"No one wants to accept the fact that debts that can’t be paid, won’t be."
The Fight is On
The Looming European Debt Wars
By MICHAEL HUDSON
Government debt in Greece is just the first in a series of European debt bombs that are set to explode. The mortgage debts in post-Soviet economies and Iceland are more explosive. Although these countries are not in the Eurozone, most of their debts are denominated in euros. Some 87 per cent of Latvia’s debts are in euros or other foreign currencies, and are owed mainly to Swedish banks, while Hungary and Romania owe euro-debts mainly to Austrian banks. So their government borrowing by non-euro members has been to support exchange rates to pay these private-sector debts to foreign banks, not to finance a domestic budget deficit as in Greece.
All these debts are unpayably high because most of these countries are running deepening trade deficits and are sinking into depression. Now that real estate prices are plunging, trade deficits are no longer financed by an inflow of foreign-currency mortgage lending and property buyouts. There is no visible means of support to stabilize currencies (e.g., healthy economies).
For the past year these countries have supported their exchange rates by borrowing from the EU and IMF. The terms of this borrowing are politically unsustainable: sharp public sector budget cuts, higher tax rates on already over-taxed labor, and austerity plans that shrink economies and drive more labor to emigrate.
Bankers in Sweden and Austria, Germany and Britain are about to discover that extending credit to nations that can’t (or won’t) pay may be their problem, not that of their debtors. No one wants to accept the fact that debts that can’t be paid, won’t be. Someone must bear the cost as debts go into default or are written down, to be paid in sharply depreciated currencies, but many legal experts find debt agreements calling for repayment in euros unenforceable. Every sovereign nation has the right to legislate its own debt terms, and the coming currency re-alignments and debt write-downs will be much more than mere “haircuts.” more