27 July 2011.
The fate of the eurozone is ominous. As the debt crisis in Greece continues to spread and infect other eurozone nations such as Italy and Portugal, the euro-zone appears to be teetering on the brink of collapse. This is its last stand, says Nouriel Roubini, chairman of Roubini Global Economics and professor of economics at New York University's Stern School of Business. According to Roubini, “the status quo is no longer sustainable. Only a comprehensive strategy can rescue the eurozone now.”
NEW YORK – The eurozone crisis is reaching its climax. Greece is insolvent. Portugal and Ireland have recently seen their bonds downgraded to junk status. Spain could still lose market access as political uncertainty adds to its fiscal and financial woes. Financial pressure on Italy is now mounting.
By 2012, Greek public debt will be above 160% of GDP and rising. Alternatives to a debt restructuring are fast disappearing. A full-blown official bailout of Greece’s public sector (by the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Financial Stability Facility) would be the mother of all moral-hazard plays: extremely expensive and politically near-impossible, owing to resistance from core eurozone voters – starting with the Germans.
Meanwhile, the current French proposal of a voluntary rollover by banks is flopping, as it would impose prohibitively high interest rates on the Greeks. Likewise, debt buybacks would be a massive waste of official resources, as the residual value of the debt increases as it is bought, benefiting creditors far more than the sovereign debtor.
So the only realistic and sensible solution is an orderly and market-oriented – but coercive – restructuring of the entire Greek public debt. But how can debt relief be achieved for the sovereign without imposing massive losses on Greek banks and foreign banks holding Greek bonds?
The answer is to emulate the response to sovereign-debt crises in Uruguay, Pakistan, Ukraine, and many other emerging-market economies, where orderly exchange of old debt for new debt had three features: an identical face value (so-called “par” bonds); a long maturity (20-30 years); and interest set well below the currently unsustainable market rates – and close to or below the original coupon.
Even if the face value of the Greek debt were not reduced, a maturity extension would still provide massive debt relief – on a present-value basis – to Greece as a euro of debt owed 30 years from now is worth much less today than the same euro owed a year from now. Moreover, a maturity extension resolves rollover risk for the coming decades.