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'Final battle' Greek debt talks go into top gear

20 january 2012, 16:24
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Institute of International Finance's managing Director Charles Dallara (L) and senior advisor to France's BNP Paribas Jean Lemierre leave the Greek Prime minister office after talks in Athens. ©AFP
Institute of International Finance's managing Director Charles Dallara (L) and senior advisor to France's BNP Paribas Jean Lemierre leave the Greek Prime minister office after talks in Athens. ©AFP
Greece will resume crucial talks Friday on a debt writedown and a new loan that is key to its economic survival, with talk of progress as the IMF held out hope for additional funding, AFP reports.

"Now is the critical moment for the final battle" on talks with private creditors and a new eurozone bailout, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said as officials began a new round of talks with a global bank lobby group on Thursday.

The Institute of International Finance (IIF), which is representing the banks and financial institutions, said the talks were positive.

"Progress was made and discussions will continue tomorrow (Friday)," it said.

"(We) held productive discussions today in Athens with Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos on the voluntary PSI for Greece," the IIF said.

Under the so-called private-sector initiative (PSI), banks and other financial institutions are expected to take at least a 50 percent "haircut" on their Greek debt, which would remove about 100 billion euros ($129 billion) from Athens's massive debt burden of more than 350 billion euros.

Hedge funds holding Greek debt have so far resisted the writedown. Greece has warned it could take action on holdouts, a move that may trigger claims by creditors for default compensation from Athens.

The IIF was represented by managing director Charles Dallara and Jean Lemierre, adviser to French bank BNP Paribas.

Meetings also begin on Friday with senior representatives from the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank -- known as the "troika" -- on the next three years of an economic blueprint adopted by Greece in return for this money, and an earlier loan in May 2010.

The Washington lender said it was ready for talks on extra rescue funds needed to keep Athens from defaulting in March.

"The Greek authorities have requested to begin discussions on a new arrangement with the Fund," International Monetary Fund spokeswoman Conny Lotze said in an email to AFP.

"The arrangement would require exceptional access under the Fund's lending rules," she said.

At the other end of the eurozone, France and Spain reported strong demand at long-term bond auctions Thursday as investors appeared to discount a Standard & Poor's downgrade of eurozone credit ratings last week.

That showed that both France and Spain, the second- and fourth-biggest eurozone economies, can still borrow at affordable rates, analysts said.

"Strong and healthy demand (for French and Spanish debt) demonstrated how undisturbed the markets were by the recent S&P downgrade that deprived France of its triple-A rating," Gekko Global Markets trader Anita Paluch told AFP.

Other analysts, however, were more sceptical and warned that the debt crisis in the eurozone and especially in Greece could drag on, with Athens possibly forced to leave the single currency bloc.

"Sooner or later we expect Greece to conclude that the conditions attached to the bailout deal are simply too onerous and that its best option may be to terminate any rescue package, carry out another debt restructuring deal and abandon the single currency." said Ben May at Capital Economics.

ECB chief Mario Draghi said that the eurozone showed signs of stabilisation.

"We have seen tentative signs of stabilisation of economic activity at a low level," Draghi told reporters after a meeting between European and Gulf central bankers in Abu Dhabi.

Progress also appeared to be made in Brussels where a draft accord on tightening up EU rules so as to reduce public deficits took a hard line -- any member state failing to sign up to a "golden rule" on mandatory balanced budgets would not get bailed out if it runs into trouble.

"The granting of assistance in the framework of new programmes under the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) will be conditional, as of 1 March 2013, on the ratification of this treaty," said the draft text being prepared for a January 30 EU summit due to give its approval.

The EU and IMF have already provided Greece with two-thirds of a 110-billion-euro debt package agreed in May 2010, with an audit on Athens' implementation under that deal set to resume Friday.

The main Athex index closed 2.94 percent higher Thursday amid media reports that Greek officials were optimistic they would finally strike an agreement with banks and institutional investors.

This in turn would open the way for a separate 130-billion-euro loan deal with the eurozone and help calm market fears of a wider crisis within the 17-nation single currency area.

Japan said Thursday that it was ready to help out after the IMF called for $500 billion in new funds to ensure that the European debt crisis did not scupper the global economy.

However, the United States resisted calls for a larger IMF stand-by fund and its success will hinge on the attitude of emerging giant economies like China, Brazil and India.

European states have already committed to providing around $200 billion.

The European Commission on Thursday urged "strong members of the IMF" to step up to the plate to boost rescue funding capacity at the global lender of last resort.

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