ATHENS, Greece – A disorderly and potentially devastating Greek debt default is looking much less likely.
Greece and investors who own its bonds have reached a tentative deal to significantly reduce the country’s debt and pave the way for it to receive a much-needed $170 billion bailout.
Negotiators for the investors announced the agreement Saturday and said it could become final this week. If the agreement works as planned, it will help Greece remain solvent and help Europe avoid a blow to its already weak financial system, even though banks and other bond investors will have to accept multibillion-dollar losses.
Still, it doesn’t resolve the weakening economic conditions in Greece and other European nations as they rein in spending to get their debts under control.
Under the agreement, investors holding $270 billion in Greek bonds would exchange them for new bonds worth 60 percent less.
The new bonds’ face value is half of the existing bonds. They would have a longer maturity and pay an average interest rate of slightly less than 4 percent. The existing bonds pay an average interest rate of 5 percent, according to the think tank Re-Define.
The deal would reduce Greece’s annual interest expense on the bonds from about $10 billion to about $4 billion.
The agreement taking shape is a key step before Greece can get a second, $170 billion bailout from its European Union partners and the International Monetary Fund. Besides restructuring its debt with private investors, Greece must also take other steps before getting aid. It must cut its deficit and boost the competitiveness of its economy through layoffs of government employees and the sale of several state companies, among other moves.
Private investors hold roughly two-thirds of Greece’s debt, which has reached an unsustainable level – nearly 160 percent of the country’s annual economic output. By restructuring the debt held by private investors, Greece and its EU partners are hoping to bring that ratio closer to 120 percent by the end of this decade. Without a deal, analysts forecast that ratio ballooning to 200 percent by the end of this year as the Greek economy falters.
Meanwhile, Greece’s public creditors – the IMF, EU and European Central Bank – are baffled by the government’s repeated failure to meet deficit targets. They want more government wage cuts.