As expected (and as tipped here on Thursday immediately after news broke that an IMF study conducted prior to the imposition of capital controls in Greece suggests debt relief for Athens is necessary if anyone hopes to create some semblance of sustainability), Greek PM Alexis Tsipras is now leaning hard on voters to carefully consider the fact that one-third of the troika has effectively validated the Greek government’s position on creditor writedowns.

“This position was never proposed to the Greek government over the five months of negotiations, wasn’t included in final offer tabled by creditor institutions, on which people are going to vote on July 5,” Tsipras said in a televised address, making it clear to Greeks that the proposals they are voting on effectively do not reflect the views of the institution that is perhaps the country’s most influential creditor.

“This IMF report justifies our choice not to accept an agreement which ignores the fundamental issue of debt,” he added, driving the point home.

Clearly, this puts Europe, and especially Germany, in a rather unpalatable position. Many EU officials have for months insisted that IMF participation is critical if the Greeks hope to secure a third bailout. The IMF meanwhile, has stuck to a position first adopted years ago (something we’ve noted in these pages multiple times of late); namely that official sector writedowns will ultimately be necessary if Brussels hopes to finally put the Greek tragicomedy to bed. This means Brussels (and Berlin) will now be forced to choose between IMF involvement (which the EU says is a precondition for a deal) and haircuts (which the EU says aren’t possible).

Here’s Barclays – a major investment bank – with its own confirmation that the IMF may have assured a No vote over the weekend.

The document basically argues that OSI is a necessary condition in order to secure sovereign solvency with a high probability.This means that before the IMF re-engages in any lending activities with Greece, OSI will be required in the form of NPV debt relief.

The timing of the publication of this report it is very important. Debt relief is something that the Greek authorities have repeatedly demanded; therefore, in a way this report can be interpreted as the IMF backing the Greek government’s demands. By extension, it could also be interpreted as supportive of a ‘No’ vote, which is what the Greek government is campaigning for. 

We agree broadly with the analytical content of the report and the need for further OSI. This is in fact hardly new news. Europe has recognized since November 2012 that Greece needs further OSI to make debt dynamics sustainable with high probability. The IMF advice of an NPV haircut via a debt maturity extension (to 40 years) is in line with expectations.

However, the critical point is that the IMF now requires debt-relief before it engages in a new programme, which confronts Europeans with a tough political decision. Many in Europe, including Germany, considered OSI as a future carrot in exchange for reforms today following good programme execution. Debt relief was conceived as a part of a third programme to be negotiated possibly with a new Greek government.

At the same time, Germany has been adamant about the importance of IMF involvement in any financial support programme for Greece. Thus, Germany will now be confronted with a tough choice: to deliver on the IMF’s demand, ie to engage in OSI negotiations in the form of NPV debt relief, or give up on IMF involvement. We believe that there is mounting support across other member states for the OSI discussion, therefore, we believe that Germany may not be able to resist such discussions any longer.

“I am guessing that this is a negotiating tactic ahead of the negotiations for a new programme for Greece. The IMF very well knows that a debt write-off is out of the question,” one unnamed EU official told MNI.

“The numbers are quite high, not in line with our assessment and our baseline scenario. We are examining different scenarios for the day after the referendum and provided the vote is Yes, we are ready to come up with solutions. But it is not going to be easy to agree. Certainly this report does not make it any easier,” another source said.

It’s easy to see why Europe is reluctant to accept the IMF’s assessment. As discussed at length on Thursday, were Europe to go down the OMI road, Brussels would be opening Pandora’s Box. Here’s why:

By now it should be clear to all that the only reason why Germany has been so steadfast in its negotiating stance with Greece is because it knows very well that if it concedes to a public debt reduction (as opposed to haircut on debt held mostly by private entities such as hedge funds which already happened in 2012), then the rest of the PIIGS will come pouring in: first Italy, then Spain, then Portugal, then Ireland.

The problem is that while it took Europe some 5 years to transfer a little over €200 billion in Greek private debt exposure to the public balance sheet (by way of the ECB, EFSF, ESM and countless other ad hoc acronyms) at a cost of countless summits and endless negotiations, which may or may not result with the first casualty of the common currency which may prove to be reversible as soon as next week, nobody in Europe harbors any doubt that the same exercise can be repeated with Italy, or Spain, or even Portugal.They are just too big (and their nonperforming loans are in the hundreds of billions).


As for the IMF’s position, Barclays notes that a permanent default by Greece would not be a trivial event, thus providing further incentive for the Fund to push for EU writedowns:

With the IMF’s total resources being roughly USD760bn – USD420bn of which are considered the ‘forward commitment capacity’ – the IMF has the firepower to ‘survive’ a permanent default of Greece while maintaining sufficient resources to be able to lend out fresh credit for countries in need. However, it would make a significant dent in the ongoing IMF finances – eg, the interest paid on IMF loans is used to cover IMF’s operational cost – and would very likely create intense debate about Europe’s relationship with the IMF and the balance of power between DM and EM members. One question could also be whether or not the euro area IMF members should not in some way be liable for the outstanding Greek debts. In turn, this would also intensify a debate about the sharing of liabilities/solidarity within the euro area and the EU.

 

So, thanks to a well-timed IMF report, Tsipras can now frame Sunday’s plebiscite as a simple Yes/No vote on Greece’s debt pile, which makes it far easier to vote “no.”

“Do you think Europe should forgive your debt, check box ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.” 

That should be an easy choice, although it depends upon the Greek public understanding the significance of the IMF’s position which, as indicated above, Tsipras is doing his very best to facilitate. The bottom line: Sunday’s vote is about whether Greece will agree to remain a debt colony of Germany, pardon Europe, even as the IMF (and, paradoxically, Germany) agrees with Athens that the country’s debt is unsustainable.

“No” means a lot of pain now and recovery later.

“Yes” means less pain now but no hope of recovery ever.

*  *  *

Choose wisely…


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