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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Griechenland und Deutschland

“Jahrzehntelang verstanden sich Deutsche und Griechen nach dem Ende des letzten Weltkriegs bestens: Schätzten die Griechen deutsche Wertarbeit von Audi bis Zeiss, fanden die Deutschen den “Griechischen Wein” und das damit assoziierte unbeschwerte Lebensgefühl ohne allzu viel Leistungsdruck durchaus attraktiv. Deutsche wie Griechen wussten intuitiv um ihre Unterschiede und fanden im jeweils anderen ein bisschen, was sie an sich selbst vermissten – ohne deshalb so wie der jeweils andere werden zu wollen.

Doch die Beziehungskiste ist mittlerweile arg ramponiert. In der öffentlichen Meinung Deutschlands (und Österreichs) ist vom “faulen Pleitegriechen” die Rede, in Griechenland werden die Deutschen wieder mit den Nazis assoziiert. Die einen sehen nicht ein, warum sie zahlen sollen, und die anderen nicht, warum sie sich Vorschriften machen lassen sollen. Das Ergebnis: Deutsche und Griechen waren zwar dank EU und Euro noch nie so eng verflochten miteinander wie jetzt – doch die Folge ist,  dass sie einander so abgeneigt sind wie seit Menschengedenken nicht mehr“. („OrtnerOnline“ vom 29.10.2011).

Diese Beschreibung trifft 100%-ig zu. Hier ist ein Vorschlag, wie beide Seiten verstehen könnten/sollten, dass jeder von ihnen gewissermaßen Recht hat (aber dass die Friedhöfe der Welt voll sind von Menschen, die einmal Recht gehabt haben…).


Griechen aus der Sicht von Deutschland
Man stelle sich einen jungen Mann vor, der in seinem ersten Job 1.000 Euro netto monatlich verdient. Alle seine besten Freunde verdienen 1.800 Euro netto monatlich und er möchte in seinem Lebensstandard seinen Freunden nicht nachstehen. Er gibt also auch 1.800 Euro monatlich aus, obwohl er nur 1.000 Euro verdient. Das geht deswegen, weil ihm die Bank einen Kreditrahmen eingeräumt hat.

Nach dem ersten Monat ist sein Kreditrahmen bei der Bank mit 800 Euro beansprucht. Nach 10 Monaten beträgt die Inanspruchnahme 8.000 Euro und die Bank fordert ihn zu einer Besprechung auf. Die Bank erklärt ihm, dass das so nicht weitergehen kann, weil alleine schon die Zinsen auf die 8.000 Euro Schulden 33 Euro monatlich betragen (bei einem Spitzenzinssatz von nur 5%). Die Bank stellt mit ihm ein Haushaltsbudget auf: 1.000 Euro netto stehen ihm monatlich als Einkommen zur Verfügung; 33 Euro gehen weg als Zinsen und weiter 67 Euro monatlich verlangt die Bank als Tilgung (dann ist der Kredit in 10 Jahren getilgt). Somit muss der junge Mann nun mit 900 Euro monatlich auskommen.

Der junge Mann ist verzweifelt. Er hat sich an monatliche Ausgaben von 1.800 Euro gewöhnt und soll jetzt mit nur mehr der Hälfte auskommen? Sein ganzer Lebensstandard würde doch einstürzen! Das kann man nicht von ihm verlangen!" Er macht der Bank schwerste Vorwürfe. Die Bank ist auf den jungen Mann wütend.

PS: Der junge Mann hatte 10 Monate lang 80% mehr ausgegeben als er eingenommen hat. Griechenland hat 10 Jahre lang 80% mehr ausgegeben als es eingenommen hat (=Leistungsbilanzdefizit).


Deutsche aus der Sicht von Griechenland
Die Deutschen hätten den Griechen doch gar nicht so viel Kredit geben dürfen! Außerdem haben sie doch mit den Zinsen gut an Griechenland verdient! Und vor allem: die Griechen haben ja ihr ganzes Geld in Deutschland ausgegeben, um deren Produkte zu importieren. In Wirklichkeit war das ein abgekartetes Spiel seitens der Deutschen: sie haben die Griechen absichtlich in Schulden gedrängt, damit sie deutsche Produkte importieren, um damit die deutsche Wirtschaft zu unterstützen! Und jetzt wollen die Deutschen Griechenland, das in Wirklichkeit gar nichts dafür kann, bestrafen, um auf diese Weise ein abschreckendes Beispiel für andere zu schaffen!

Die Griechen sind auf die Deutschen wütend.


Und die Moral von der Geschicht‘?
Ein verantwortungsvoller junger Mann weiß natürlich, dass die Bank Recht hat. Eine verantwortungsvolle Bank weiß natürlich, dass sie mit ihrer Haushaltsbudgetvorgabe dem jungen Mann sehr, sehr viel abverlangt (10 Jahre nicht weit über dem Existenzminimum). Vielleicht bemüht sich die Bank, dem jungen Mann Vorschläge zu machen, wie er sein Monatseinkommen in Richtung 1.800 Euro erhöhen könnte? Dann wäre der Einschnitt in seinen Lebensstandard nicht so hoch. Besteht die Möglichkeit, dass sich der junge Mann durch Fortbildungen in seiner beruflichen Laufbahn verbessert und sein Einkommen steigert? Kann er vielleicht durch einen Nebenjob ein Nebeneinkommen schaffen?

Beide Seiten müssen sich „zusammenfinden“, damit für jede der beiden Seiten eine verträgliche Lösung herauskommt. Den Griechen hat man bisher nur das neue Haushaltsbudget vorgelegt. Wie sie sich selbst und aus eigener Kraft verbessern könnten, das hat man ihnen noch nicht vorgeschlagen.

Good news! Greece will grow again in 2014!

Greece should return to growth in 2014, Mr. Reichenbach (Head of the EU Task Force in Greece) said. Perhaps that made some people feel good. Excuse me; feel good?

Another at least 2 years of economic decline? Put differently: another at least 24 months of a development which has already tested social peace quite noticeably every month? By the way, growth after 5 years of decline is not growth; it is only the beginning of getting back to where one already was before.

Now if that is not a final call that something needs to be done urgently to revive a dead economy, then I don’t know what is. Or does anyone really believe that social peace can survive another 24 months the experiences of the last 24 months?

A well-known international consulting firm published a report which suggests how 500.000 new jobs could be created over the next 10 years. Over 100 specific projects are identified. What should be done?

Well, first of all – read the report! Secondly, take the first 10 projects, implement them in 2012 and create 50.000 new jobs next year. Any further questions?

Yes; who should finance this? Well, certainly not the government because government money tends to end up in the wrong pockets (and the government has no money anyway). Private money should finance it! But who would invest in Greece these days?

Any investor will invest in Greece if he is offered an interesting project, a security for his investment and a competitive business framework. Can this be done quickly in the whole country?

No, it cannot! But it could be done very quickly in selected parts of the country. The Chinese didn’t want to throw out communism but they also saw that without some capitalism they would never get their feet on the ground. So they started with selected Free Trade Zones. Why not learn a bit from the Chinese?

So the recipe is quite simple: take the first 10 projects for 2012; structure them professionally and invite bids from investors; define zones where investors are offered all the security, economic framework and profit potential which they desire --- and get started!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Send machinery & equipment --- not money!

Remember that Greeks had possibly the best reputation of all guest-workers in Central Europe during the 1960s/70s? So much for the point that Greeks are lazy and can't work hard!

Remember that Greek guest-workers worked the machinery & equipment in Germany and sent their savings back to Greece where they became a major factor in raising the country's standard of living? So much for the need for foreign investment!

Today, non-Greeks are working the machinery & equipment in Germany and they don't like the idea of sending their savings to Greece to raise the standard of living there.

The money which was sent back to Greece by the guest-workers is now supposed to be sent to Greece by the German tax payers. As mentioned before, they don't like this idea.

So how about Germany not sending money to Greece but, instead, machinery & equipment so that Greeks can work that machinery & equipment in their own country and thereby raise their standard of living on their own?

There is one catch to this. The more Greeks work machinery & equipment in Greece to support their standard of living by producing themselves the products which they want (instead of importing them from Germany), the less Germany will export to Greece. This has often been used as an argument that Germany has no interest in making Greece less dependent on imports from Germany. That may be right.

But Germany should learn from "her own Greece" which she had in her own territory. After German unification, there was the historic chance to rebuild the former East Germany economically from scratch. The former East Germany could have become the tiger economic region of Central Europe with the best infrastructure and business environment (because they all had to be built from scratch).

However, there was no particular interest on the part of the West German economy to raise its stiffest competitor in the Eastern part of its unified nation. Above all, it was the West German union movement which made sure that there would not be too much new competition from the East. An overvalued currency in the East helped a lot!

And what was the net result? The former East Germany has to date not been able to develop its own functioning economy and the West still needs to transfer almost 100 billion EUR a year to the East in order to compensate for that.

Bottom line: the surplus countries can't have both, have the cake and eat it. If they don't want the deficit countries to become a bit more their competitors (because that would reduce their exports to them), then they have to send the deficit countries the monies needed to buy imports from the surplus countries. There is no other way.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A positive future perspective for Greeks!

The Executive Editor of the Kathimerini formulated a sensational phrase in a commentary dated October 28: "Maybe at the end of the day the problem will be that you as a people (the Germans) have found the perfect model for productivity, and we have found the perfect model for living (albeit funded by others)".

Here, with only a few words, the issue of what the Greek problem is all about is better described than anywhere else I have seen yet! Yes, foreigners visiting and/or living in Greece over the years have probably, at one time or another, concluded that Greeks must have found the perfect model for living. Greeks, of course, knew that all the time without needing to be told by foreigners. What Greeks are now slowly finding out is that their perfect model of living was funded by others.

What the “others” will slowly find out is that there were benefits to be had from funding the perfect Greek model of living. Bear in mind that when Hugh Hefner throws a big party, a lot of suppliers take good profit from it. Provided that Mr. Hefner pays his bills, of course. When Mr. Hefner stops paying his bills, they will sooner or later cease supplying his party even if that means a down-turn in their own business.

One despairs that the great political and economic minds of Europe can only think in terms of either/or alternatives: either the perfect model for living funded by others or no party at all. This is the “mistake of the century!” Greece can have both, the perfect model for living and funding much of it on her own.

All Greece needs to do is to attract foreign investment so that a good portion of the standard of living which she has imported in the past is generated domestically going forward (and by Greeks themselves). Such foreign investment, which should initially aim primarily at import substitution, would create new employment, new personal incomes, new personal income taxes and new corporate taxes from profitable investments. And it is actually quite easy to attract foreign investment. One only has to ask potential foreign investors what they desire to have by way of economic framework and incentives; put it into an Investment Law; have the EU guarantee compliance with this Investment Law (because foreign investors may no longer trust Greeks to keep their laws) and --- get started with the first projects.

On a timeline: a new Investment Law could be implemented within, say, 3 months; the first investments could get started within 6 months; the first results would show within 12 months.

Will foreign investment immediately bring the billions and billions of EUR which Greece needs? No, it won’t; certainly not immediately and probably not ever. But first of all it will bring know-how which Greece desperately needs. And then it will bring new spirits. Greece cannot come out from under her present mess in a few months or a couple of years. This is a project for a generation. But Greece can very quickly reach a situation where a positive future perspective becomes apparent. And that is really all that is needed for Greeks at this time --- a positive future perspective!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

EU: "We don't know where we are going but the faster we drive the sooner we will get there!"

Wherever one looks today, the focus of brainpower is on solutions to the debt problem (not only of Greece’s debt). Put differently, all brainpower is applied to financial engineering.

I have seen no brainpower being applied to a Business Plan for Greece. Certainly no brainpower of politicians, governments, Central Bankers or EU-elites. Yes, there have been a few private initiatives (like the McKinsey Report) but they have been successfully ignored.

In today’s world one can raise billions from private investors just on the basis of a good Business Plan. If a corporation gets into financial trouble and needs help from banks, the first thing the banks will ask for is a Business Plan which promises a viable future for the corporation.

I have read the entire draft of the latest Troika Report. I saw many interesting things in it but what I didn’t see was a Business Plan for Greece. Essentially, what I saw was a restructuring plan for a country’s budget: how to reduce expenditures and raise revenues. Well, in the grand scheme of things that’s the job for bean-counters; the job for leaders is to make a plan.

What would be a Business Plan for Greece? Well, everybody is invited to come up with proposals. The Ekathimerini published a letter which an 11-year old allegedly sent to the Prime Minister. He proposed that the government should build a factory that converts solar energy, wind power and waterpower to electrical energy, and with that Greece could pay all her debts and live happily ever hereafter. Well, maybe nice, maybe cute, but: it is a Plan! Start with that and come up with better plans!

My own idea of a Business Plan for Greece would be a plan which shows how the Greek economy can employ the maximum number of Greeks in a productive manner (optimization of human capital) and how it can utilize the country’s economic potential or competitive advantages to the fullest extent; this over a period of a couple of decades.

In the normal world, first comes the plan and the financing comes afterwards. If the plan is convincing, there will be no financing problem. Alas, what we are witnessing today is that everyone is debating the financing without really knowing what the plan is. This is like saying “I don’t know where I am going but the faster I drive, the sooner I will get there”.

Economic plans can work and may not work; one never knows ahead of time. The European Recovery Plan after WWII (ERP or Marshall Plan) was a plan which worked and recovered a totally destroyed Central Europe. West Germany’s plan for unification with East Germany did not work. If you look at the former communist East European economies, most of them had economic plans and several of those plans worked very well. And if Greeks read the “Doing Business 2012” report of the World Bank/IFC (a report which analyses regulations which enhance business activity and those which constrain it), they can read that the plan which their favorite neighbors to the North put together some years ago is working well: FYROM jumped from position 34 to 24, and is now ahead of countries like Taiwan, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Austria, etc. Greece remained almost unchanged at position 100, behind countries like Guatemala, Vietnam, Yemen, etc.

Coming to think of it, perhaps a plan to create regulations which enhance business activity and reduce those which constrain it would already be a pretty good Business Plan for Greece!

One subsidiary objective of a plan is always to make it impossible for lenders to say “no”. Comments have been made that, say, Germany follows the hidden agenda of driving Greece into default. Well, maybe yes, maybe no. None of us can say that for sure. But one thing seems certain: if the Greek government came up with a long-term Business Plan which is so convincing that no thinking person could object, then I would like to see that European country which stands up and says: “No, we don’t support this plan. We prefer to drive Greece into default”.

If a country does not have such a plan, it has nothing to bring to the negotiating table when the issue is to restructure its debt. If it has such a plan, it can drive the negotiations. The restructuring of its debt ceases to be an “objective per se” and it becomes a “means towards an objective”.

Regarding that restructuring, we are seeing the most interesting things going on. Third parties (EU, ECB, etc.) have made themselves the owners of a problem which concerned, 3 years ago, only Greece and her creditors. The two principal parties involved (Greece and her creditors) have sort of delegated ownership of their bilateral problem to the third party. I think one probably would have to do a lot of research in the annals of financial history to see where this has happened before to such an extreme extent. Third parties will take decisions which will principally affect Greece and her creditors. Personally, I think a lot of lawyers will earn a lot of money in the next years taking some of the possible consequences of such a procedure apart.

The normal way would be for Greece to make a restructuring proposal to her creditors. The driving question must be: how much interest can Greece be reasonably expected to pay annually? (For 2011, the Troika projects an interest expense of about 15% of total budget expenses). Since Germany seems to have become the role model for everything good these days, Greece should look to the role model. Germany spends about 12% of her budget expenses on interest. Why should Greece not take that number and commit to spending 12% of her total budget expenses on interest during the next 20 years or so. If budget expenses go down, the nominal interest expense goes down. Vice versa if budget expenses go up.

So, the Greek government should commission its financial engineers to work different scenarios where no principal is being repaid for the next 20 years and where interest expenses don’t exceed the 12% limit. The principal axiom must be: the amount of debt which cannot be serviced with interest in these scenarios has to be rescheduled out even further and interest must be capitalized on that amount. One such scenario could be: 50% of the debt for 30-40 years with interest being capitalized. The other 50% with principal payments after 20 years but interest payments from the start within the 12% cap (if it makes creditors happy, one could even provide for some token principal payments before the end of the 20 years).

At this point, the government has 2 things to bring to the negotiating table: (a) a Business Plan to which no thinking person can object and (b) a rescheduling proposal which sounds reasonable. What will be the reaction of the creditors?

Well, at first they are likely to laugh about “Greek dreams”. This is the point where the Greek government requests the EU to take measures to stop the creditors from laughing, i. e. to make them go along with this proposal. Whatever “incentives” the creditors require to go along with this proposal voluntarily is then a matter of negotiation between the EU and those creditors.

There are, of course, zillions of things that are not thought through in the above but let me list a few which come to my mind immediately and suggest some answers from the Greek standpoint.

This will be an event of default! – Maybe yes, maybe no. If yes, we will negotiate measures to cure the default.

A default will trigger all sorts of things (e. g. CDS’)! – Maybe yes, maybe no. If yes, that is really a problem outside Greece. We have enough problems in Greece, so understand, please, that we cannot worry about problems outside Greece as well.

The banks won’t be able to handle the write-down’s of Greek bonds! – Probably not. That is an issue to be handled between the banks and their governments. The Greek government will handle this issue with Greek banks.

The Euro will fall apart! – Maybe yes, maybe no. If yes, certainly not because of Greece because we have a long-term Business Plan which will make Greece a value-generating and competitive economy over the next 20 years.

Greece can never repay all of the debt which is now being rescheduled! – Maybe yes, maybe no. But if our long-term Business Plan is successful, we can certainly pay back more later than it would appear today.

This is not in the interest of the financial stability of the Eurozone. Greece has to act according to that interest! – No. Greece will suffer pains one way or another for quite some time. The implementation of our Business Plan will not be milk & honey. So we don’t have all that much to lose while you have everything to lose. If you support our proposals, we both have the chance to come out less harmed 20 years from now.

The answer to most economic problems is growth. I have been involved in many debt restructurings over the years. Without belittling the technical challenges of a restructuring, the far greater challenge is to work out plans for growth. If the borrower grows economically, his debt becomes more manageable over time!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Greece versus The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

This report will probably hurt the Greek psyche at its core: The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has become one of the shooting stars world-wide as regards the ease of doing business in a country (according to the World Bank's IFC). FYROM jumped from position 34 to 24, and is now ahead of countries like Taiwan, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Austria, etc.

And where is Greece? Almost unchanged at position 100, behind countries like Guatemala, Vietnam, Yemen, etc.

Is this plausible? Of course it is! If you don't believe it, read this article about Greece. And as regards FYROM: a few years ago I had to attend a presentation by FYROM to an audience of South German bankers, businessmen, etc. in Munich. I really had no interest in going but my job required me to. And afterwards I was glad to have gone. On stage was a team which could have easily come out of firms like McKinsey, BCG, etc. Perfectly fluent in English; saying exactly the right things in credible fashion; presenting exactly the right PowerPoint slides; etc. etc. It was simply a brilliant show!

The host of the event was Theo Waigel, the former Minister of Finance of Germany and "Father of Maastricht". Compared to the slick representatives from FYROM, Waigel came across as a nice South German farmer who was still taking English lessons.

I called a friend in Greece to seek his reaction. He was not surprised. He told me to pay more attention to CNN commercials where Greece advertised that "The Gods could have chosen any place in the world but they chose Greece" while the FYROM advertised the very competitive business conditions for foreign investors in their country.

What I am now going to say to the citizens of my wife's home country hurts me as much as it hurt me when I had to take the credit card away from our older son at age 18 after he had gotten into a spin of overspending: Grow up! Take responsibility into your own hands! Stop lamenting that the whole world is against you! Stop putting yourselves into the victim's role! Stop crying over spilled milk! Don't dream of the past! Look at the world as it is today and deal with it! Get your ass in gear!

My first job after Business School was with an American bank which assigned me to the European HQ in London, sort of a probation period before sending me on the Head Office in Chicago. When the notice came that I would be sent to Head Office, I was very nervous about how this would work out. The Head of Europe invited me to a farewell lunch. I was hoping that he would hold my hands and assure me that I would have nothing to worry about. Instead, he said at the end of the lunch: "Look, I wish you good luck and I know that you will make it because if you don't make it you are a dead duck". I did make it and perhaps for no other reason than the fact that I did not want to be a dead duck.

Greeks, you have got to make it because otherwise you will be dead ducks!

"Know thyself" is what we first learned in Austrian gymnasium about Greek culture 5 decades ago. "Know and accept yourselves" is what I pass on to present day Greeks. Look the real situation straight into the eye and deal with it!

Paul Krugman - Mr. Doom!

Uff, Paul Krugman really knows how to present worst-case scenarios!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A "haircut" is not a "write-down"!

Ekathimerini writes today that banks have offered a 40% haircut while politicians demand a 50% write-down. The former is nonsense; the latter is wisdom.

A "haircut" is a forgiveness of debt; after having made a haircut, lenders no longer have any claim against the borrower of whatever kind. A "write-down" is a provision in a bank's P+L statement for possible future losses. Should these losses not occur, those write-down's can be reversed in the future. A write-down has no effect on the bank’s continued 100% claim against the borrower.

Both a haircut and a write-down go against a bank's P+L statement. The haircut is irrecoverable; the write-down is not.

The objective must be to get banks to record losses in their P+L by marking Greek bonds to realistic market prices (e. g. 50%). The objective cannot be to force banks to incur irrecoverable losses when the borrower has only had 3 years of crisis.

When banks record these losses in their P+L, their capital & reserves will shrink accordingly and they will need to replenish it (or else close doors). Since most of the banks won't be able to raise that capital in the private market, they will have no choice but to pilgrim with hat in hand to their governments and politely ask them to bail them out (which is the way it should be!). Governments no longer have to run after banks and beg them to accept public funds (which is the way it should not be!).

A “voluntary haircut” would undoubtedly become very tricky from a legal standpoint. A “mandatory haircut” would definitely become a legal mess. In which jurisdiction would it apply? What about a Swiss Family Office which holds, say, 1 million EUR in Greek bonds and insists on 100% payment?

A mandatory write-down is a matter of a directive. The ECB and the Central Banks would direct their member banks – via their banking supervisory institution – that all Greek bonds have to be written-down immediately to, say, 50% of their nominal value. Period. This is the only way one can bring banks to the negotiating table; and in a hurry!

The governments don’t really need to replenish capital with cash. They could pass laws allowing banks a maximum of 10 years to absorb those write-downs. However, no dividends during this period.

Greeks - don't accept a haircut!

Mark my words: the day will come when the EU will bitterly regret having offered Greece a haircut and, more importantly, the day will come when Greeks will condemn their leaders for having accepted a haircut. Let’s not worry about the EU’s problems here. Let’s worry about Greece’s future regrets.

To be able to say that “Greece has always honored all her debts and will do so in the future” is of incredible value for the future of an economy. Greece will for many, many years depend on funding from abroad, be that foreign loans or foreign investment. The stain of once not having honored all her debts would cause incredible damage for the future; for the economy as well as for the Greek people.

Every time in the future when Greece needs funding from abroad, she will feel the sentiment of “oh, you are the country which once had to be forgiven part of its debt; how do we know that this won’t happen again?”

Every time new generations of Greeks want to impress foreigners with their achievements, they will feel the sentiment of “yeah, but aren’t you the country which had to be forgiven a couple of hundred billion EUR because you wasted that money without ever having done anything to earn it?”

If Greece were a country in extreme national poverty without any potential, things would be different because no one would ever question later on whether or not it was right to have made a haircut.

But large parts of Greek society are well situated and can enjoy a good standard of living (a small part of Greek society is even better situated than their counterparts in Central Europe and they enjoy a much higher standard of living). That will forever be reason enough that Greeks will bear the stain of having needed a haircut in order to live well.

Such a stain cannot be shed for decades and/or generations, if ever!

Greece’s debt must not be repaid (because it can’t be today) and it must not be forgiven (because of the above reasons). Greece’s debt must be “regularized”, that is it must be orderly structured. No public borrower ever avoided bankruptcy by repaying its debt. They avoided bankruptcy by succeeding with an orderly structuring (or rather: re-structuring) of their debts (see NYC a few decades ago; see California a few years ago; see Latin American countries; etc.).

If Greece has, say, 150 billion EUR more debt than she can presently service, the solution is NOT to forgive that amount. The solution is to reschedule the maturity of this amount out to 30 years (or even more) and to capitalize interest. That way, Greece has no expense for the service of that debt during this time but she can continue to claim that “we have always honored our debts in full and we will continue to do so!”

Richard Sulik über den Rettungsschirm

Hier sind Auszüge aus einer Rede von Richard Sulik über den Rettungsschirm vor dem slowakischen Parlament.

Ich halte dies nicht für die beste Wortmeldung von Richard Sulik (der sehr viele und sehr gute Wortmeldungen gemacht hat). Begründung: er argumentiert ausschließlich vor dem Hintergrund von Slowakei-internen Gegebenheiten. Damit setzt er sich dem Vorwurf aus, "national-egoistisch" zu denken.

Das wichtigste - und nicht widerlegbare - Argument ist m. E., dass die bisherigen "Rettungspakete für Griechenland" Griechenland nur in ganz geringem Umfang geholfen haben. Über weite Strecke haben sie Griechenland geschadet!

Wie haben sie Griechenland geholfen? Ohne die Rettungspakete, vor allem ohne die massive Finanzierung des griechischen Bankensektors seitens der EZB, hätte Griechenland schon Mitte 2009 seine Zahlungsunfähigkeit anmelden müssen. Die von Papandreou mühsam aufgebaute Illusion eines "neuen Griechenlands, das allen seinen Verpflichtungen nachkommen wird“, wäre damals schon vernichtet worden. Im historischen Kontext wäre das nebensächlich gewesen, weil Griechenland seit seiner Unabhängigkeit 1821 mehr als die Hälfte der Zeit im Zustand eines Defaults war. Aber zugegebenermaßen hätte es doch geschmerzt, wenn man einen neuen Regierungschef, der in der Tat eine sehr seriöse Figur macht und möglicherweise wirklich an ein "neues Griechenland" glaubt, gleich kurz nach seinem Amtsantritt eine Niederlage beschert. Also, die bisherigen Rettungspakete hatten den Nutzen für Griechenland einer Ruferhaltung. Sonst aber nichts!

Gehen wir die Rettungspakete und deren Auswirkungen der Reihe nach durch.

Staatsanleihenkäufe seitens der EZB: angeblich 50-70 Mrd. EUR bisher. Wer hat davon profitiert? Natürlich die Verkäufer dieser Staatsanleihen, weil sie zu nahezu par verkaufen konnten. Insofern, dass zu diesen Verkäufern auch griechische Banken gehören könnten, wäre das ein indirekter Nutzen für Griechenland gewesen. Dies wird jedoch kaum der Fall gewesen sein, weil griechische Banken den Großteil ihrer Staatsanleihen bereits bei der EZB für Target-2 Finanzierungen verpfändet haben. Es ist also davon auszugehen, dass der Großteil der Verkäufer europäische Banken waren (die sich jetzt rühmen, ihr Griechenland-Risiko sehr stark reduziert zu haben). Natürlich haben diese Staatsanleihenkäufe seitens der EZB auch den Kurs gestützt, aber auch davon hatte Griechenland keine Vorteile, weil es schon seit langem keine Staatsanleihen mit Laufzeiten über 1 Jahr mehr begeben konnte.

Paket I: 65 Mrd. EUR wurden bisher ausbezahlt und davon gingen 40 Mrd. EUR direkt in die Tilgung von fällig werdenden Staatsanleihen. Wären die restlichen 25 Mrd. EUR in Griechenland geblieben, dann hätten sich die Auslandsschulden des Staates um diesen Betrag erhöhen müssen. Stattdessen sind die Auslandsschulden des griechischen Staates zwischen Ende 2008 – Mitte 2011 von 192 Mrd. EUR auf 179 Mrd. EUR gesunken. Laut Adam Riese bedeutet dies, dass nicht nur die gesamten 65 Mrd. EUR zur Tilgung von Auslandsschulden verwendet wurden, sondern zusätzlich auch noch erhebliches Inlandsvermögen.

EZB-Finanzierungen: unter dem Titel „Target-2“ hat die EZB bisher dem griechischen Bankensektor rund 100 Mrd. EUR geliehen. Davon finanzierten 50-70 Mrd. EUR Kapitalflucht von inländischen auf ausländische Bankkonten und der Rest das Leistungsbilanzdefizit. Griechenland hätte schon 2008 mit dem Eindämmen seiner Importe beginnen müssen, um seine Wirtschaft nicht weiter zu deindustrialisieren. Die EZB hat „geholfen“, dass man dies nicht tun musste. Obwohl Griechenlands Exporte im August 2011 einen Rekordmonatswert von 1.835 MEUR erreichten, betrugen sie nur 45% der Importe von 4.004 MEUR. Ein vollkommen unerträgliches Verhältnis, das in der industrialisierten Welt wohl einzigartig ist.

Also, an obigen Ziffern ist sicherlich keine wirkliche „Hilfe für Griechenland“ erkennbar. Eher großer Schaden, weil man unappetitliche Kapitalflucht und überbordende Importe von Konsumgütern ermöglicht hat.

Und dann hat man natürlich Griechenland auch massiv mit den Sparmaßnahmen geschadet. Sie folgen dem (oft auch bewährten) IWF-Konzept, dass die Sanierung eines Staatsaushaltes und Reformen in der Wirtschaft die nötigen Selbstheilungskräfte der Wirtschaft mobilisieren und zu erneutem Wachstum führen werden. Das funktioniert allerdings nur dann, wenn eine Wirtschaft diese Selbstheilungskräfte hat. Griechenland hat sie nicht mehr! (vielleicht auch nie gehabt).

Deswegen wäre es in Griechenland zwingend erforderlich gewesen, die staatlichen Einsparungen (die in Griechenland bisher wirklich sehr eindrucksvoll waren: Staatsausgaben 2011 minus 6% gegenüber Vorjahr in absoluten Ziffern!), diese Staatseinsparungen mit einem parallelen Investitionsprogramm in der Privatwirtschaft zu kompensieren. Nicht mit staatlichen Hilfen und/oder Subventionen, weil diese in Griechenland rasch wieder in den falschen Taschen landen. Im Gegenteil: mit Investitionskapital, vor allem mit ausländischem Investitionskapital. Nachdem privates Investitionskapital nie aufgrund von Befehlen fließt, sondern immer nur aufgrund von Incentives, hätte die EU Griechenland Beratung zukommen lassen müssen, welche Incentives Investitionskapital nach Griechenland fließen lassen würden.

„Hätte“; „wäre“; etc? Nicht unbedingt. Alles ist immer noch möglich, nur dass das bis jetzt geflossene Steuerzahlergeld leider als „verschüttete Milch“ betrachtet werden muss. Aber es ist immer besser, man beginnt später mit den richtigen Maßnahmen als nie. Bisher ist jedoch nicht erkennbar, dass man auf EU-Ebene richtige Maßnahmen überhaupt andenkt.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Being given a fish versus fishing

It is much less the complex EU-structures which lead to the current crisis situation than the lack of competence and leadership on the part of EU-elites. Just look at Jean-Claude Juncker. As Head of the Eurogroup, he is the closest equivalent of the US Secretary of the Treasury. Before every meeting and as soon as he gets out of his car, he looks where the journalists are. And then he tells them things which may be the opposite of what he told them the last time; the opposite of what ECB-bankers have said; etc. etc. This public bickering of the last 3 years has done incredible damage to market confidence.

These incompetent but arrogant EU-elites have known it all better from the start of the crisis. Remember that at first they didn’t even want to hear of the IMF because they could handle the situation on their own just as well? People like Bill Rhodes have admitted in interviews that they had offered to share their experiences from Latin America but were politely sent off with the argument that the EU is different from emerging countries. Oh really? Aren’t external payment problems of countries the same all over the world?

This started out as a very simple problem. A member country of the Eurozone (accounting for about 3% of the Eurozone’s GNP) had created a mess until 2008 and could no longer handle its payment obligations. The most natural thing in the world would have been for the EU to tell Greece to sit down with her creditors and to negotiate possible solutions (rescheduling). The EU would not have gotten involved publicly, stating: “You know, this is first of all a problem between you and your creditors. Once you have worked out a proposal but still need help, we come in at the end and help where we can”.

Instead, the EU jumped forward and declared this as a crisis of the Euro and of the EU. This was as though the US government, the next time California can’t pay her bills, would jump forward and project the end of the American Union and the US dollar. If they do that loudly and consistently enough, markets will begin to believe it!

And then the EU-elites achieved a historical “first”: before private lenders could even be gotten involved, the EU stepped forward and used tax payers’ money to bail out those lenders. Well, once you start with that precedent, it is almost impossible to ever get out of it again.

Whenever there are financing problems, there has to be a negotiating team on each side: the borrower is represented by management and the lenders form a Steering Committee.

To this date, no negotiation team has been officially announced on the part of Greece’s lenders or on the part of the EU! The banks more or less withdrew from the scene and considered it as a gift from heaven that governments would step forward and make themselves the owners of the problems of banks. And the Greek government did not object that the EU would make itself the owner of the Greek problem.

Greece is responsible for the mess which she created up to 2008. For the much greater mess which has developed since then, the EU and their incompetent leaders are responsible.

Top representatives of the EU, of governments and of Central Banks created the impression that a “rescheduling” and a “haircut” are the same thing and they used the term “haircut” as though it were an everyday expression in the world of finance. Unless one wants to radically change the history of sovereign finance, a haircut for a country of the 1st world (and as a EU-member, Greece IS a country of the 1st world) after only 3 years of crisis must be considered as an absolute no-no! Instead, the country’s economy must be reformed so that it can become creditworthy again within 10-20 years.

If Greece can only service half of her debt right now, the solution is not a haircut of the other half but, instead, to reschedule the other half out to 30 years (or more) and capitalize the interest. This has the same economic effect as a haircut but the lenders do not have to “throw their claims away too quickly” (but they have to make provisions for possible losses right away).

It is no help to Greece at all when one sends her money so that Greece can return that money to her lenders. That is generally referred to as a bank bail-out. Bank bail-out’s should be handled directly with banks and not via Greece. The Greek problem is one of turning her present corrupt and crony-driven zombie-economy into a market-driven and value-generating economy. That literally requires development aid from the EU in the form of advice and it will require at least a generation of Greeks until it is complete. But first positive results would show up quickly.

“Give a hungry person a fish and he will eat once”, the Chinese proverb says. “Teach him how to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life”. So far, the EU has given Greece fish. It is high time that the EU helps the Greek economy to learn how to support their people.