Portugal right behind Greece in the Economic Doom Train

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Telegraph
March 9, 2012

Europe has ring-fenced Greece’s debt crisis for now but its escalating recourse to legal legerdemain has shattered the trust of global bond markets and may ultimately expose Portugal, Spain, and Italy to greater danger.

“The rule of law has been treated with contempt,” said Marc Ostwald from Monument Securities. “This will lead to litigation for the next ten years. It has become a massive impediment for long-term investors, and people will now be very wary about Portugal.”

At the start of the crisis EU leaders declared it unthinkable that any eurozone state should require debt relief, let alone default. Each pledge was breached, and the haircut imposed on banks, insurers, and pension funds ratcheted up to 75pc.

Last month the European Central Bank exercised its droit du seigneur, exempting itself from loses on Greek bonds. The instant effect was to concentrate more loss on other bondholders. “This has set a major precedent,” said Marchel Alexandrovich from Jefferies Fixed Income. “It does not matter how often the EU authorities repeat that Greece is a ‘one-off’ case, nobody in the markets believes them.”

The ECB holds €220bn (£185bn) of Greek, Portuguese, Irish, Spanish, and Italian bonds. Its handling of Greece implicitly subordinates private creditors in each country. All have slipped a notch down the pecking order.

The Greek parliament’s retroactive law last month to insert collective action clauses (CACs) into its bonds to coerce creditor hold-outs has added a fresh twist. These CAC’s are likely to be activated over coming days. Use of retroactive laws to change contracts is anathema in credit markets.

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