Saturday, February 27, 2010

Bankruptcy, thy name is Greece

The next time someone tells you that they trust the way government handles finances or they are A-OK with tax hikes because they benefit the common good, tell them about a little country called Greece:

Concerns that Greece and other struggling European nations may not be able to repay their debts are focusing investor attention on another big worry: Economies across the Continent have used complex financial transactions—sometimes in secret—to hide the true size of their debts and deficits.

Investors long turned a blind eye to European governments' aggressive bookkeeping, aimed at meeting the euro zone's fiscal ceilings. Countries using the euro currency have a rich history of exotic maneuvers aimed at meeting rules requiring members to cap debt levels at 60% of their gross domestic product and their annual budget deficits to no more than 3%. Despite criticism, European leaders deemed many of these moves acceptable as they sought the long-planned currency union...

...Portugal classified subsidies to the Lisbon subway and other state enterprises as equity purchases. After learning that, Eurostat made Portugal redo its accounting in 2002. The country revised its 2001 deficit from €2.76 billion, or 2.2% of GDP, to €5.09 billion, or 4.1%—well over the limit.

France arranged a deal with the soon-to-be privatized France Telecom in 1997 under which the company paid the government a lump sum of more than €5 billion. In return, France agreed to assume pension liabilities for France Telecom workers. The billions from France Telecom helped narrow France's budget gap to around €40 billion in 1997; it reported a deficit for that year of 3% of GDP—right on the target, and helping it to join the euro.

Even Germany, Europe's largest economy, tried to reappraise gold reserves for a fast fix in 1997, though it backed off after resistance from the country's central bank.

Wanna bet something like this will happen here?


Harrison said...

Problems with these countries will ensure the dollar remains the defacto world currency for a while longer even if the downside to this is that our elected officials feel they can thus borrow more money.

VH said...

Exactly my thoughts too, Harrison. It will be interesting to see if the Euro survives this crisis.