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The Globe and Mail

Athens cheers, but markets remain wary of bailout plan

Greece's Prime Minister George Papandreou briefs the media after a meeting with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in Brussels on Oct. 13, 2011.


Officials in Athens may be sighing in relief for passing a key credit review in exchange for more rescue funds, but market analysts remain apprehensive.

A Wells and Fargo report published this week said the review drawn up by a troika of inspectors from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and in the International Monetary Fund was riddled with "qualified" statements raising serious questions about Greece's fiscal recovery plan.

After weeks of controversial on and off talks with Athens government officials, the troika said that Greece -- strapped for cash and racked with a debt of nearly $500 billion -- would "most likely" receive the next $11-billion tranche of bailout funds by early November. Still, it noted in the two page report, "slippages in the implementation of some [austerity] measures," had been recorded; more austerity, also, was in store in Greece's desperate game of fiscal catch-up.

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Whether European governments pony up with the rescue funds they pledged last year will be decided by the leaders of the 17-nation euro zone. They meet in Brussels later this month to discuss ways to deal with the Greek debt crisis once and for all. How they plan to go about that remains unclear. Still, many officials have openly said that a solution is bound to include some sort of a Greek default, no less a sizeable writeoff of the tiny country's massive, near $500-billion debt.

Just four months ago and part of second mammoth bailout for Europe's most troubled economy, euro zone leaders agreed to accept a 21 per cent markdown on Greek debt held by private bondholders. Since then, though, the Greek economy has deteriorated further. Recession has deepened. Deficit reduction targets have been missed. And the debt, despite batches of brutal budget cuts, continues to climb, expected to exceed 160 per cent of gross domestic product next year. The result? Bondholders may have to accept steeper writedowns on Greek paper if only to avoid steeper losses.

Earlier this week, Luxembourg Prime Minister and eurogroup president Jean-Claude Juncker warned that debt relief plans for Greece could not rule out deeper haircut -- as much as 40 per cent -- for holders of Greek debt. "One needs to ensure that this doesn't lead to contagion elsewhere in the eurozone." With German and French banks alone sitting on $60-billion of Greek government bonds, European leaders have vowed to recapitalize banks shaken by the debt crisis to avert it from infecting global banks.

Whether they succeed or continue with more bungled bailout attempts and other quixotic plans, remains to be seen. Greece's cash reserves, though, run dry in weeks and further delays in resolving its debt crisis threaten the global financial system in much of the same way the U.S. subprime mortgages did after the collapse of Lehman Brothers three years ago.

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