Government mulls ways to cover gap if extension is granted

Greece is examining several ways it could cover its funding gap should it be granted a two-year fiscal extension after International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde backed the idea of Athens being given more time to bring down its public deficit.

The government has been pushing more publicly this week the idea of its consolidation period being extended to the end of 2016 and Lagarde?s comments appear to have given the Greek cause a boost. ?I have said repeatedly that an additional two years was necessary for the country to actually face the fiscal consolidation program,? she told journalists in Tokyo.

Eurozone officials, however, are concerned that granting Greece more time would also lead to demands for more funding from Athens. The coalition is convinced, though, that it can get through the extra two years without asking for any more money.

Sources said that the government estimates that there will be a hole of up to 12 billion euros in its budget due to extending the 13.5-billion-euro austerity package demanded by the troika over four years rather than two.

However, shortfalls in the privatization program, a possible need for more capital for Greek banks, a deeper-than-expected recession and any deviation from the budget could take the amount needed to cover the gap to 25 billion euros, according to Finance Ministry estimates.

The government sees six ways in which this gap can be covered: for the European Central bank and eurozone central banks to return to Athens the profit they will make on Greek bonds bought on the secondary market; a reduction in the interest rates on the bilateral loans agreed as part of the first bailout; an extension to the maturities of Greek bonds the ECB holds in its investment portfolio (about 10 billion euros; of which 6.5 billion is due in 2016); rolling over the debts the state owes itself (such as a 5.2-billion-euro loan from the Bank of Greece); the sale or renting out of public property (which could raise 1 to 2 billion euros) and an increase in the issuance of T-bills by 9 billion euros.

In a meeting with troika representatives on Thursday, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras attempted to prioritize the 89 structural reforms Greece?s lenders want to see implemented before the next bailout tranche is dispersed. The government hopes that it can agree to pass the most urgent of measures to receive the loan, with the rest following in due course.

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