Nov 22, 2011 7:15 AM GMT
Greece really doesn't have any good options. Of course, this was a crisis of their own doing.
By openly acknowledging that Greece could abandon the euro, Europe’s leaders may have set in motion events that will automatically force Greece to leave. Here is the logic. If Greece is ever forced to leave the euro, it will first have to redenominate domestic corporate and household liabilities into the new currency – let’s call it the drachma – or else domestic borrowers will be wiped out by the fall in the value of revenues relative to debt as the drachma immediately depreciates against the euro.
But it doesn’t end there. If a bank’s assets – its outstanding loans – are to be redenominated into drachma, then its liabilities, i.e. deposits, must be redenominated too, or else the balance sheet mismatch will bankrupt the bank.
And there is where the problem lies. As soon as any depositor realizes that bank deposits are likely to be redenominated into drachma, he will pull his deposits out of the banks so as to protect the value of his savings. But obviously only a few depositors will be able to do this before forcing the bank into closing. In order to prevent the resulting collapse in the banking system, the only thing Athens can do is to freeze bank deposits long before most depositors have had a chance to cash out.
But depositors know this. As the probability of Greece’s leaving the euro rises – and clearly it rose dramatically this past week – anxious depositors eager to prevent their deposits from being frozen and redenominated in a weaker currency know that they will have to speed up their withdrawal of deposits from banks. And of course as anxious depositors withdraw their deposits, the likelihood of a banking crisis rises, and with it the likelihood of Greece’s being forced to freeze deposits and leave the euro.