When it comes to the main sovereign story of 2011 and 2012, namely the endless bailout of Greece, now in its third iteration, the conventional wisdom is that courtesy of the near elimination of the country’s private sovereign debt and the fact that its official foreign debt held by benevolent taxpayer funded globalist powers (IMF, ECB, EFSF) has been mostly converted into a zero-coupon, perpetual piece of paper, the country is fine. After all it has no debt interest expense to finance, and the only shortfall it has to plug is that created by its primary budget deficit (which as we showed earlier is “improving” on a year over year basis not because the economy is improving, but because the Greek government is simply refusing to pay its bills). So there is nothing more to do but sit back and wait while the economy slowly recovers, the unprecedented internal imbalance with Germany is gradually aligned, are the unemployment rate drops, (while hoping that the population does not die out first) right? Wrong.
What everyone is forgetting is that the heart of the Greek problem is not the Greek sovereign debt, and certainly not the rate of interest, but the fact that Greece’s financial system, i.e. its banks, are utterly insolvent: and with the private banking system no longer creating money by handing out loans to a just as insolvent broader population (and the ECB certainly no longer injecting direct liquidity into the Greek economy) there is little that supports any form of economic growth (the Austrians out there will immediately recognize the problem: if money is not being created, the economy is not “growing”, period). After all there is a reason why of the countless billions in Greek bailouts, of which the majority was used primarily to fund interest and maturity payments to other banks such as Deutsche Bank, the biggest portion that remained on the ground in Greece never made it to the actual people, but served to prop up the Greek banks, some €50 billion.
What was this money used for? Simply said, to plug capitalization shortfalls arising from one of two things: i) a gigantic outflow of deposits from the local banking system, as Greek lost all confidence their money was safe in the local banks, which meant Greek banks had to promptly find the money to pay their depositors lest a countrywide bank run developed which would then result in a Europe-wide financial panic, and ii) the soaring notional amount of non-performing “bad” loans, which remained as placeholders on the bank balance sheets, market at whatever mythical number the local accounts let the banks mark them at, but which generated zero inbound cash flows. Which, incidentally, would mean that deposits were undercollaterialized, and the realization that NPL levels are stratospheric and going higher, would lead to i) and the appropriate dire consequences.
Which brings us to the topic of today’s post.
Moments ago Kathimerini reported that in 2012, the amount of non-performing loans has exploded by a laughable amount, rising some 50% from December 2011, when it was “only” 16% and stood at a gargantuan 24% last month (indicatively, in the US this would mean that some $1.7 trillion in loans was nonperforming). And therein lies the rub, because as Kathiermini prudently notes, the “bad loans come to a considerable 55 billion euros. This means that the sum of NPLs already exceeds the total funds set aside for the recapitalization of the local credit system, which amounts to €50 billion.“
This means that not only every single euro allotted for the bailout of the Greek banking sector has been used up to plug a gaping NPL shortfall, but already Greece is €5 billion short.
Sure enough, the last thing Kathimerini would want to do is give people the impression that, once again, their deposits are effectively impaired with the soothing proclamation that “there has been a notable improvement in economic conditions that is reflected in the significant slowdown in the rate of creation of new bad loans.”
So 16% to 24% is a slow down? Maybe the fact that Greek unemployment is rising at “just” 1% of total each month is also a “notable improvement.”
No, we doubt Kathimerini would be so audacious to proclaim the above chart of Greek unemployment as “notably improving”. But that’s a problem, because the level of NPL, the level of unemployment, and the general state of the economy (whose Q3 GDP imploded by 7.2%, the worst quarterly drop following a 6.7% GDP decline in Q1, and 6.3% in Q2) are closely linked, and one can’t improve without the other. And usually the catalyst the drives an overall bounce in the economy is some endo- or exogenous source of money demand and creation (usually for nations in depression it involves war).
Absent that, there can be no improvement.
Which, following the preceding optimism, is precisely what the Kathimerini author admits: “However, unless the growth of new NPLs is contained, banks may need yet another recapitalization process at the end of 2013, the same sources say.“
In other words, dear Germans, the country that you, and everyone else, though is now saved and needs no more bailouts, at least according to the current Finance Minister, not the previous one who now it appears was avoiding paying his taxes like the plague (ah yes, the Greek tax collections “issue” – a fun topic for another day), is already down €5 billion and in need of bailout Number 4.
Expect this news to be sprung on a witless Germany in the coming months, but most likely not before the Merkel reelection. After all the last thing Germany needs to understand is that the hundreds of billions “invested” to preserve the Eurozone have achieved precisely nothing, and the gaping black hole is bigger and blacker than ever before.
But at least the hedge funds who bought worthless Greek bonds at 15 cents on the euro and made three times their money in three month, are happy.
Everyone else, i.e. the Greek people, good luck. For the fourth time.