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Greece secures biggest debt cut in history
“The page of the financial crisis is being turned,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
However, some economists are concerned that Greece is merely buying time. The breather allows European governments and banks to strengthen their financial defenses, leaving them less vulnerable if Greece cracks a few months or even a few years from now.
The bond swap deal and the expected bailout loans do “more to protect Europe from Greece than for Greece itself,” said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Europe also has to contend with spiraling debt problems of Spain, Portugal and Ireland and Italy.
Markets, which had rallied on Thursday on expectations of a successful deal, were muted on Friday. The Stoxx 50 of leading European shares was up 0.6 percent, but the main stock index in Athens closed down 2.15 percent. The euro retreated 1.19 percent from recent highs to $1.3110.
The International Swaps and Derivatives Association was meeting to determine whether the bond swap would be deemed a so-called “credit event” — a technical default — which would trigger the payment of credit default swaps, which is essentially insurance against a default.
When the debt relief plan was first announced last year, eurozone leaders and the ECB worked hard to avoid a credit event, because they feared the a payout of CDS could destabilize big financial institutions that sold them.
However, since then a CDS payout has started to look less threatening. The ISDA, a private organization that rules on credit events, said that if triggered, overall payouts on CDS linked to Greece will be below $3.2 billion.
EU economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn said he was “very satisfied” by the high turnout, and urged Athens to press ahead with its austerity program, implemented over the past two years amid deep popular resentment.
On the streets of Athens, however, many were skeptical about the deal and pessimistic about the future. Panayiotis Theodoropoulos said the writedown was good “for them.”
“For us? Nothing. Everyone looks out for themselves. In a while the people will be living on the streets,” he said.
The debt crisis, sparked by years of overspending and waste, has left Greece relying on funds from international rescue loans since May 2010. Austerity measures including repeated salary and pension cuts and tax hikes imposed in return have led to record unemployment with more than 1 million people out of work, a fifth of the labor force.
Statistics released Friday showed the recession in the last quarter of 2011 was deeper than initially forecast, reaching 7.5 percent instead of 7 percent. The economy is expected to shrink for a fifth straight year in 2012, stagnate in 2013 and modestly expand in 2014.
• Nicholas Paphitis and Demetris Nellas in Athens, Gabriele Steinhauser in Brussels and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.
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