The Lethal Deferral of Greek Debt Restructuring

ATHENS – The point of restructuring debt is to reduce the volume of new loans needed to salvage an insolvent entity. Creditors offer debt relief to get more value back and to extend as little new finance to the insolvent entity as possible.

Remarkably, Greece’s creditors seem unable to appreciate this sound financial principle. Where Greek debt is concerned, a clear pattern has emerged over the past five years. It remains unbroken to this day.

In 2010, Europe and the International Monetary Fund extended loans to the insolvent Greek state equal to 44% of the country’s GDP. The very mention of debt restructuring was considered inadmissible and a cause for ridiculing those of us who dared suggest its inevitability.

In 2012, as the debt-to-GDP ratio skyrocketed, Greece’s private creditors were given a significant 34% haircut. At the same time, however, new loans worth 63% of GDP were added to Greece’s national debt. A few months later, in November, the Eurogroup (comprising eurozone members’ finance ministers) indicated that debt relief would be finalized by December 2014, once the 2012 program was “successfully” completed and the Greek government’s budget had attained a primary surplus (which excludes interest payments).