ECONOMY

Greece said to seek tailor-made plan for bailout exit

Greek officials are trying to persuade their euro-area creditors to look beyond existing financial backstops to help them escape the shackles of the country’s bailout, two people familiar with the matter said.

The Greek proposal would spare euro member states from pledging additional loans by converting unused funds from its existing program, which had been earmarked for banks, into a credit line, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. That would give Greek officials a backup plan should they struggle to sell bonds.

The pitch epitomizes Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s balancing act as he tries to convince voters that Greece is regaining its economic independence while reassuring investors that Europe’s most indebted state can still refinance its liabilities without the international lifeline which has kept it afloat since 2010.

The size of the envelope might reach 15 billion euros ($19.2 billion) through 2016, including the profits that euro-area central banks made on their Greek bonds portfolio, and which national governments have already committed to return to Greece, one of the people said.

Samaras said on October 17 that Greece is in negotiations with its international creditors over a precautionary credit line to be available should a spike in borrowing costs complicate its access to bond markets from next year. The conditions attached to the aid will determine how strongly Samaras can argue to his voters that the measure doesn’t constitute a new bailout.

Special fund

Under the structure Greek negotiators are pushing for, the European Stability Mechanism would create a special fund from unused money from Greece’s existing 240 billion-euro bailouts that had been set aside for the sole purpose of keeping the banking system capitalized, the people said. That set-up would bypass the ESM’s Precautionary Conditioned Credit Line, which Greece will probably be deemed ineligible for, and the stricter Enhanced Conditions Credit Line, which the Greek government wants to avoid because of the strings attached to it.

Emboldened by an improvement in Greek public finances and a return to bond markets after a four-year exile, Samaras has staked his political credibility on exiting the bailout program this year and easing the country’s unpopular economic oversight by the euro area and the International Monetary Fund. The plan met with skepticism from investors, triggering a selloff in Greek government bonds, which lost 18 percent in the past month, more than any other sovereign security tracked by Bloomberg’s World Bond Indexes.

Last resort

A precautionary program would see Greece drawing funds only as a last resort if it finds itself again shut out of markets, rather than the existing arrangement in which euro-area and IMF officials release each tranche after reviewing the country’s progress in meeting program targets.

The officials negotiating the deal still have to agree on what kind of oversight should be attached to the facility, the people said. The plan is also dependent on Greek lenders not having to tap the bank recapitalization fund reserves when the European Central Bank releases the results of a health-check result on October 26.

Greece’s creditors are concerned that too small a facility won’t convince bond investors the backstop is strong enough, one of the people said. [Bloomberg]