February 11, 2012 / 12:40 PM / 8 years ago

Climax nears in Greek drama

LONDON (Reuters) - Tortuous negotiations over a second bailout for Greece are set to come to a head on Wednesday, putting fragile market confidence to the test on the same day data is tipped to show the euro zone is entering a mild recession.

Two anti-austerity banners, placed by activists of the Greek Communist party, are displayed on a hill at the Acropolis in Athens February 11, 2012. REUTERS/Eurokinissi/Antonis Nikolopoulos

U.S. retail sales and the release of minutes from the last Federal Reserve rate-setting meeting, data on UK inflation and unemployment, more corporate earnings and a Bank of Japan policy meeting also stand on the market’s radar.

But it is Greece and a March 20 deadline, when the country must find 14 billion euros ($18.6 billion) to meet debt repayments or face the prospect of a chaotic default, that will hold the market’s attention.

Euro zone officials have said February 15 marks a cutoff points for agreement on a new bailout deal, without which Greece will have no funds to cover the March repayments.

“We have a very stretched timetable, so if there’s no agreement on Wednesday any Greek deal would be in dangerous territory,” Thomas Costerg, European Economist at Standard Chartered Bank said.

“Although a disorderly default is not our central scenario, risks are definitely rising and we think this would have huge consequences potentially on confidence, on financial markets and on the banking system.”

If a Greek deal is agreed, the focus will likely switch to the pace of economic recovery in developed markets and the ongoing effects of policy stimulus from some of the world’s major central banks.

In Europe, demand at a second 3-year loan tender (LTRO) by the European Central Bank at the end of the month will be closely monitored after the first in December was widely credited with having eased financial pressures and supported a big move into riskier assets.

U.S. dollar-based investors who moved into 10-year Italian government bonds after the first LTRO have seen gains of over 15 percent for the year to date, and the big funds are taking notice.

“We continue to assess the level of yields of Italian and Spanish bonds over Germany as there are opportunities for shorter term yield pick-up in those markets as we watch for economic improvement,” said Kevin Anderson of State Street Global Advisors.

Anderson, who is global chief investment officer of fixed income and currency, says his views are not conditional on a Greek debt deal.

“The market has pretty much priced in a significant restructuring in Greece, which probably removes the contagion effect were we to see a disorderly events in Greece in the next weeks and months.”


Most of the economic data due in the coming week is not expected to shake markets out of the view that a mild global recovery is under way, led by China and the U.S, even as the euro zone struggles.

The revival play has seen the MSCI’s All Country World Index .MIWD00000PUS rise over 9 percent this year and it is up more than 20 percent from its October lows.

The first estimate of fourth quarter economic performance in the euro zone, due on February 15, will likely show a contraction of 0.4 percent after growth 0.2 percent in the previous quarter.

According to a Reuters poll published last month, a majority of economists expect the euro zone to contract further in the current quarter, which would formally signal a slump.

“We think that will mark the start of the recession, including even for Germany,” Standard Chartered’s Costerg said.

However, both the euro zone and Germany will post growth for the year as whole and markets will also keep a close eye on the more forward-looking German ZEW sentiment index for February, which is seen showing another monthly gain.


Asset Performance in 2012: link.reuters.com/muc46s

Euro zone debt crisis in graphics:


Global government bond yields:




In Europe, with the fourth quarter reporting season now about midway through, companies have been fairly evenly split in terms of upwards and downwards surprises, but risks of 2012 earnings downgrades remain, Societe Generale analysts said in a report.

“Disappointment is due in particular to raw material price volatility, price pressures and also the beginning of a slowdown in emerging markets - especially China for some capital goods companies.”

Despite this, the FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 of top European companies is up more than 20 percent from lows it hit in September 2011.

Elsewhere the European Union, the ECB and the International Monetary Fund, known as the Troika, will be reviewing Portugal’s progress on meeting the terms of its 78 billion euro bailout package, with Germany already indicating it is ready to accept changes to the plan.

In Asia, pressure is mounting on the Bank of Japan to respond to the U.S. Fed’s dovish stance, though analysts expect the coming week’s policy decision to be a close call.

($1 = 0.7517 euros)

By Richard Hubbard; Editing by John Stonestreet

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