Greece has defaulted again, and the financial markets have shrugged their shoulders. The euro remained unchanged versus the dollar. The Greek stock market even rallied. What does this tell us? It tells us that, as this column has argued again and again, the markets have no memory. Because it improves the overall position of a country, a debt restructuring will be welcomed since it adheres to the golden rule: a broken balance sheet is made better by less debt not more debt.
The media is reporting this as a “deal” in Greece. It is not, it is yet another default from a country where the economy is destroyed and needs to be nursed back to health rather than punished.
The big news for Greece and for us is that the troika has accepted that the country must be healthy in order to pay debt. This logic applies to Ireland too. Before we focus on the implications of the latest Greek default for us, let’s look at the broader picture. And before you think that I am advocating we follow the Greek route, I am not, I am simply pointing out the reality of the global economy and the realpolitik at the centre of Europe.
Effectively, the troika and the Europa group of Greece’s creditors have “agreed” (rather they have had their hands forced) to restructure their bailout loans. Interest rates will be lowered and even deferred to give Greece breathing room.
The crux of the agreement is that Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio should reach 175pc in 2016 and 124pc in 2020. So 120pc has become the new sustainability.
It has also calculated that this is how capitalism works. In a crisis, the debtor and the creditor suffer, they both lose out and that’s how the system works. It is called co-responsibility.
The eurozone’s economy is in tatters, carrying too much debt, unable to grow. Italian consumer confidence has fallen to a record low this month. It is now at the lowest level since the series began in 1996. The only countries that seem to be keeping their necks above water in Europe are Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. This is hardly a reassuring picture, is it?
As the great deleveraging continues and unpayable debts can’t be paid, it would be surprising if Athens is the only government to choose to face down its creditors.
This all brings us here to Ireland as we continue to squeeze the economy dry, foisting austerity upon austerity and the local economy falters. Next week will be more of the same. We have been at this for five years now and there is no sign of recovery. It is increasingly clear that the Irish domestic economy will not recover as long as the crushing debt burden on the country’s young workers is not lifted.
And as we all buy and sell to each other in the local economy, your spending is actually my income and my spe- nding is your income. And if we all stop spending at the same time and the Government exacerbates this by slashing spending simultaneously, who is spending? And if no one is spending, who is earning? And if no one is earning, who can possibly be saving without earning?
So you see that what sounds good for the individual, such as “I am saving”, is only good for me if others continue to spend; if we all save at the same time, there is no income.
Now as these macro-economic targets that the Government and the troika set themselves are always debt expressed as a percentage of income, if our income is falling because no one is spending, then debt expressed as a percentage of income will be rising, not falling.
This is why there has to be a debt deal for these hundreds of thousands of mortgages underwater. We already have 128,000 mortgages in arrears. This figure is rising consistently. There are 400,000 tracker mortgages which will only get more expensive as interest rates eventually rise over the course of the mortgage. These people will face default when this moment arrives and our banks will be bust again.
Now is the opportunity, when the EU is doing deals all over the place, to propose a big bank solution for Ireland’s mortgage debt. Such a deal would aid the Irish recovery, the EU would have the victory it so craves and ordinary Irish people would have the debt relief they so desperately need.
This would allow the economy to breathe again and it could be made the centrepiece of Ireland’s EU Presidency in the next six months. The EU President sets the EU agenda for the period when it has this role. Let’s not miss this chance.
Otherwise Ireland will become known as the country that never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The Greek deal is an opportunity; let’s not throw it away.
David McWilliams’ new book ‘The Good Room‘ is out now from all bookshops.