Sunday, July 5, 2015

Eurozone: A Pyrrhic 'no'?

The ‘no’ vote in yesterday’s referendum seems to have strengthened Tsipras’ position. However, what looks like a stunning victory could quickly become a Pyrrhic ‘no’. The Greek people yesterday sent a strong message to the rest of Europe: a ‘no’ against austerity. According to the latest results, more than 60% of the Greek people said ‘no’ in the referendum. Officially, this ‘no’ was against a proposal from Greece’s creditors on 25 June to extend the bailout agreement against certain conditions. Whether the ‘no’ was also a vote against Greece’s membership within the Eurozone will never be clear. Ahead of the referendum, there was lots of speculation on what would happen if…now that there is clarity on the outcome of the referendum, the only thing that is clear is that nothing is clear. Only the coming days and hours will show what all involved players are really up to. In our view, the most likely next step is that the Greek government will want to return to Brussels to negotiate a new package with its Eurozone creditors, now backed with a strong mandate of the Greek people. It is hard to tell what the new demands or proposals of the Greek government will really be. The range of demands varies highly between different members of governments, ranging from a democratic change for Europe to no new austerity. The only element that will clearly be in any new Greek proposals is debt relief. In our view, the Eurozone will wait for Greece to make the first move. Initially, the Eurozone will insist on the technical issue that there no longer is a Greek bailout programme and that the Greek government would have to apply for a new programme. Interestingly, the German parliament and other parliaments would have to agree to a start of new formal negotiations. In this regards, it is noteworthy that new negotiations with Greece could also put the Eurozone’s inner stability to a test. It will not be easy to find a common strategy for any new negotiations that will be embraced by all Eurozone countries. Still, even if it is hard to see that the other Eurozone countries will give their Greek colleagues a warm welcome and that new negotiations are more fruitful than over the last five months, the outcome of the referendum will push the rest of the Eurozone to at least start talking. In theory, a compromise could be possible. A deal with less austerity but serious reforms, including tackling corruption and tax evasion, in Greece, obviously, would be the best outcome. Such a deal could even include some debt relief, but at the end of the ride and not upfront. This, however, would require that all parties involved could jump over their own shadows. In particular, the bad blood created by sometimes excessively inadequate language will be a large liability for any new negotiations. While politicians in the Eurozone are preparing for possible new talks, it is once again up to the ECB to do the dirty work. Today, the ECB will have to decide on what to do with ELA. Apparently, the Greek central bank applied for an increase of ELA. The ‘no’ has not made the ECB’s life any easier. With every step that Greece is moving closer to total default or even a Grexit and Greek banks are losing deposits, it will be harder for the ECB to label Greek banks as solvent, and thereby eligible for ELA. In our view, the ECB will not be the one pulling the trigger on Greece. As long as Eurozone politicians will signal their willingness to negotiate with Athens, the ECB will keep ELA at its current levels – even if it will create a bigger headache in Frankfurt every day. Still, this strategy will come to an end on 20 July. If Greece is not able to reimburse the ECB and would default on the bond, it is very hard to see the ECB continuing ELA. All in all, the ‘no’ vote in the referendum will lead to the expected uncertainty. At the current junction, the ‘no’ vote is not (yet) a first step towards a Grexit. Even if Eurozone politicians won’t have a huge appetite to talk to possibly triumphant Greek counterparts, they will never refuse initial talks. How such negotiations will end is hard to tell. A lot will depend on how ready to compromise both the Greek government and the other Eurozone governments are. We still think that eventually a sustainable compromise can be reached. However, the risk for a Grexit has never been higher than today. To a large extent, the current situation brings the Eurozone and Greece back to square one. Square one as it looked like in January: the Greek people have voted against austerity, the Greek government wants debt relief from its Eurozone peers and the Eurozone has troubles finding a united reaction. The big difference with January, however, is that lots of bad blood is on the floors, Greek banks are closed and Greece does not have a bailout programme. These three factors clearly do not argue in favour of a strong Greek position vis-à-vis the rest of the Eurozone. Did Tsipras celebrate a Pyrrhic ‘no’?

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