The Euro Crisis

Make no mistake; the Greek crisis is a euro crisis that threatens the solvency of the ECB itself, and therefore confidence in the currency.

Before going into why, a few comments on Greece will set the scene.

Last weekend it became clear that Greece is heading for both a default on its government debt and also a failure of its banking system. With the benefit of hindsight it appears that the Greek government was unwilling to pretend that it was solvent and extend its financial support as if it was. The other Eurozone finance ministers and the troika were not prepared to accept this reality.

There is no immediate benefit from debating why. What matters now are the economic and financial consequences, which are basically two: the Eurozone’s banking system is very fragile and cannot absorb any sovereign default shocks easily, and the ECB itself now needs refinancing. Let’s concentrate on the ECB first.

The losses the ECB face from Greece alone are about twice its equity capital and reserves. The emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) owed by Greece to the ECB totals some €89bn, and the TARGET2 balance owed by the Bank of Greece to the other Eurozone central banks is a further €100.3bn, which at the end of the day is the ECB’s liability. The total from these two liabilities on their own is roughly twice the ECB’s equity and reserves, which total only €98.5bn. Given the likely collapse of the Greek banking system and the government’s default on its debt, we can assume any collateral held against these loans, as well as any Greek bonds held by the ECB outright are more or less worthless.

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