NEW YORK – The countries known collectively as the PIIGS – Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain – are burdened with increasingly unsustainable levels of public and private debt. Several of the worst-hit – Portugal, Ireland, and Greece – have seen their borrowing costs soar to record highs in recent weeks, even after their loss of market access led to bailouts financed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Spanish borrowing costs are also rising.
Greece is clearly insolvent. Even with a draconian austerity package, totaling 10% of GDP, its public debt would rise to 160% of GDP. Portugal – where growth has been stagnant for a decade – is experiencing a slow-motion fiscal train wreck that will lead to public-sector insolvency. In Ireland and Spain, transferring the banking system’s huge losses to the government’s balance sheet – on top of already-escalating public debt – will eventually lead to sovereign insolvency.