Europe | - Part 5

How Goldman Sachs Masked Greece’s Debt

Lest we forget that everyone’s favorite investment bank played a key role in the Greek tragedy that has been playing out for over two years now, this BBC video reminds us how some complex financial engineering by Goldman Sachs helped mask Greece’s debt for years, that is, right up until a new government was elected.

The term “loan shark” comes to mind when listening to this depiction of what Goldman did and, paraphrasing former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, financial innovation that, over the long-run, benefits the economy stopped with the ATM machine.

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Greek Economy Now Poised for … Something

In this commentary at the Telegraph today, Ambrose Evans Pritchard seems none too optimistic about the chances of an austerity-fueled economic revival in Greece, citing the rather shocking comparison to the U.S. below about recent job losses.

In November alone 126,000 Greeks lost their jobs in a country of 11 million, equivalent to three and a half million Americans in a single month. The unemployment rate jumped from 18.2pc to 20.9pc.

This has not yet fed through into social breakdown. Greeks receive unemployment support for an average of thirty weeks, with a ceiling of €454 a month, according to Professor Manos Matsaganis of Athens University. Those with civil service tenure are placed on labour reserve for two years at half their basic pay, or a third their actual pay.

Once these cushions are exhausted, Greeks are on their own. The monthly ratchet effect will then become painfully evident. It is why the Orthodox primate Hieronymos II warned in a letter to the prime minister that ever further doses of the same “deadly medicine” is becoming dangerous.

“The voices of the desperate, the voices of Greeks are being provocatively ignored. Fear is giving way to rage and the risk of a social explosion can no longer be ignored by those who give orders and those who execute their lethal recipes,” he said.

Anyone looking for alternative solutions to what ails Greece should consider a recent comment by Jeremy Grantham about central bank policy: “Well, I wouldn’t start from here”.

When the government accounts for 40 percent or more of a nation’s GDP, you’ve basically purchased yourself a one-way ticket to a much lower standard of living and, if you haven’t already done so, have a look at last week’s New York Times story – The Way Greeks Live Now. I finally got around to reading it the other day and it’s well worth a look.

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The Greek Debt Deal is Done … For Now

There’s no telling how long it will be before this latest deal goes awry due to the Greeks not holding up their end of the austerity bargain, but, for the time being at least, there are lots of sore arms in Brussels from everyone slapping each other on the back for a job well done.

It’s almost comical when you think about it… They’ve been haggling over the level of Greek debt-to-GDP eight years from now after the deals and promises that they previously agreed to over the last two years have all proved to not be worth the paper they were written on.

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It Would Help if This Guy Wasn’t So Fat

I’ve been meaning to comment on this for a week or two now (ever since the ninth or tenth escalation – I’ve lost track – of the Greek debt crisis began last month), but, since Reuters was kind enough to provide the photo below in this story from earlier today, it seemed like a good time to offer a few thoughts on obesity and bailouts.

Of course, I know nothing about Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos in general or about what kind of a job he’s been doing in trying to keep the Greek government from defaulting on its debt and plunging all the world into another Lehman-style financial market meltdown, but, in a world where perceptions are very important, it seems it would help things along a bit if the top finance official of a spendthrift nation being bailed out after years of profligacy they kept hidden from the rest of the world wasn’t morbidly obese.

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