ECB trades crap for slightly less crappy crap
Yesterday I read this New York Times article on how the ECB is trading its short term Greek bonds, with Greece, for longer term bonds.
Specifically, in order to avoid holding bonds that Greece is officially planning to “voluntarily” default on, the ECB is turning in that super crappy crap for other bonds that Greece hasn’t yet decided how much they’ll default on.
Just to spell it out even more, the plan to get private bondholders more excited about trusting the European bond market has been this:
- have the the ECB step in (around the beginning of 2012) and provide liquidity and faith in the bond market,
- negotiate that the Greek bonds maturing in March 2012 are given a 70% haircut,
- make sure credit default swaps on those bonds are not activated (why we need it to be “voluntary”),
- change the terms of the bonds’ contracts so that the holdouts of this voluntary deal can be safely ignored, and
- have the ECB trade those bonds for longer-dated bonds at the last minute so they don’t actually have to take losses.
I’m not sure about you, but if I’m a private European debt holder my confidence in the bond market is not stronger right now. The argument for why the ECB is doing this is that they aren’t allowed to be seen giving money to Greece, by their charter. It’s odd to me that this charter, of all the various rules that have been broken here, is the one that is being fixated on as the important one we can’t break.
There are complicated politics going on, I am sure. I’m no expert in European politics, but this is about as European and about as political as things get.
Ignoring all of that, as a private bondholder, I’m putting a “ECB back-door swap” premium on all of my European debt from now on. Except maybe for German debt since I think Germany would rather jump out of the Euro altogether than default on its debt. But every other country is fair game. Bottomline is I short French debt today.