Monday, January 5, 2015

5/1/2015: IMF on Debt Relief for Greece: Repeating the Repeats


Much of talk nowadays from the European leaders on Greek debt situation and the link to political crisis in the country. Some conversations are about lack of potential contagion from Grexit, other conversations are about the right of the Greeks to decide on their next Government, whilst all conversations contain references to the new Government having to abide by the previous commitments. Which is fine. Except, what about the European partners commitments? Specifically one commitment - relating to further debt relief for the country?

Here is 2013 IMF assessment of the Greek situation (emphasis in italics is mine):

"47. The program continues to satisfy the substantive criteria for exceptional access but with little to no margin. Delays in the implementation of structural reforms raise concerns about the capacity of the authorities to implement the program in a difficult political environment. …The continued commitment of euro area member states to support Greece, including by providing additional official financing to fill future financing gaps and through further debt relief as necessary, is an essential part of meeting the criteria."

And then:

"48. …The program is fully financed through July 2014, but a projected financing gap will open up in August 2014. Thus, under staff’s current projections, additional financing will need to be identified by the time of the fifth review, to keep the program fully financed on a 12-month forward basis. The Eurogroup has initiated discussions on how to eliminate the projected financing gaps. In this regard, the Eurogroup’s commitment in February and November 2012 to provide adequate support to Greece during the life of the program and beyond, provided that Greece fully complies with the program, is particularly important."

For some more on debt relief:

"55. As noted in the third review staff report, debt sustainability concerns continue to remain a risk. …The commitment of Greece’s European partners to provide debt relief as needed to keep debt on the programmed path remains, therefore, a critical part of the program. But the programmed path entails still very high debt well into the next decade, leaving Greece accident prone for an extended period. Should debt sustainability concerns prove to be weighing on investor sentiments even with the framework for debt relief now in place, European partners should consider providing relief that would entail a faster reduction in debt than currently programmed."

And

"56. …The program remains subject to numerous risks, mainly from the worsening of the macro outlook combined with a further deterioration in banking sector assets (feeding back to the real economy), difficulties with the implementation of ambitious fiscal policy and administrative changes, and—above all—failure once again to ensure a reinvigoration of structural reforms in the face of strong resistance from vested interests. Absent a critical mass of structural reforms that would transform the investment climate, the growth outlook—and, therefore, crucially the assumptions regarding financing needs for the rest of the program period and the debt path—would not materialize. Externally, closing financing gaps and delivering on the commitment to reduce debt will be a test of European support."

And in Box 4, Criterion 2:
" …In light of the commitments from euro area member states to provide additional debt relief as necessary, the baseline debt trajectory is sustainable in the medium-term but subject to significant risks."

Link to the above: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2013/cr13241.pdf


But there are more statements from the IMF on the issue of debt relief for Greece.

Take for example Transcript of a Press Briefing by William Murray, Deputy Spokesman, International Monetary Fund, from September 11, 2014 (http://www.imf.org/external/np/tr/2014/tr091114.htm):

"QUESTIONER: You told us many times from this podium that the issue of the Greek debt will be discussed at the sixth review. As I understand this, it's going to begin at the end of the month. The Euro Group said on Monday that the debate will begin after the sixth review. What we want to hear is that are the discussions about the financing of the Greek program and about the debt, still proceeding on an orderly way as you told us before many times? And what is your plan or your strategy for the Greek debt? Is there an option of those talks between you and the Europeans? Are the Europeans onboard to discuss this big problem for Greece?

MR. MURRAY: ...I do want to remind you and others what we have said all along. There is an agreed framework in place for ensuring debt sustainability with Greece's European partners agreeing to provide any additional debt relief as needed to help bring Greece's debt down to 124 percent of GDP by 2020. And to substantially below 110 percent of GDP by 2022 as long as Greece continues to deliver on its program commitments."

Now, IMF estimates debt/GDP ratio for Greece to be at 170% of GDP. Which means that over the next 5 years, the programme will have to deliver debt.GDP ratio reduction of a massive 50 percentage points. How on earth can this be achieved without debt relief is anyone's guess.

And more: Interview by Greece’s newspaper Ethnos with IMF Mission Chief for Greece, Poul Thomsen, published in Ethnos, June 15, 2014 (http://www.imf.org/external/np/vc/2014/061514.htm):

"QUESTION: You talk constantly about the commitment of Europeans regarding the financing needs of Greece and Greek debt relief. If Europeans do not show the determination needed or the courage to take bold decisions, like last time, what is the IMF planning to do?

ANSWER: We are confident that the European partners will deliver on their commitments. Do you believe that Greece's debt is now sustainable or do you believe that the situation needs new and drastic interventions? Are European commitments to contribute to debt relief enough for the IMF? What could the potential tools for debt relief be? The agreed framework is credible, provided that Greece and its European partners deliver on their promises. For Greece, this means continuing to advance reforms and achieving and maintaining a fiscal primary surplus of 4.5 percent of GDP. For the European partners, this means providing additional debt relief, if required, to keep debt on the programmed path. Thus, if adhered to, the framework will make the debt sustainable."

So 4.5% primary surplus over 5 years - even if achieved, will deliver somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1/2 of the required debt adjustment. The rest, presumably, will have to be achieved via economic growth, which will have to be running, on average, at 4% per annum to provide for the adjustment planned. And, thus, do tell me if the above any realistic, let alone probabilistically plausible.

In its 5th (most recent) assessment of the Greek situation, IMF reiterated (paragraph 49) that "The continued commitment of euro area member states to support Greece, including by providing additional official financing to fill future financing and through further debt relief as necessary, is an essential part of meeting the criteria" for debt sustainability. (see http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/scr/2014/cr14151.pdf)

And it also carries Greek authorities expectation of the European funders agreement to further debt relief: "The program is fully financed through the next twelve months. Firm commitments are also in place thereafter from our euro area partners to provide adequate support during the program period and beyond, provided that we comply fully with the requirements and objectives of the program. In this regard, we remain on track to receive the first phase of conditional debt relief from our European partners, as described in the Eurogroup statements of November 27 and December 13, 2012." (page 71)

The same was stated in May 2014 Letter of Intent, Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies, and Technical Memorandum of Understanding from the Greek authorities (see: http://www.imf.org/external/np/loi/2014/grc/051414.pdf). On foot of the IMF press conference statement on same (see: http://www.imf.org/external/np/tr/2014/tr050814.htm).

And so on, to no end and… no closure from the European partners…

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