After Avoiding Bankruptcy, Greece Resumes Bond Sales

Over the past 4 years, Greece has endured a crippling debt crisis, and was bailed out twice. David Greene talks to Nick Malkoutzis, editor of Macropolis, an economic and political website in Athens.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

All right. For the first time since it was bailed out four years ago, Greece is dipping its toe back into the global capital market place. Greece today began selling long-term bonds to raise money from investors, and the government says there were more buyers than bonds. Greece has suffered terribly during its economic collapse, and early this morning, a car bomb went off in Athens outside of Bank of Greece Building. No injuries and no claim of responsibility, so far.

But for more about today's bond sale and what it means for Greece, we've reached Nick Malkoutzis in Athens. He's the editor of Macropolis, a Greek economic and political website.

Nick, good morning.

NICK MALKOUTZIS: Good morning to you.

GREENE: So explain to me what this milestone actually means - that the government is able to sell bonds to investors?

MALKOUTZIS: Well, I think it's exactly what you mentioned, it's a milestone. It's almost four years to the day since Greece was shut out of international capital markets because interest rates on its bonds just shot up incredibly because people no longer had confidence in Greece being able to repay its debt. And that's how this whole story began, the bailout, the economic crisis and this is, if you like, a steppingstone towards Greece exiting these terrible four, five years that's its gone through. It's by no means the end of it, but it's certainly an important point along the way. It's going to be borrowing from international markets as soon as there's some more confidence in the Greek economy and that it can move on from this point.

GREENE: Well, what happens next? Once this debt, these bonds, are sold, where does the money the government will get from the sale actually go?

MALKOUTZIS: Well, that's a good question because the peculiar thing in this case, is even by the admission of the Greek finance minister, that Greece doesn't actually need to borrow this money. It has a primary surplus, which means that it's earning more in revenue than it's paying out. It's repaying its debt towards the E.U. and the IMF. But what the government wants to do at this point is show that it's regained the confidence of international investors. There is also a technical aspect to this, in that it believes by reentering the bond markets, it can help bring down the yield, the interest rate on its shorter term borrowing, on its T bills(ph). And the government believes that this will save several hundred million euros a year. The counter argument, of course, to that is that by borrowing probably at an interest rate of around five percent, which is still very high for euros' own standards, although, much much lower than where Greek interest rates were below, it's going to be adding about 500 million euros of debt to its already huge debt pile over the next five years.

GREENE: The debt pile, I mean, just one of the many problems the country's facing, there have been strikes in the country, anti-austerity strikes, unemployment is still really high. I mean, can you talk in general about the position of Greece today? Is it in a better economic position than four years ago?

MALKOUTZIS: Yeah. You know, this is why it is important to put this return to bond market thing in context. By all means, it's a significant moment in this progression over the last few years, but by no means the end of the story. We're still in recession. We probably won't see the first signs of growth until later this year. Unemployment is around 28 percent. There's still a huge problem with the lack of liquidity in Greece businesses suffering, consumption is down, so there's still a lot of problems. And on a social level as well, around a third of Greek families are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, which is the highest in the E.U. So there's still a long way to go in the Greek story. And, you know, from the viewpoint of the man or woman on the street, this won't mean a great deal of difference to their daily lives. They'll be looking for job creation. They'll be looking for the tax breaks. They'll be looking for an increase in their incomes before they can really say yes, we're now seeing the actual signs of coming out of the crisis.

GREENE: All right. Nick Malkoutzis is the editor of Macropolis, a political and economic analysis website based in Athens. Nick, thanks very much.

MALKOUTZIS: Thank you.

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