Greek bond sale said to top 3 bln euros in market return

Unemployment rate drops to 26.7 percent in January, ELSTAT data show By Marcus Bensasson & Hannah Benjamin

Greece is ending a four-year exile from international markets with a bond sale of at least 3 billion euros ($4.2 billion), more than the government estimated, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The order book for the issue, which carries a coupon of 4.75 percent, exceeded 20 billion euros, said the person, who asked not to be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak about it. A Greek government official told reporters in Athens Wednesday that Greece sought to raise 2.5 billion euros in the five-year bond issue.

“Today we return to the bond markets after four years,” Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said at a conference in Athens Thursday. “The real economy is showing encouraging signs of recovery.”

Greece, which has been bailed out twice, carried out the world’s biggest sovereign-debt restructuring and teetered on the brink of exiting the euro, had been shut out of bond markets since March 2010 and kept afloat with aid totaling 240 billion euros from the euro area and the International Monetary Fund.

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.

“We welcome this,” Poul Thomsen, the IMF’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.”

Greece’s unemployment rate dropped to 26.7 percent in January from 27.2 percent in the previous month, according to data released Thursday from the Athens-based Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).

Consumer prices declined 1.5 percent in March from a year earlier, compared with a 0.9 percent decline in February, a separate report showed. [Bloomberg]