Every since the banks went bust in Ireland the politicians have been saying that the taxpayers have to pay back the bank’s debt. If they didn’t repay those debts it would have disastrous consequences. Well if Iceland’s experience hasn’t proved this to be false, the Greece default last week certainly has. David McWilliams had this to say

Now there we were, thinking that financial markets didn’t like defaults. In fact, we were warned that if we were to do something as dastardly as not pay Anglo unsecured creditors, the sky would fall in. This line has been followed by our state as if it were gospel.

Yet on Friday, we see that not only is it not gospel, it is nonsense. The financial markets didn’t sell off, but rallied enthusiastically after the news that Greece had defaulted spectacularly on sovereign debt, not bank debt. So the markets that lent Greece money rallied on the news that Greece wasn’t going to pay the money back.

The largest sovereign default ever – and the only one in a developed country in 60 years – was embraced by the financial markets. In fact, for what it’s worth, the Greek stock market rallied too.

So what does this tell us?

It tells us that financial markets have no memory. They move on. It also means that when something becomes inevitable, sensible people accept it and make provisions. The fact that the default was not orderly or chaotic makes no real difference. Only weeks ago, creditors of Greece were saying that they wouldn’t accept default (as if they had a choice).

………

So what happened to the so-called vindictive financial markets, and what they would do to Greece if Greece defaulted? They rolled over. And what about the ATMs? Remember the notion that the ATMs wouldn’t work if bondholders didn’t get paid? Well, ATMs worked just fine in Athens on Friday evening.
More significant has been the U-turn by the troika. A few months ago, the EU view was that no default could be contemplated yet, on Friday, even the so-called hard-line Wolfgang SchÌuble, German finance minister, called the deal an “historic opportunity for the country”.

What of Ireland’s future

Now what does all this mean for us in Ireland, as we move forward?
It means that we, too, will get a debt deal on banking debt, not just the promissory note. The question is whether we are best to go for it now or wait for something much bigger down the road.

 

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