ECONOMY

Financial markets far from assured that loans to Athens will douse debt crisis

Financial markets were far from assured yesterday that the 110 billion euros in loans promised to Greece could douse Europe’s smoldering sovereign debt crisis as the Greek government ruled out the possibility of default. «Concerns about [Greece’s] parliamentary approvals, implementation-execution risk, prospects for relatively weaker growth in Europe, as well as contagion to Spain and Portugal, has tempered any enthusiasm toward the package,» analyst Mitul Kotecha at Credit Agricole CIB Research, told The Associated Press. «Despite the large size of the loan package there are growing worries that it will be insufficient to cover Greece’s funding requirements over the next three years. All of this implies that the euro will remain vulnerable for some time yet.» A Greek default would be a serious blow to the shared euro currency and inflict losses on banks holding Greek bonds in France and Germany. The bailout is intended to reassure markets Greece will not default and thus prevent the debt crisis from spreading to other financially shaky countries such as Spain and Portugal. Eurozone governments loaded up on debt and ran large deficits during the recession and financial crisis of the past two years. Fears that their economies will not grow fast enough to enable them to pay those debts have led markets to fear they will default. As a result, bond investors are demanding higher and higher rates of interest to lend to what are increasingly viewed as risky borrowers. Greek bond yield spreads over benchmark German Bunds spiked above 600 basis points yesterday for the first time since Sunday’s eurozone rescue deal, and Greek bank shares plunged by 10 percent on the worsening economic outlook. News that investment bank Lazard had been hired by the Greek authorities for financial advice sparked talk that it will help the country restructure its 300-billion-euro debt pile. Finance Minister Giorgos Papaconstantinou told Reuters that any form of debt restructuring «is out of the question.» Lazard is currently involved with more than 70 restructuring deals in over 20 industry sectors worldwide. Meanwhile, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz voiced concern yesterday about the terms of the Greek bailout with Athens facing severe fiscal austerity measures in a bid to slice its debt. «It is good that Europe finally got its act together and was able to come up with a package» to save Greece, Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2001, told BBC Radio. But the one-time economic adviser to former US President Bill Clinton voiced concern about the «degree of fiscal austerity» being placed on Greece. «If you cut budgets too excessively the economy gets weaker, tax revenues go down and the improvement in the fiscal position of the country is much less than one would have hoped.» Taxes keep rising The government yesterday unveiled more details about the recent austerity measures that are needed to secure 110 billion euros in EU-IMF funding, announcing an additional one-off tax on company profits. Greece will slap a one-off tax on corporate profits this year under a three-year plan to cut its deficits, based on draft legislation the government submitted to Parliament yesterday. «The one-off contribution will be imposed on net profit… at a rate of 4 percent for amounts up to 300,000 euros… and 10 percent for profits above 5 million euros,» an article in the bill said. The draft legislation on policy measures to activate the support mechanism for Greece is expected to be voted into law by tomorrow in a fast-track process, the Finance Ministry said. The plan, which targets a fiscal adjustment of 11 percentage points of gross domestic product, or 30 billion euros until 2013, includes a rise in value-added tax, hikes in excise taxes on petrol, tobacco and alcohol, and cuts in public sector wages and pensions. As regards the one-off tax on 2010 corporate profits, there will be intermediate rates of 6 percent for amounts from 300,000 euros to 1 million and 8 percent for earnings from 1 million to 5 million euros.