May 18th, 2011
04:47 PM GMT
The Greek debt crisis may be giving eurozone finance ministers plenty to talk about in Brussels this week, but their careful choice of words has led to a veritable boom for the economic vernacular.
We have 2007 to thank for the terms ‘sub prime’ and ‘credit crunch,’ now 2011 has given us a new lexicon. It includes words like ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ restructurings and ‘brutal austerity.’
Economic novices may think they are alone in finding this new jargon opaque and perhaps intimidating. Fear not.
After ten years in this field I confess it’s (almost) ‘all Greek to me’ as well.
Here’s a snapshot of the more obscure terms grabbing the business headlines these days. Feel free to vote for your favourite.
Haircut: No, we’re not talking European Central Bank head Jean-Claude Trichet’s famous ‘short back and sides’. The ‘haircut’ investors have been discussing these days refers to a discount applied to the face value of Greek bonds to account for their lower market value.
Reprofiling: Quite distinct from UK opposition leader Ed Miliband’s reported nose op this year. This would involve extending maturities on Greece’s debt, without altering their interest rate. As of last night this appeared to be an option Brussels would consider for Greece as part of a package that also includes stepped-up privatizations and deeper spending cuts.
Restructuring: Comes in various sizes, shapes and textures. With a debt burden equal to 143 percent of GDP and investors demanding yields of more than 20 percent to hold its bonds, economists generally agree that some sort of restructuring is needed to stave off a ‘Greek tragedy.’ But it’s the severity of the action that is now in question. Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker has dismissed a ‘large’ restructuring but he hasn’t ruled out a ‘soft’ one (see: ‘reprofiling’ above).
Junk: For nearly a year Greece’s sovereign debt has languished on the lower runs of the credit worthiness scale. This means that although the yields on Greek bonds are high, they are not considered ‘investment grade’ and are only recommended for speculative investors.
Humour aside, Greece’s crisis is far from funny because it threatens to undermine the stability of the other nations sharing the euro.
Already Ireland and Portugal have had to receive bailouts because they couldn’t service their spiralling debt costs. Fears of contagion to other indebted nations have the bond markets eyeing Spain cautiously.
Yet, Greece’s predicament looks more stark if you let the numbers-rather than the words-speak for themselves.
Greece must repay $20 billion in June this year. For 2012 and 2013 there’s already a $92 billion shortfall, which means the country may well be wishing the ‘buck stops here’, cause boy will it need it.
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