Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Perpetually weak growth has bedevilled attempts to tackle Greece’s chronic debt problem. Back in May 2010, when the European commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund organised the first bailout, it was assumed that a rapid recovery and tight budget controls would see Greek national debt as a share of gross domestic product fall steadily. These forecasts proved to be wildly optimistic. As Greece sank deeper and deeper into recession, the debt ratio carried on rising, and now stands at about 180% of GDP.  Unfortunately, lessons have not been learned. The 2015 bailout package assumes that Greece will run a budget surplus, once debt interest payments are excluded, of 3.5% of GDP year in and year out. The IMF, which now has a more realistic assessment of Greece than the commission or the ECB, says few countries have managed to sustain budget surpluses of this size, and that Greece could do so only by further cutting wages and pensions. The IMF also thinks “it is no longer tenable” to imagine that Greece can move from having one of the eurozone’s weakest productivity growth rates to the highest. The IMF says that without debt relief, Greece’s debt could hit 250% of GDP by the middle of the century. Germany would prefer those discussions to be delayed until after its election in autumn next year. But the chances are that Greece will be back in the headlines before then.

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