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Greece Requires Conservatorship

Politics / Global Debt Crisis Apr 28, 2010 - 03:03 PM GMT

By: Axel_Merk

Politics

In our assessment, Greece should be placed into conservatorship by the European Commission. Greece’s liquidity issues have morphed into a solvency crisis. Greece’s challenges are fiscal, which requires a political solution. Therefore, Greece’s problems cannot be resolved by the European Central Bank (ECB), although ECB policy can affect the dynamics as this crisis evolves.


It is paramount to receive clarity on the political path chosen; closed-door deliberations may avoid the hastened band-aid approach employed by U.S. policy makers at the peak of the financial crisis, but are only good if it leads to substantive results.

As we see it, a variety of options are possible to address Greece’s challenges:

  • The European Commission, in conjunction with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the finance ministers of eurozone countries, could provide sufficient capital for Greece’s immediate financing needs. This may be the worst-case scenario, as any short-term capital injection may be very inefficient and not solve the long-term issues. It would show a lack of political leadership, seriously increasing the threat of contagion.
  • No agreement could be reached and Greece could fall into chaos. In that case, at least we have clarity and the markets can react accordingly. It would send a rather loud warning to Portugal. Portugal is in far better shape than Greece, but the arrogance of the political opposition in overruling the minority government to increase, rather than to cut, spending makes the country’s debt vulnerable. In case of a disorderly default, we believe the ECB would provide unlimited liquidity to the banking system; the eurozone member countries would provide a backstop to their banking system.
    This rather brutal approach would allow the eurozone to move on and may be preferable to any plan that does not set the framework for a long-term solution to Greece. Given the political realities, this scenario is highly unlikely, although not impossible.
  • A comprehensive bailout with insufficient austerity measures could be announced. Such a bailout may reduce the spreads between German and Greek bonds, but may, over the long-term, bring Germany’s borrowing costs closer to that of Greece rather than the other way around. Incentives must be in place to encourage fiscal restraint. Given that Germany has taken a strong leadership position in the negotiations, we believe this outcome is unlikely.
  • Placing Greece into conservatorship may be the most effective way to get Greece back onto the right track. Greece’s government, while working hard, is fighting an uphill battle. Greece finds itself in a predicament not all dissimilar to that of Newfoundland in the 1930’s. In the case of Newfoundland, its government had to relinquish control to a commission appointed by Britain and the British government guaranteed its public debt. Similarly, Greece may have to give up sovereign rights with regard to its fiscal management as a price for support.

The European Treaty does not provide for conservatorship, making our preferred scenario an unrealistic one. However, the IMF is the one institution with the credibility and experience to impose and supervise credible austerity measures. Governments are not like investment banks: governments bleed, they don’t evaporate; solutions are rarely black and white. As a result, policy makers should work hard on imposing credible and sufficient restrictions on Greece through all available means. While the European Commission may not be able to seize control, Greece is able to yield control to aspects of its finances.

Whether or not a debt restructuring (partial default) is part of any arrangement remains to be seen; in our assessment, the credibility of any announced plan will be more relevant in calming the markets; having said that, a debt restructuring would make a plan more credible in the absence of other measures to restrain Greece.

With regard to the size of any bailout, the IMF may well be willing to give a multiple of what is on the table. ECB President Trichet traveled to Germany on Wednesday to communicate the urgency of the political leadership in the eurozone to act on a comprehensive solution to Greece, saying: “to us it is extremely important that the decisions are taken extremely rapidly.” It would be helpful to have an announcement within days, preferably before the next scheduled ECB meeting and press conference on May 6.

We have long argued that Greece will ultimately be seen for what it is: a struggling country, whose GDP comprises a little over 2% of eurozone GDP. It is now up to the political leadership to decide whether this will take days, weeks, months or years.

We manage the Merk Absolute Return Currency Fund, the Merk Asian Currency Fund, and the Merk Hard Currency Fund; transparent no-load currency mutual funds that do not typically employ leverage. This analysis is a preview of our annual letter to investors; to learn more about the Funds, please visit www.merkfunds.com.

By Axel Merk

Manager of the Merk Hard, Asian and Absolute Return Currency Funds, www.merkfunds.com

Axel Merk, President & CIO of Merk Investments, LLC, is an expert on hard money, macro trends and international investing. He is considered an authority on currencies. Axel Merk wrote the book on Sustainable Wealth; order your copy today.

The Merk Absolute Return Currency Fund seeks to generate positive absolute returns by investing in currencies. The Fund is a pure-play on currencies, aiming to profit regardless of the direction of the U.S. dollar or traditional asset classes.

The Merk Asian Currency Fund seeks to profit from a rise in Asian currencies versus the U.S. dollar. The Fund typically invests in a basket of Asian currencies that may include, but are not limited to, the currencies of China, Hong Kong, Japan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand.

The Merk Hard Currency Fund seeks to profit from a rise in hard currencies versus the U.S. dollar. Hard currencies are currencies backed by sound monetary policy; sound monetary policy focuses on price stability.

The Funds may be appropriate for you if you are pursuing a long-term goal with a currency component to your portfolio; are willing to tolerate the risks associated with investments in foreign currencies; or are looking for a way to potentially mitigate downside risk in or profit from a secular bear market. For more information on the Funds and to download a prospectus, please visit www.merkfunds.com.

Investors should consider the investment objectives, risks and charges and expenses of the Merk Funds carefully before investing. This and other information is in the prospectus, a copy of which may be obtained by visiting the Funds' website at www.merkfunds.com or calling 866-MERK FUND. Please read the prospectus carefully before you invest.

The Funds primarily invest in foreign currencies and as such, changes in currency exchange rates will affect the value of what the Funds own and the price of the Funds' shares. Investing in foreign instruments bears a greater risk than investing in domestic instruments for reasons such as volatility of currency exchange rates and, in some cases, limited geographic focus, political and economic instability, and relatively illiquid markets. The Funds are subject to interest rate risk which is the risk that debt securities in the Funds' portfolio will decline in value because of increases in market interest rates. The Funds may also invest in derivative securities which can be volatile and involve various types and degrees of risk. As a non-diversified fund, the Merk Hard Currency Fund will be subject to more investment risk and potential for volatility than a diversified fund because its portfolio may, at times, focus on a limited number of issuers. For a more complete discussion of these and other Fund risks please refer to the Funds' prospectuses.

This report was prepared by Merk Investments LLC, and reflects the current opinion of the authors. It is based upon sources and data believed to be accurate and reliable. Opinions and forward-looking statements expressed are subject to change without notice. This information does not constitute investment advice. Foreside Fund Services, LLC, distributor.

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