Friday, April 17, 2015

Greece back to brink of default (again) as frustrated IMF signals end game

For weeks, months and years the economic crisis in Greece and the prospect of a Greek exit from the Eurozone has been simmering in the background.

But now it's looking serious and a showdown between Greece and the International Monetary Fund appears to be entering its final dangerous phase.

Financial markets, which until now have been numb given the duelling rhetoric, are now bracing for the fallout if Greece is pushed from the Eurozone or decides to walk away.

Just last week Greece made aUS$485 million repayment to the IMF on its massive debt of US$260 billion to ease concerns about debt default.

In return, Greece asked for more emergency cash to keep the government running so it can maintain social services could pay public sector workers.

But the IMF and Eurozone leaders, led by Germany said "no"  and demanded that the Greek government deliver on promised economic reforms within six days.

The deadline for the updated reform strategy us now up and rather than signal it would comply, Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis is giving every indication that the default prospect is real.

"We need to convince our partners, especially in northern Europe, that this government is not about going back to the profligacy of yesteryear," Dr Varoufakis said in Washington.

"They need to convince us that they are serious about rebooting a series of measures, programs, fiscal consolidation plan that has (to date) failed.

Setting the end of June as a deadline he said "this negotiation must succeed".

The hard talk is becoming ominous with Greece scheduled to deliver on a US$1 billion debt repayment in the coming weeks.

But the prospect of that repayment going down to the wire prompted the IMF's managing director Christine Lagarde to remind Greece that a replayment delay would not be tolerated.

"Payment delays have not been granted by the board of the IMF in the last 30 years so while all options are available to all countries, it's clearly not a course of action that would actually fit or be recommendable in the current situation. We have never had an advanced economy asking for payment delays," Ms Lagarde said in Washington.

European markets reacted cautiously and the standoff between Greece, the IMF and Eurozone leader was a factor that prompted investors to sell.

However, there appears to be greater confidence six years after the Greek crisis began that an ultimate exit would not result in a domino effect with other weak nations like Spain, Italy, Portugal or Cyrus deciding to go it alone.

But as a result, Greece is now paying more for its debt with its three year bonds now at around 30 per cent.

It's the best sign that in addition to the IMF, financial markets still see Greece as a very risky nation to lend to especially as its next debt deadline gets closer. 

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