Bloomberg News

Greek Leaders Wrestle With Spending Cuts Demanded for Rescue

February 14, 2012

(Updates to add general strike in ninth paragraph. See EXT4 for more on the euro-area debt crisis.)

Feb. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos struck a tentative deal with political parties on austerity measures demanded by international creditors as European leaders maintained pressure to complete terms for a 130 billion-euro ($171 billion) rescue package.

Chiefs of the three parties supporting Papademos’s interim government were due to meet with the premier at about midday to hammer out details after setting a framework for recapitalizing banks, ensuring the viability of pension funds and reducing wages and non-wage costs to boost competitiveness. They agreed in a five-hour meeting yesterday to make additional reductions this year equal to 1.5 percent of gross domestic product.

With the country’s stability at stake, the accord marked a step forward as Athens played host to parallel negotiations over the weekend to secure the domestic consensus needed to win a second bailout while persuading Greece’s private creditors to accept bigger writedowns on their debt holdings.

This week, “Greece will be left, right and center taking it right down to the wire,” said Erik Nielsen, chief global economist at UniCredit SpA in London.

‘Make or Break’

Euro-area finance chiefs told Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos in a Feb. 4 conference call that an increase in the bailout package wasn’t forthcoming, underscoring their frustration at a lack of progress on fixing the economy. The effort to keep Greece from tumbling into default presents what Deutsche Bank AG Chief Executive Officer Josef Ackermann called a “make or break” moment.

The euro fell, losing 0.8 percent to $1.3048 as of noon in Athens amid the political wrangling.

Papademos was meeting the three party leaders today to hammer out the details of the measures. Antonis Samaras, the head of the second-biggest party, New Democracy, indicated he would oppose some measures that the so-called troika of international creditors have put forward.

“They are asking us for greater recession, which the country can’t take,” Samaras said as he left the meeting with Papademos. “I will fight to avoid that.”

Greece’s biggest public-sector and private-sector union groups, ADEDY and GSEE, called a 24-hour general strike for tomorrow to protest austerity measures.

Greece’s efforts to win a second bailout from the so-called troika -- the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- have hung in the balance over the past three days as negotiations in Athens failed to clinch an agreement. Venizelos said on Feb. 4 the talks were “on razor’s edge.”

Bond Redemption

Facing a 14.5 billion-euro bond payment on March 20 and general elections as soon as April, Papademos must heed international demands for greater austerity to complete the talks on a second aid package in time. Open questions involve how much more aid Greece needs, how much more austerity is required, and how to involve the European Central Bank in the private-sector creditor debt swap.

“If we determine that it’s all going wrong in Greece, then there won’t be a new program -- and that means in March you’ll have a declaration of bankruptcy,” Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs euro finance meetings, told Der Spiegel magazine in an interview published yesterday.

Next Election

Guarantees from Greek political leaders such as Samaras, who leads in opinion polls, are key to securing the funds from the EU and IMF. International lenders want assurances that whoever wins the next election, which could be held in April, will stick to pledges made now to receive financing.

George Papandreou, the former prime minister who still leads the Pasok socialist party, the biggest in the Greek parliament, met with party members after the meeting to discuss the party’s response.

In a letter sent separately to Papademos, he proposed that Papademos’s mandate be extended to boost confidence among lenders the pledges will be implemented. That is an option likely to be opposed by Samaras, who has called for elections as soon as the new financing is agreed.

Agreement on a new plan, which includes a writedown of Greek debt held by private creditors, has been held up by insistence on the part of the EU and IMF on structural reforms that will underpin a return to competitiveness for the Greek economy as well as new fiscal measures for this year.

Rescue Blueprint

The rescue blueprint includes a loss of more than 70 percent for bondholders in a voluntary debt exchange and loans that will probably exceed the 130 billion euros now on the table. A formal offer for the debt swap must be made by Feb. 13 to allow all procedures to be completed before the March 20 bond comes due.

“One thing is clear: the Greek drama continues to unfold,” Joachim Fels, chief economist at Morgan Stanley wrote in a note yesterday. “A really, really bad scenario for the euro area -- a Greek default and departure from the euro area -- simply cannot be excluded.”

Greece has lagged behind budget targets set when it won an initial, taxpayer-funded rescue of 110 billion euros in May 2010, prompting euro-area threats to cut off aid and hastening a German push to make bondholders contribute. The country’s economy shrank 6 percent last year, according to the most recent IMF estimates, the budget deficit is still close to 10 percent of GDP and unemployment is about 18 percent.

Even after a second bailout, Greece may be saddled with too much debt, too little growth and too large a budget hole to do without even more money, which euro nations led by Germany are increasingly reluctant to offer.

Troika Measures

The troika wants the country to detail over 4 billion euros of measures to meet targets for 2011 and 2012 because wage cuts will deepen the recession and cause a shortfall this year, one government official told reporters in Athens.

The troika argues that cutting private-sector holiday allowances is among reforms necessary to boost competitiveness in the country. Those opposed say the cuts would deepen the country’s recession, now in its fifth year.

Papademos met yesterday with the lead negotiators on the debt accord with Greece, Charles Dallara, managing director of the International Institute of Finance, and Jean Lemierre, a senior adviser to the chairman of BNP Paribas SA. The debt swap, Venizelos said on Feb. 4 “is now the easiest part of the process.”

Creditors are prepared to accept an average coupon of as low as 3.6 percent on new 30-year bonds in the exchange, said a person familiar with the talks, who declined to be identified because a final deal hasn’t been struck yet.

--With assistance from Patrick Donahue in Berlin and Eleni Chrepa and Paul Tugwell in Athens. Editors: James Hertling, Alan Crawford

To contact the reporters on this story: Natalie Weeks in Athens at nweeks2@bloomberg.net; Marcus Bensasson in Athens at mbensasson@bloomberg.net; Maria Petrakis in Athens at mpetrakis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net


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