Greek Fatigue: Condition affecting investors and news junkies, caused by five years of reporting on the exact same topic. Symptoms include weariness, eyes glazing over and sleepwalking through broadcasts/columns/blogs predicting doom and gloom. (See: “US Debt Ceiling” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”.) I know you don’t want to hear about Greece again, but we’re getting down to it. Euro group leaders (the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission (EC) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)) were banking on weekend progress to restructure outstanding loans to Greece, which would unlock €7.2B of the total €15.3 billion in rescue funds. Without that money, Greece will not be able to make a €1.54 billion ($1.73B) payment due to the IMF on Tuesday. In order to get the lifeline from the Euro group, Greece must agree to more taxes and an increase in employee pension contributions.
THEN, in a twist worthy of a Broadway “11 o'clock number” (“Rose's Turn” from Gypsy being hands-down the best, ever!), in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras went on television and called for a surprise referendum for July 5th, where Greek citizens will have the opportunity to vote on the euro group’s demands. Tsipras called on Greeks to vote “no to the ultimatum” and at the same time, sent his Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis into the Euro group meeting to ask for a one-month extension on the talks to allow time for the vote. European officials quickly rejected the request, saying there was “no support for that.”
Over the weekend, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipiris stunned the world with an announcement of a surprise referendum next weekend, where citizens will have the opportunity to vote on the euro group’s demands for an increase in taxes and pension contributions. Concurrently, Greece asked the euro group for a one-month extension to the negotiations, which officials quickly dismissed.
Then the European Central Bank announced that it would not increase short term funding which has allowed Greek banks to meet withdrawal demands. Without the lifeline, Greece had no choice but to announce that banks would be closed for a week and to impose capital controls, which limit how much money citizens can withdraw from the banks (€60/day, though no limit if drawing from a non Greek bank card, so foreign tourists are not affected) and transfer out of the country.
Barring a last minute-effort, Greece is now likely to fall into technical default on the IMF loans, though not necessarily on other debts. That puts the country in a dubious club that includes Cuba, Zimbabwe and Somalia, but it would not immediately lead to cascading problems. That is, unless Greek bank depositors make a more fervent dash out of the banks and investors get antsy, during the week leading up to the vote.
The total outstanding amount extended to Greece is nearly $270B, of which the European Central Bank’s exposure stands at about $170 billion. About 80 percent of the ECB’s money is keeping the Greek banking system afloat and the rest is in the form of longer-term Greek bonds, which require a $3.9B installment on July 20th and the remainder must be paid by the end of August.
I know that it’s easy to paint Greece as the screw up, prodigal son in this story, but Irish economist Karl Whelan wants to set the record straight. Whelan cited the EC’s report on Greece from last year, which found that total public sector employment declined over 25 percent from 2009 to 2014. During the same time, Greece reduced its fiscal deficit from 15.6 percent of GDP to 2.5 percent, according to the OECD.
Perhaps because Euro group members are not willing to discuss the progress that Greece has made or the pain that ordinary Greeks have endured, Tsipiras and many within Greece’s ruling Syriza party are balking at even more austerity, which the party had promised to bring to an end when it successfully won seats in parliament in January.
The defiant Greek posture only inflames emotions more, leading many in Europe to posit that a default and exit from the euro zone, combined with a new (and much devalued) currency and structural reforms, would be best for Greece in the long run. The Financial Times Martin Wolf is not so sure: “Far more likely is a period of chaos and, at worst, emergence of a failed state…Neither side should underestimate the risks.”
While a deal between Greece and its creditors may finally emerge, “it still looks unlikely to include the substantial debt relief needed to end the crisis and eliminate the risk of Grexit”, according to Capital Economics. That’s a shame, because the answer seems so clear: European financiers pushed the ultimate drug into Greece—cash. Now that the addicted country is coming off the stuff, it would be foolhardy to go cold turkey.
US Jobs Report in a holiday-shortened week: Here in the US, there continues to be evidence of economic improvement. New and existing home sales reached 6 to 7 hear highs; personal income and spending jumped in May; and sentiment came in at a 5-month high. The better than expected results overall is prompting some economists to increase their projections for the June employment report from 215,000 to closer to 250,000. And there may be even more progress on wages: “Adjusting for inflation, disposable income for the first five months of the year is up a strong 3.6 percent compared to the same period last year,” according to Joel Naroff. Just a reminder, the report will be released on THURSDAY at 8:30ET, due to the Friday observance of Independence Day.
- DJIA: 17,946 down 0.4% on week, up 0.7% YTD
- S&P 500: 2101, down 0.4% on week, up 2.1% YTD
- NASDAQ: 5,080 down 0.7% on week, up 7.3% YTD
- Russell 2000: 1279, down 0.4% on week, up 6.2% YTD
- 10-Year Treasury yield: 2.47% (from 2.27% a week ago, highest yield in 9 mos)
- August Crude: $59.63, down 0.6% on week
- August Gold: $1,173.20, down 2.4% on week
- AAA Nat'l avg. for gallon of reg. gas: $2.78 (from $2.80 wk ago, $3.68 a year ago. AAA predicts that 35.5 million people will drive over Independence Day weekend, the most since 2007 and they will pay the lowest price at the pump since at least 2010)
THE WEEK AHEAD:
10:00 Pending Home Sales
10:30 Dallas Fed
GREECE PAYMENT DUE TO IMF
9:00 S&P Case Shiller Home Price Index
9:45 Chicago PMI
10:00 Consumer Confidence
Motor Vehicle Sales
8:15 ADP Private Sector Jobs Report
9:45 PMI Manufacturing
10:00 ISM Manufacturing
10:00 Construction Spending
8:30 June Employment Report
Fri 7/3: MARKETS CLOSED IN OBSERVANCE OF INDEPENDENCE DAY