A Glimpse Into the Continuing Greek Crisis

by Brad Houle, CFA Executive Vice President

Greece, often referred to as “the cradle of democracy,” practices a rather messy form of government by the people. Recently, a presidential election in Greece was considered to be unsuccessful due to a lack of a majority vote in the third round of voting. Due to this failed election, the Greek Parliament needs to be dissolved and general elections need to be held. This matters because the composition of the new government is most likely going to be the Syriza Party (according to the polls). The Syriza Party is considered to be extremely left-wing and is known to be very anti-austerity and anti-European Union.

This government turmoil in Greece has caused the Athens Stock Exchange to decline by over 20 percent in the month of December. Additionally, the Greek government bond market has had a vicious sell-off, much akin to the 2010-2012 European Debt Crisis. The Greek 10-year government bond is yielding 9.3 percent, up from 5.5 percent in early September. By contrast, the Japanese can borrow money for 10 years for .30 percent and the United States 10-year bond is at 2.17 percent.

What is driving down Greek bond prices and spiking yields is the fear that if the Syriza party comes into power, they may try to renegotiate the terms of the recent bailout of the Greek government. If this negotiation does not go their way, it is possible that Greece could leave the European Union. This creates uncertainty of how the bondholders of Greek debt would be treated in this circumstance

The good news about this crisis is that it is contained in Greece. The debt of other European countries such as Italy and Spain have not been impacted. The “do-whatever-it-takes” backstop that was created by Mario Dragi and the European Central Bank has been enough to keep a debt crisis contagion from occurring. General elections in Greece are scheduled for January 25 and even if the Syriza party does come into power, their ability to reverse austerity measures and renegotiate bailout terms is uncertain.

Our Takeaways for the Week:

  • Unfulfilled campaign promises are a universal feature of every form of democracy. It is highly probable that even if the Syriza Party comes into power they won’t be able to make the proposed changes.
  • We wish you and your family a very happy New Year.