Greece finance chief downplays default rating

AP News
Posted: Jul 14, 2011 9:01 AM
Greece finance chief downplays default rating

Greece's finance minister sought to downplay fears of the implications of a default rating being slapped on the debt-ridden country after an expected second bailout.

Evangelos Venizelos told Parliament Thursday that the country faced "no danger of bankruptcy" and that its banking system was secure.

Concerns over Greece's financial health continue to dominate sentiment in the markets even though the Greek government managed to get an austerity package through Parliament.

However, the markets are getting concerned that the credit rating agencies will decide that the country is in default of its debts if the EU tries to get private creditors to share the burden of a second rescue package.

Some experts have raised fears that a so-called "selective default" rating could trigger a renewed bout of turmoil in the markets, as investors fret over the exposure of the banks to Greek debt.

Venizelos argued that a "selective default" rating would be manageable.

He said Greece is seeking to "lighten the burden of the Greek national debt ... through longer repayment periods, reducing interest rates, and a probable mechanism to buy back Greek debt on the secondary market."

On Wednesday, Fitch slashed its rating on Greece by another three notches and further into junk status. The move from B+ to CCC leaves Greece just one grade above a default rating.

Meanwhile, the country's debt burden continues to rise as a share of national income. Though it posted growth in the first quarter of the year, Greece has spent most of the time since 2008 in recession and is forecast to shrink further in the coming quarters at least.

On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund warned that Greece's national debt would reach 172 percent of gross domestic product in 2012, above the fund's estimate of 159 percent made in March.

Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter warned Thursday that Greece may have to reschedule its debts.

"What I don't want is a haircut," the minister said, referring to potential forced losses for bond holders. "That would represent sudden damage to the Austrian tax payer."

Greece is currently relying on loans from a euro110 billion ($155 billion) international bailout from other eurozone countries and the IMF.