Greek bailout fails to give world stocks a lift amid implementation risks; euro down 0.8 pct
LONDON – LONDON (AP) — World markets fell Monday even after Greece's 15 partners in the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund agreed to bail out the highly indebted country.
In Europe, Germany's DAX was 23.92 points, or 0.4 percent, at 6,111.78 while France's CAC-40 fell 31.04 points, or 0.8 percent, at 3,785.95. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was closed for the May Day bank holiday.
The modest pullback during early trading came in the wake of Sunday's agreement by the eurozone and the IMF to offer Greece euro110 billion ($145 billion) over three years to give it some breathing to deal with its massive debts. In return, the country pledged to push through a further euro30 billion of austerity measures through to 2012, cutting wages and pensions and increasing sales taxes.
The Greek cabinet has accepted the proposals and the eurozone's governments are looking to formally clear the funds before Greece's next euro8.5 billion debt repayment on May 19. French finance minister Christine Lagarde goes later Monday to France's lower house of parliament to present a budget amendment allowing the government to release funds.
The toughest approval process is expected to be Germany where Chancellor Angela Merkel's government will face tough questioning from lawmakers and a challenge in the constitutional court, said Mitul Kotecha, an analyst at Credit Agricole. As the eurozone's biggest economy, Germany's contribution to the bailout package is the most sizable at euro22 billion.
Though the markets expect even this hurdle to be clear, the crisis is far from over. Questions likely to dominate include the ability of the Greek government to push through its severe austerity program given growing opposition on the streets and a recession likely to be caused by measures.
"Implementation risk is high," Kotecha said.
That certainly seems to be the view in the Athens markets, where the benchmark composite index was trading 1.4 percent lower at 1,844.70.
One of the aims of the package is to prevent the debt crisis spreading to other countries within the eurozone — last week's decision by Standard & Poor's to cut its credit ratings on Portugal and Spain proved to be the catalyst to finally get the Germans four-square behind a more comprehensive Greek bailout package.
So-called contagion around the eurozone raised questions about the future of the euro currency — Merkel said the bailout of Greece was the "only possibility we have to ensure the stability of the euro."
The jury is out, though, whether the package can ensure stability for the euro over the medium-term, especially as questions about the institutional framework remain unresolved following four months of indecision — by late morning London time, the euro was down 0.8 percent at $1.3232.
"The damage done to the market in the last few weeks will likely leave its mark and this will be reflected in greater skepticism than would have been otherwise from market participants about the potential success of the deal," said Jacques Cailloux, chief eurozone economy at Royal Bank of Scotland.
"Markets will likely focus on the implementation risks surrounding the program, ranging from the approval procedures of the tranches to the response of the population to the new austerity measures," Cailloux added.
A further element of the response to the Greek debt crisis that has raised eyebrows in the markets is the European Central Bank's decision to suspend its rating limits on Greek debt until further notice.
In a statement Monday, the central bank for the 16 countries that use the euro said the suspension of the minimum credit rating includes all existing and new debt instruments "issued or guaranteed by the Greek government."
That means that Greek debt can as collateral in ECB lending operations despite its poor credit ratings. Last week, Standard & Poor's cut its rating on Greece to junk status, raising market fears that if the other two leading agencies Moody's and Fitch did the same, then Greek debt would have been ineligible.
Cailloux think that the decision by the bank puts it "one set closer to the nuclear option" — the actual purchase of Greek bonds in the markets by the bank in the name of maintaining financial stability.
Cailloux thinks the purchase of government bonds by the ECB is "technically possible" and would probably be "the only response that would have a long lasting and decisive impact on the market" especially as it would support liquidity in the secondary market over the coming two years when Greece is not expected to tap investors.
Wall Street was poised to open modestly higher later, with Dow futures up 18 points, or 0.2 percent, at 10,978 and the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures rising 3 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,186.40.
Earlier in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index led the retreat, falling 297.23 points, or 1.4 percent, to 20,811.36 while South Korea's benchmark dropped 1.2 percent to 1,721.21.
Trading volumes were light in Asia as the two biggest markets, Japan and China, were closed for holidays. Markets in Thailand and the Philippines were also closed.
Investors will be interested to see how markets respond Tuesday to the decision by the People's Bank of China to raise the deposit reserve requirement ratio for most banks by half a percentage point, starting May 10. This is the third time this year that the central bank has raised the deposit reserve minimum in an effort to curb inflation and surging property prices.