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Punishing private investors may delay economy recovery

A protester waves an Irish flag outside the Irish Prime Ministers office in Dublin, Ireland, on November 21, 2010.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: No sooner was the ink dry on the Irish bailout plan yesterday -- $110 billion plus or minus to save Irish banks -- then attention turned to Portugal widely regarded as the next-weakest link in the wider European economy. Already bond markets are making it difficult for Lisbon to borrow in conventional markets. Which brings us to the other key piece of business decided in Europe over the weekend: Eventually making private investors bear some of the costs of crisis.

Christopher Werth has more from London.


Christopher Werth: Up until now, investors holding sovereign bonds and bank debt have been completely protected from any losses when things go sour. That was true when Greece was rescued earlier this year. And now investors in Ireland will be sheltered from the storm.

But Brian Lucey, a finance professor at Trinity College Dublin, says that will soon change.

Brian Lucey: The results of this are going to be, down the line, a restructuring of debt.

In other words, under the EU's new plan, bondholders could potentially take a hit starting in 2013. That's when the fund set up earlier this year -- and used to prop up Ireland's finances -- expires. But Simon Tilford of the Centre for European Reform says that threat of punishing private investors is what got Ireland into trouble in the first place.

Simon Tilford: By explicitly acknowledging that there could be restructuring and default, they have made that eventuality much, much more likely.

He says putting bondholders on the line will drive up what are already high borrowing costs for what analyst see as the next dominos to fall: Portugal, Spain, and Italy.

Tilford: All this announcement has done has made investors even more wary of lending to them. The problem with this now is that by pushing up further the cost of borrowing for these countries, they leave them with no option but to enforce even greater austerity.

And Tilford says that could hinder the kind of economic growth that would help struggling Eurozone countries repay their debts in the first place.

In London, I'm Christopher Werth for Marketplace.

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