignore what I think are clear warning signs, but the following analysis shows us the process. My good friend and early mentor Dr. Gary North wrote a poignant piece in his Reality Check letter today about ignoring the signs of pending problems. I insert it here as the launching point for the close of the letter. (I learned about Austrian economics, and a great deal of what I know about writing, economic history, and more during my early years [in the ’80s] as Gary’s business associate.)
“Trigger Points and Evasive Action
“When would a wise Jew have begun making plans to leave Germany? 1933? 1934? 1938? 1939?
“In retrospect, most people would say 1933, the year Hitler was appointed (not elected) Chancellor by President von Hindenburg. On 30 January, Hitler became Chancellor. He asked Hindenburg to dissolve the government and schedule new elections for March 5, which Hindenburg did.
“Should a Jew have begun packing his bags? Maybe not. Maybe after the next election, the Nazis would have been defeated.
“On 27 February, the Reichstag building burned down. One man did it, who admitted he had done it. Hitler immediately identified him as a Communist, although even today, it is not clear that he did anything but act alone.
“Hitler used this as a propaganda tool. On March 5, the Nazis got 44% of the popular vote, up from 33%. With an allied party, they had 52% of the vote in the Reichstag.
“Was it time to pack the bags? Maybe not. The Nazis did not have a majority. They had only a coalition majority.
“On March 23, the government passed the Enabling Act. It took a two-thirds vote to do this. Hitler now possessed dictatorial powers. He had attained these by means of support by rival political parties. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstag_fire
“Was it time to pack the bags? Maybe not. Those powers might not be used.
“On April 1, a one-day boycott of Jewish businesses was staged by the S.A., which were technically private storm troops. Was it time to pack those bags? Maybe not. This was not government-directed. It was only symbolic.
“What about 1935's Nuremberg Laws on Citizenship and Race? They made it illegal for Jews to be citizens. But that was only politics. How many votes did Jews have, anyway? They were only 1% to 2% of the population. Politics isn't everything.
“And so on, right down to Crystal Night in November 1938, when rioters broke the plate glass windows of 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses and burned or damaged 200 synagogues, meaning most synagogues in Germany.
“After that, over 100,000 Jews packed their bags and departed. Between 1933 and 1939, about half the Jews in Germany emigrated: 250,000. But half did not.
“There were a series of trigger points, 1933 to 1939. Most Jews sat tight until very late.
“Yet in Austria, Ludwig von Mises saw the handwriting on the wall in 1934. He looked at the map. He concluded that the Nazis would wind up running Austria. Hitler was an Austrian, and he would want to control Austria. He packed his bags and took his first salaried teaching position, a job in Geneva, Switzerland. He warned Jewish friends to get out. Economist Gottfried Haberler did, in 1936. Economist Fritz Machlup already had. He fled in 1933. Well, not quite. He was in the United States in 1933, and he decided not to return to Austria. Both men found safe havens in the United States. So did Mises in 1940, when he left Switzerland, barely escaping German troops in France as he and his wife road a bus toward Spain, and from there to Portugal and the United States.