Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Surprise of the day... another bad idea
from the EU. This time, the collected EU finance ministers seem to think that by buying back Greek debt at depressed prices, they can really make those irritating, overpaid bankers pay. There may be clever ways of engineering such an outcome, but the basic idea doesn't work. In one of their classic papers, Bulow and Rogoff (QJE 91) show that buying back debt is no way to reduce the burden of too much debt. Open market buybacks, at least, "allow creditors to reap more than 100 percent of any efficiency gains". Why? A country's repayment capacity is its repayment capacity. As you buy back debt, you effectively spread that capacity over ever fewer bonds - there is more blood, sweat, and tears squeezed from the Greek taxpayer for each bondholder remaining. The secondary market price of debt rises as repurchases proceed. Most likely, the market value of all bonds outstanding stays roughly constant as the face value declines. So, what to do? Maybe buy-backs are the answer, but to get it right, get a good advisor to design the process - like Paul Klemperer of Nuffield, Oxford, who advised the UK government on G3-spectrum auctions.