Greece is back in the bond market
Athens and Thessaloniki municipal workers and contract workers, some wearing traditional folk uniforms, march on April 26, 2013 towards the Greek parliament in Athens to protest.
For the first time in four years, Greece has sold long-term government bonds to international investors—and found a hungry market. It sold 3 billion Euros ($4.14 billion) worth of five-year notes priced at a yield of 4.95 percent—lower than economists expected. And the issue was oversubscribed.
Greece defaulted on its debts in 2012 and nearly crashed the Eurozone. Its economy is now improving, with a return to minimal growth this year after years of deep recession. Still, the government is heavily in debt, more than 25 percent of the population is unemployed (and a higher percentage among young workers), and there are frequent strikes against austerity measures.
Fiscal reforms, wage and benefit cuts, improvements in tax collections—plus bailouts from the EU and IMF—have helped pull the country back from the brink of financial collapse and a chaotic exit from the Euro. But the reason investors now appear willing to take a risk funding Greek debt may have more to do with a statement made by European Central Bank president Mario Draghi at an investment conference in London in July 2012: “Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the Euro. And believe me, it will be enough.”
Economist Barry Bosworth at the Brookings Institution says that statement gave new life to the economic fortunes—and sovereign debt—of Europe’s troubled peripheral countries. Those include Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy—and especially, Greece. “At that point investors said, ‘oh, Greece is not really risky. It’s being backed by the full faith and credit of the Eurozone,’” says Bosworth.
Investors now believe no Eurozone country—even Greece—will be allowed to default or pull out of the common currency, says Bosworth.
Greece’s credit rating remains poor, but it is offering relatively high interest to investors—nearly 5 percent—much more than they would earn on safer U.S. or German bonds.
“Global investors are still looking for attractive places to put their cash,” says economic strategist John Canally at LPL Financial in Boston.