Open Europe Blog

A credible Greek threat?

The Greek Public Debt Management Agency put out an interesting press release (PR) yesterday. We won’t go over all of it, since it’s been heavily covered in the press, but it did raise one interesting point:

“The Republic’s representative noted that Greece’s economic programme does not contemplate the availability of funds to make payments to private sector creditors that decline to participate in PSI.”

This is widely being seen as a warning to those who hold Greek bonds governed by foreign law and who therefore may be more inclined to hold out due to the extra protection offered under foreign law (they are also subject to higher CAC threshold, meaning CACs are harder to use). Greece essentially says that any bondholder who doesn’t take write downs will be defaulted on (except the ECB).

So, is this a credible threat?

Well, firstly we won’t find out until 11 April since that is the settlement date for foreign law bonds under the restructuring plan.

But more importantly it raises the question of whether Greece could be setting itself up for a second default, at least in technical terms. Let us explain:

Greece will certainly be judged to be in default by the rating agencies after CACs are triggered, but once the bond swap is completed and new bonds are issued it should come out of this rating fairly quickly. Yet, a month later it could again trigger CACs on foreign law bonds. Even worse, it could just leave these bonds and default on them through non-payment as and when payments are due (this could run long into the future). If this constituted another default it would have a negative impact on funding for Greek banks and the stability of the economy – so would be something to avoid.

Ultimately, it comes down to whether the new Greek bonds have ‘cross-default clauses’ in them – which means if Greece defaults on other bonds it will default on these too. From what we can see, the new bonds do not have general cross-default clauses (despite earlier versions of the plan including them), only ones which apply to the new group of bonds which exist after the restructuring.

This makes the threat to default on the remaining foreign law bonds much more credible. It would still be an extreme course of action, but one which looks increasingly attractive given the extra debt relief it could deliver (which Greece will need).

This is something which bondholders would do well to keep in mind if they are planning to try and get paid out in full.

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