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Kai Ryssdal: If I knew how to say thank you in Greek right here, I would. Wall Street got a nice little bump today courtesy of the Eurozone. Huddling for yet another emergency summit in Brussels this morning, European leaders hatched yet another plan to save Athens from itself and perhaps protect the future of the Euro.
Marketplace’s Stephen Beard is on the line from London. Hello Stephen.
Stephen Beard: Hello Kai.
Ryssdal: All right, so it feels like we’ve been doing Greek debt for, I don’t know, ever, and frankly, the details are a little fuzzy. What’s in the news today?
Beard: Greece will get a second bailout — that’s the headline. Europe and the IMF will lend it an extra $155 billion; that’s on top of the $160 billion they’ve already had. And most significantly, there’ll be some debt relief. The repayment term for existing EU rescue loans will be doubled to at least 15 years; the interest rate will be cut in half. Which technically sounds a lot like a default, albeit a partial, selective, temporary default.
Ryssdal: Explore that term for just a second: selective default. It sounds like that’s a bad thing, but everybody’s OK with it?
Beard: Well, we’ll wait and see whether they’re OK with it. This was the reason, this goes to the heart of the disagreement between France and Germany, because the Germans were insisting that there should be some pain for private investors, that it shouldn’t be just the taxpayers — and particularly the German taxpayers — who would suffer as a result of, as they see it, Greek fecklessness. They wanted to see the banks that bought Greek government debt take a hit. Now it’s not clear whether the banks are going to take much of a hit, because under this deal, we’re told, it will be voluntary. Any discounts they take will be voluntary, but as far as the rescue loans are concerned, that they’ve already had from the EU and the IMF, the terms are being rewritten. And some people say that is a default.
Ryssdal: Can we say now, Stephen, that our long, national Greek debt nightmare is over with? And we’re not going to have to do more of these stories?
Beard: No. I don’t think so. The markets liked the look of this deal today; they jumped with relief. An agreement is obviously better than no agreement, and this deal may well take the pressure off the Eurozone bond markets and off the Euro itself — for a while. But the deal doesn’t address the fundamental problem, the fundamental flaw in the whole Euro project: the fact that you’ve got 17 different economies using the same currency with the same interest rate, but all running their own different public spending plans. Many analysts say, for the long term stability of the Euro, the Eurozone’s going to have to integrate a lot more; it’s going to have to become much more like a United States of Europe, with central control over public spending and issuing a Eurozone bond backed by the whole group. That’s going to be fantastically unpopular in some countries, though especially Germany.
Ryssdal: Let me ask you this self-centered question here, Stephen: one of the reasons that American debt and American interest rates have remained so low is that we look really good compared to Europeans, right? Do we now look relatively worse, that Europe is mending, Greece is mending?
Beard: In the short term, perhaps, yes. The hedge funds may be looking around for something else to pick on, some other government bond to kick around. But in the medium to longer term, since this deal doesn’t address the fundamental problems with the Eurozone, it seems unlikely that there’s going to be a major shift, and that everyone’s going to say, the Euro is the currency of choice, we can forget about the U.S. dollar.
Ryssdal: Marketplace’s Stephen Beard in London with the latest on the not-yet-over Greek debt story. Stephen, thank you.
Beard: OK Kai.
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