Germany may be getting ready to give up on Greece.
After almost two years of fighting to contain the region’s debt crisis and providing the biggest share of three European bailouts, Chancellor Angela Merkel is laying the ground for what markets say is almost a sure thing: a Greek default.
“It feels like Germany is preparing itself for a debt default,” Jacques Cailloux, chief European economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London, said in an interview. “Fatigue is setting in. Germany could be a first mover or other countries could be preparing too.”
Officials in Merkel’s government are debating how to shore up German banks in the event that Greece fails to meet the budget-cutting terms of its aid package and is unable to get a bailout-loan payment, three coalition officials said Sept. 9. The move capped a week of escalating German threats that Greece won’t get the money unless it meets fiscal targets and investors raising bets on a default.
Ring-fencing their banks and a hardening of rescue terms risk isolating Germany and unnerving global policy makers already fretting that the region’s political tussles are roiling markets and threatening growth. Underscoring the tone of weekend talks of Group of Seven finance chiefs, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told Bloomberg Television that European authorities must “demonstrate they have enough political will” to end the crisis.
European bank credit risk surged last week to an all-time high and the euro fell by the most against the dollar in a year. Investors have doubts whether Greece, whose two-year notes now yield 57 percent, will implement austerity moves fast enough to get a sixth payment from last year’s 110 billion-euro ($151 billion) bailout.
The Greek government’s top priority is “to save the country from bankruptcy,” Prime Minister George Papandreou said in a Sept. 10 speech in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. “We will remain in the euro” and this “means difficult decisions,” he said.
More evidence of rifts at the heart of policy making was exposed with the unexpected Sept. 9 announcement that Juergen Stark, a German, will quit the European Central Bank’s executive board over his opposition to the ECB’s purchases of bonds from debt-laden countries.
“Stark’s departure could be seen by financial markets as another indication of growing disenchantment in Germany towards the euro,” said Julian Callow, chief European economist at Barclays Capital in London. “This could complicate Germany’s involvement in additional bailout programs.”
At the G-7 gathering in the French port of Marseille, ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet and European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said they knew nothing about the talk in Germany of the so-called Plan B to protect banks. French officials said they weren’t working on a parallel proposal and Bank of France Governor Christian Noyer said his country’s banks have the capital to withstand a Greek default.
BNP Paribas (BNP) SA, Societe Generale (GLE) SA and Credit Agricole SA (ACA), France’s largest banks by market value, may have their credit ratings cut by Moody’s Investors Service as soon as this week because of their Greek holdings, two people with knowledge of the matter said on Sept. 10.
Moody’s said in June that the three banks were placed on review to examine “the potential for inconsistency between the impact of a possible Greek default or restructuring,” and the companies’ current rating levels.Comments »