Is Greek Debt Contagious?

26 Feb

The Greek flu looks like it’s spreading through Europe. How contagious is it? How far will it spread?

Charles Wyplosz, Professor of International Economics at the Graduate Institute (Geneva), and one of the world’s leading experts on Eurozone monetary and financial matters, sets the record straight on the latest twist in the GFC:

A debt default by the Greek government, on its own, would be a non-event. Greece is a relatively small country (with 11 million people, its GDP amounts to less than 3% of Eurozone’s GDP). Contagion to Portugal, which is even smaller, would also be a non-event. Moving on to Spain and Italy is another matter…

The real worry is the banking system. Some European banks hold part of the Greek debt and, if still saddled with unrecognised losses from the subprime crisis, some might become bankrupt. Many governments have simply not pushed their banks to straighten up their accounts, and they are now discovering some of the unforeseen consequences of supervisory forbearance…

Contagious debt defaults, along with bank failures, could lead to a double-dip recession in Europe, possibly affecting the US as well. If that were to happen, with the interest rate at the zero lower bound and fiscal policy not available any more, we could face a terribly bad situation.

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