— Mohamed A. El-Erian
July 6, 2015
JULY 6 — By heeding their government’s advice and voting “No” in the referendum on Sunday, Greek citizens sent an unambiguous message. Much like the fictional Americans portrayed in the movie “Network” who threw open their windows and shouted out, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore,” the Greeks are demanding that the rest of Europe acknowledge their distress.
At this stage, however, only a handful of European leaders seem willing to listen; and even fewer appear willing to deliver the sort of relief that Greece desperately needs. The implications will be felt primarily in Greece, but also in Europe and beyond.
Here are 10 consequences of the vote that could unfold in the next few days:
1. The victory of the “No” camp—with more than 60 per cent of the vote, according to preliminary returns—will initially lead to a general selloff in global equities, along with price pressures on the bonds issued by Greece, other peripheral euro zone economies and emerging markets. German and US government bonds will benefit from a flight to quality.
2. Having been caught off guard, European politicians will urgently seek to regain the initiative: Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Francois Hollande of France will meet in Paris on Monday to work on a response. In a perfect world, these leaders would move quickly and effectively with the Greek government to get past the conflict and acrimony that preceded the referendum. This is likely to be difficult, given the mistrust, bad blood and damaging accusations that have poisoned the relationship.
3. Even with those challenges, Greek and European politicians don’t have much time to get their act together. The horrid conditions in Greece will get a lot worse before they improve. Without huge emergency assistance from the European Central Bank—a decision that faces long odds—the government will find it hard to get money to the country’s automated teller machines, let alone re-open the banks.
4. As hoarding increases, shortages of goods, including fuel and food, will intensify. Capital and payments controls will be tightened. The economy will take another worrisome step down, worsening unemployment and poverty. And the government will struggle to pay pensioners and the salaries of civil servants.
5. As a result, the government will be under mounting pressure to issue some type of IOUs to maintain a sense of a functioning economy. If it does, the IOUs will take on the role of a parallel currency, quoted domestically at a discount to the single currency.
6. Outside Greece, a lot of thought will be given to limiting adverse spillovers. The ECB will most likely have to roll out new measures to contain regional contagion, including expanding the current programme of large-scale purchases of securities. This will weaken the euro’s exchange rate. In addition, together with the International Monetary Fund—to which Greece is already in arrears—officials will be preparing for serial Greek defaults.
7. All parties involved will find themselves slipping into their Plan B mode. This transition will probably be much more traumatic for Greece than for the rest of Europe.
8. With the ultimate goal of countering as quickly as possible the likelihood of further human suffering, pain and uncertainty, Europe has the instruments and institutions to limit contagion and maintain the integrity of the euro zone. But this will require ECB action to be coupled with measures by the European Stability Mechanism and the European Investment Bank aimed at completing a banking union and making progress on fiscal integration.
9. It is quite doubtful, however, that Greece will be able to restore its status as a full member of the euro zone. Indeed, without very skillful crisis management, it is at high risk of becoming a failed state. Rather than just stand by, Europe needs to ensure that Greece’s exit from the 19-member euro zone doesn’t also result in its dissociation from the larger European Union. This could involve special membership in an association agreement, for example,
10. Finally, expect an explosion of blame. This unproductive activity may end up delaying Europe’s urgent need to internalize the lessons from this sad outcome: A series of broken reform promises by several Greek governments was made worse by political stubbornness, poor analysis and inconsistent follow-through by Europe, which is contributing to the loss of Greece as a functioning member of the family. — Bloomberg