WASHINGTON/BERLIN (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund on Saturday denied a report in German magazine Der Spiegel that it was privately pressing Greece to restructure its debt.
“As we have said consistently, the IMF supports the Greek government’s position of no debt restructuring and its determination to fully service its debt obligations. Any reports claiming otherwise are wrong,” an IMF spokeswoman told Reuters.
Without citing any sources, Der Spiegel reported that the IMF had reversed its previous opposition to the idea of a Greek restructuring and now believed one was necessary soon.
It wrote that senior IMF officials were recommending this to European governments because Greece’s debt mountain was now roughly one-and-a-half times its annual economic output.
Early in March, IMF European Director Antonio Borges told reporters he was “confident that Greek debt is sustainable,” adding that the Greeks had made “quite a bit of progress on their banks” as well.
But since the IMF now believes current measures no longer suffice, it would like to see interest rates on Greek sovereign debt lowered, maturities extended or the amount of principal which Greece has to repay cut, Der Spiegel said.
European governments and the IMF are jointly contributing to and administering Greece’s 110 billion euro ($155 billion) bailout, so a split between them on policy could be damaging to Greece’s prospects for recovery.
Greek and European officials have long insisted that Greece can recover without restructuring its debt, and that even discussing a restructuring now would be counter-productive by damaging banks across Europe and causing panic in markets.
Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, speaking to Reuters at a conference in Italy on Saturday, responded to the Der Spiegel report by saying: “There is absolutely no chance of a restructuring of Greek debt.”
He added, “People (who talk about a restructuring) fail to understand that the costs would much outweigh the benefits.”
European Commission spokesman Jens Mester said: “All support measures are in place, and there is no reason now to start thinking of this possibility of restructuring Greece’s debt.”
Der Spiegel reported that the IMF was still not willing to call openly for a Greek restructuring out of fear this could increase market pressure on Portugal. Portuguese bond yields have soared in the last several weeks because investors think Lisbon may soon be forced to seek a bailout.
Many investors and analysts think an eventual Greek restructuring may be inevitable. Cutting its credit rating of Cyprus on Wednesday, Standard and Poor’s cited an “increasing likelihood that the Greek government will restructure its debt.”
Former European Central Bank chief economist Otmar Issing told Der Spiegel last month that Greece’s sovereign debt would have to be restructured as soon as other euro zone countries were out of danger.
Before any restructuring, however, Greece may try another strategy. Papaconstantinou said on Wednesday that Athens might use some proceeds from state asset sales to buy back outstanding bonds from the market; since market prices of its debt have dropped sharply below face value, this could have the effect of a restructuring in lightening Greece’s debt load without requiring Athens to conduct difficult talks with creditors.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Christiaan Hetzner, Renee Maltezou, Valentina Za and Charlie Dunmore; Writing by Andrew Torchia; Editing by Ron Askew