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Greece unveils $13bn bond buyback plan

Move is part of efforts to reform country's stricken economy and will pave way for vital international bailout loans.
Last Modified: 04 Dec 2012 08:14
The government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has staved off bankruptcy by seeking bailout loans [EPA]

Greece says it will spend $13bn in a bond buyback programme that it hopes will help stabilise its huge debt.

The buyback, one of the steps Greece is taking to secure the disbursement of vital international rescue loans, is part of efforts to reform the country's stricken economy and reduce its debt to sustainable levels.

In an interim report on monetary policy released on Monday, the central bank said the new measures, if implemented on time, "are positive developments, which create plausible expectations of a recovery of the Greek economy".

"This outcome, however, hinges upon a consistent implementation of all the measures legislated, together with policies that will speed up the onset of recovery, including a broader program of structural reforms," warned the Bank of Greece.

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"Any delays will push the recovery back, with consequences that will be far more severe than anything that has so far happened."

The bond buyback was agreed at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Brussels last week, which also approved the release of a critical $57bn installment of rescue loans from the International Monetary Fund and the other 16 European Union countries that use the euro.

It is hoped the buyback will shave about $26bn off the country's debt. It comes less than a year after private holders of Greek debt agreed a big writedown in the value of their Greek bonds.

Under the buyback programme, private holders of Greek bonds, such as banks, pension funds and other investors, have until Friday to register their interest in participating. The sale will be conducted by what is known as a Dutch auction, in which prices start high and then decline.

There are 20 series of outstanding bonds eligible for the scheme, which will command different prices depending on the bond maturity, the Public Debt Management Agency said.

Greece has set a minimum range of 30.2 per cent to 38.1 per cent of the bond's face value, and a maximum of between 32.2 per cent and 40.1 per cent, depending on the bond issue. The buyback should be completed by December 17.

Drastic measures 

The scheme is expected to be of particular interest to investors who bought the bonds on the secondary market at far cheaper prices than their original value - over the past few months, some Greek bonds have hit as little as 11 percent of their face value.

Greek officials are to brief eurozone finance ministers on details of the scheme when they meet in Brussels later on Monday.

Greece has been dependent since May 2010 on international rescue loans from the IMF and its partners in the euro. The funds have prevented the country going bankrupt and possibly leaving the euro.

In return, Greece has had to take drastic measures to reform its economy, including slashing pensions and salaries, and increasing taxes. But the measures have not had the effect Greece's creditors had hoped, with a worse-than-expected recession now heading into its sixth year and undermining efforts to make the country's debt sustainable.

The Bank of Greece projected that the country's economy would contract by more than 6 per cent of gross domestic product this year, and by a further 4-4.5 per cent next year.

Unemployment, currently at an annual average of just over 23.5 per cent, is expected to exceed 26 per cent in 2013 and 2014.

"A recession of this intensity and duration is unprecedented in Greece's peacetime history and has taken a heavy toll not only on incomes, but also on potential output and social cohesion," the central bank's report said.

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Source:
Agencies
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