Greek gloom rocks markets, troubles lenders
Oct 3, 2011, 2:37 a.m.
By Harry Papachristou and Jan Strupczewski
ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's admission that it will miss its deficit targets this year and next despite harsh new austerity measures sent stock markets reeling on Monday and raised new doubts over a planned second international bailout.
The gloomy news from Athens brought the specter of a debt default closer and will weigh on talks among euro zone finance ministers in Luxembourg later on Monday on the next steps to try to resolve the currency area's sovereign debt crisis.
European bank shares suffered the heaviest falls on fears that private sector bondholders may be forced to absorb bigger losses than agreed in a July rescue plan for Greece, which was based on more optimistic growth forecasts.
Draft budget figures issued on Sunday showed the deficit would be 8.5 percent of gross domestic product this year, well above the 7.6 percent agreed in Greece's EU/IMF bailout program, and 6.8 percent in 2012, short of the 6.5 percent goal because the economy will shrink further.
Deputy Finance Minister Pantelis Oikonomou played down the shortfall, saying European Union and International Monetary Fund inspectors had "essentially concluded" negotiations to give Greece a crucial 8 billion euro installment of aid this month to avert bankruptcy.
However, a source familiar with the review by the "troika" of international lenders said the talks were not over, and the inspectors were still examining both the budget numbers and other reforms required for the loan disbursement.
The 17 euro zone ministers will not take any decision on Monday on releasing the funds, needed to pay October salaries and pensions, since the troika has yet to report back. They are set to decide at a special meeting on October 13.
The disclosure that Greece's funding needs next year will be greater than forecast when a second 109 billion euro rescue package was agreed in principle in July reopened a fraught battle over who should pay -- taxpayers or financiers.
Deutsche Bank chairman Josef Ackermann, head of the International Institute of Finance (IIF), which negotiated a "voluntary" bond-swap by investors as part of the bailout plan, warned at the weekend against changing the terms now.
"If we reopen the voluntary accord of July 21, we will not only lose precious time but quite possibly also private investor support," Ackermann told the Sunday edition of Greek newspaper Kathimerini.
"The impact of such a move will be incalculable. This is why I am warning in the most forceful way against any material revision," he said.
Private bondholders agreed to a 21 percent write-down on their Greek debt holdings but EU and German officials have suggested the "haircut" may have to be increased in light of the new funding shortfall and changed market conditions.
"Ultimately, Greece would need to see its debt written down by more and with that you need probably some kind of shoring up of the banking sector," said Alec Letchfield, chief investment officer at HSBC Asset Management.
Political resistance to pouring more public money into euro zone bailouts is growing across northern Europe.