With that in mind, what follows is a write-up from Goldman Sachs's Chief European Economist Erik F. Nielsen on the challenges facing Greece as it attempts to thread the needle between EU and IMF support. With the financial press all Greece all the time, it certainly looks like a good read. IMFers who have descended on Athens are hammering out those time-tested conditionalities for load disbursal. As I've said before, there isn't really a kinder, gentler IMF [1, 2] despite its attempts to soften its image. I obviously can't vouch for the veracity of what's said here, but the commentary appears pertinent enough...
Its not been a good week for Greece. Most seriously, the news yesterday that the four biggest banks are seeking help from the government following a drop in deposits of some EUR10bn pushes them into the danger zone which could turn into the end-game unless properly addressed. While the EU Summit spelled out how the crisis will be addressed (an IMF-led program co-financed by the Europeans), important uncertainties remain, including (1) whether the Greek government will agree to IMF conditionality; (2) how and when the European money will be disbursed and at what interest rate; and (3) whether the IMF/EU package will be big enough.
Yesterday the four big Greek banks asked for access to EUR14bn in loan guarantees from the government and EUR3bn in government bonds. It is not clear to me what the banks can do with the guarantee given the government’s own funding problems; the bonds can be repo’ed at the ECB. I suspect that they’ll need a greater share of the help in the form of bonds.
Good thing the IMF has arrived in Athens. I suspect that the government and the IMF have now have had the first round of discussions on the outline of conditionality. Conditionality will likely focus on two set of issues:
- Structural reforms to regain competitiveness. This is very unpleasant stuff because without a productivity miracle, it’ll include a significantly lower nominal wages in the private sector. On our numbers, we may need to see them down by 15%-20%. We don’t quite know how to achieve this, but it’ll include lower wages in the public sector and liberalisation of the labour market in general; combined with a period of higher unemployment. I suspect that the government does not much like what the IMF is showing them in this area.
- There’ll also be some requirements of further fiscal tightening. The government’s fiscal plans for this year are pretty good, although they may need some fine-tuning. Local paper Kathimerini reports today that several ministries and agencies are spending well ahead of plans. Specifically, the Ministry of Economy, Competitiveness and the Marine spent 18.2% of its total appropriation for this year during the first two months, the Interior Ministry 17.4% and the Ministry of Labour 17%. Some of the insurance agencies, including OAEE health insurance for self employed and social insurance, have disbursed 25%-40% of the budget for the whole year. If confirmed, this would imply a need for some additional cuts on the expenditure side. In addition, the IMF will be formulating further fiscal measures for the 2011 budget.
It's me again. Is the stigma of being an IMF borrower so great as to forsake its concessional lending rates? Surely, the EU will charge more. My conviction remains that a joint EU-IMF bailout package is the likely way to go based on past example. It appears reasonably on the money as most other commentators now say that this is the likely route if Greece draws from the well.
11/4 UPDATE: It's official: EUR 30B will be made available by the EU, with another EUR 10B from the IMF [1, 2].