Greece readies bond sale as Athens car bomb reminds of upheaval

By Marcus Bensasson & Paul Tugwell

Greece’s move to sell bonds Thursday ends a four-year exile from international markets that saw it bailed out twice, carry out the world’s biggest sovereign debt restructuring and teeter on the brink of exiting the euro.

A car bomb exploded outside one of the Bank of Greece’s offices in central Athens this morning as a reminder of the upheaval that continues to rock the country almost four years after it resorted to calling for outside aid. Police said no one was injured in the bombing.

Greece seeks to raise 2.5 billion-euros ($3.5 billion) from the five-year bond issue, a Greek government official told reporters in Athens Wednesday. The book on the offering opens this morning, London time, said the official, who asked not to be identified because the process has not been completed.

“We welcome this,” Poul Thomsen, the International Monetary Fund’s mission chief to Greece, said Wednesday. “It’s a fundamental objective of the program to bring Greece back to market and this is an important milestone in this regard, and that clearly speaks to the success of the program.”

The Greek government has been shut out of bond markets since March 2010 and kept afloat with bailouts totaling 240 billion euros from the euro area and the IMF. Those funds necessitated the regular presence in Athens of officials from the so-called troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF, which became associated with austerity measures that triggered a political and social backlash.

Protests, strikes and even bombings have been regular occurrences in Greece since then. Thursday's device exploded at about 6 a.m. outside a building belonging to the Bank of Greece, causing some damage to surrounding buildings, a police spokeswoman said by phone. Government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said on Skai TV that the identity of the perpetrators is not known and the police are continuing their investigations.

Greece won approval this month from euro-area members for an 8.3 billion-euro aid payment, the first disbursement from its bailout program since December. The government and European Union predict that Greece will this year emerge from six years of recession that has cost about a quarter of the country’s economic output and sent the unemployment rate surging to more than 27 percent.

The so-called initial price talk for the bond sale shows the nation may pay between 5 percent and 5.25 percent to borrow, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified.

Demand was six times stronger than the amount to be issued, Kedikoglou said on Skai TV. “There was strong interest for the bond,” he said. [Bloomberg]