It is Monday morning which must mean that there is a meeting in Brussels between eurozone finance ministers and Yanis Varoufakis' Greek negotiating team. Tomorrow is the deadline for repayment of 750 million euros to the IMF. Last week Varoufakis said Greece would make the repayment. The ever-skeptical Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism is not so sure. As she argues in her post today, "Greece Finally Threatens Default as Deal with Creditors Remains Remote,"
The ruling Greek coalition appears to have finally woken up to the fact that it it cornered. As we indicated, the longer the creditors keep Greece in the sweatbox, the more its popularity is destined to decline.
While the latest polls still show Syriza as the most popular party, its support is now at 36%, a round trip from a huge surge after the government took office to back to where it stood when it was voted into office. Approval ratings of the government’s strategy have dropped precipitously from the very high levels reached shortly after the new government took office. As e pointed out early on, the best strategy for the creditors was simply to remain non-negotiable. Either Syriza would capitulate to their demands, or the government would lose support, paving the way for the return of a more complaint coalition. Syriza appears to realize that following the inertial path of trying to extend its negotiating runway does not work in its favor. Even if Greece were to pull a rabbit out of the hat and make the €750 million IMF payment, it has a total of €1.5 billion coming due to the IMF in June, which it almost certainly can’t satisfy if it fails to unlock the bailout funds.Yves Smith seems to think that Syriza can either make the IMF payment tomorrow and risk having to issue scrip to pensioners and government workers at the end of the month, or it can stiff the IMF, a course of action that would not immediately precipitate default and Grexit. As Smith explains:
The situation is more fluid than it appears. The odds are high that blame game political calculations will win over sound policy. We’re already seeing jockeying starting to take place. Notice Schauble’s “justifiable conditions” caveat. He’s made clear repeatedly that he’d just as soon see Greece leave the Eurozone, but no one, particularly Merkel, wants to be seen to have pushed Greece out. Thus if Greece plays its cards so it can be depicted to have brought the default (and if it comes to that, an exit), that works to the advantage of the hardliners who see Greece as disposable and believe a default/possible exit can be made painful enough for the Greek people so as to make any other country that might contemplate leaving the Eurozone to see that alternative as too costly.
Despite the continued impasse, and virtual certainty of a default on Tuesday [!], the creditors have quite a lot of choices and options. For instance, despite the IMF’s tough talk about not giving Greece any grace period on a default, an IMF default is not as fine a trigger event at a private sector bond default. As the Financial Times explains:
In other words, even if Greece defaults on the loan repayment to the IMF, things can continue to muddle along as they have. The June repayments are larger than this month's. But if missed payments can play out over months before a default is officially declared, there is no reason why this can't repeat itself next month.But that hard line masks a little wiggle room created by the IMF’s own procedures. Under the official timeline plan, it is not until a month after a missed payment that the managing director formally notifies the board and not until three months afterwards that a formal statement to the outside world is expected to be made.
In the Business section of today's "newspaper of record" is a slightly more sanguine treatment of the Brussels negotiations. Peter Eavis, Jack Ewing and Landon Thomas, "I.M.F. and Central Bank Loom Large Over Greece’s Debt Talks," see a chink in the troika's armor, and it is not the wiggle room on IMF repayments; it is the risk aversion of the European Central Bank:
It would of course also be a high-stakes gamble for Greece to do anything that could undermine relations with the central bank, which is shoring up Greece’s banking system. It has lent Greek banks more than €110 billion, cash the lenders need to operate but would have trouble raising on international money markets.
The support to the banks is not the debt that the officials in the Greek government would consider for default. Instead, the idea would be to not repay Greek government bonds held by the central bank. Greece is scheduled to repay nearly €7 billion on those this summer.
If the Greek banks could not repay their central bank loans, the losses would be passed on to other eurozone countries. An outcry would come from Germany and other countries already fed up with what they regard as Greece’s misbehavior. The central bank’s credibility — probably a central bank’s most important asset — could be damaged.
Still, the central bank’s deep caution about financial stability would most likely limit how hard it pressed Greece. As the guardian of the single currency, the central bank may not want to do anything that could set off a chain of catastrophic events in Greece’s banking sector that could lead the country to quit the euro.
“The E.C.B. does not want to be responsible for precipitating a crisis,” said Mujtaba Rahman, practice head for the European Union at Eurasia Group, a political consultancy. “They are very, very concerned about having blood on their hands.”I know at the end of April when last I wrote about this I said climax was near. Then it looked impossibile that Varoufakis could scrape together the 750 million euros due the IMF on May 12. At the time there was the brouhaha over Varoufakis' obstreperousness; things seemed to be at an unbridgeable impasse and something was going to fracture. But then Tsipras organized a deft cosmetic reshuffling of the bargaining team, with Varoufakis nominally sent to the sidelines, and that seemed to cool things down. Also, I had no idea just how wide the nonpayment wiggle room to the IMF is. Things can continue to go on as they have for months.
Syriza will get some rhetorical help from the Scottish National Party blasting away at austerity. And there is evidence that the U.S. is extremely jealous of Russian pipeline overtures to Greece. So all in all I am more hopeful of some sort of resolution that favors Greece than I have been in months.