EuroZone Profiteers: How German and French Banks Helped Bankrupt Greece

1 July 2015 by Pratap Chatterjee


Alexander Tsipras, the prime minister of Greece, has called a national referendum this Sunday to call the bluff of the European Union and International Monetary Fund who are trying to force his country to accept severe austerity in return for effectively rolling over much of the countries’ debt.

Today Greece owes its creditors €323 billion ($366 billion), some 175 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. How did it end up owing so much money?

“We should be clear: almost none of the huge amount of money loaned to Greece has actually gone there,” Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank World Bank
WB
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

and a Nobel Prize winner in economics, wrote in the Guardian newspaper today. “It has gone to pay out private-sector creditors – including German and French banks.”

A recent CorpWatch report - The EuroZone Profiteers - can help shed further light on this matter. While it’s true that corrupt Greek politicians borrowed billions for shaky government schemes from these banks, there was a very good reason that the financiers made these rash loans: they were under pressure from European Union bureaucrats to compete in a global marketplace with U.K. and U.S. banks.

Take the German banks. While Anglo-American banking is dominated by many branches of a few major banks, Germany had some 4,000 unique institutions in 1990 that made up a three-pillar system of savings banks, co-operative banks, and private banks. These banks lived modestly on miniscule profits of one percent in comparison to Britain’s four mega-banks, which boasted returns as high as 30 percent on equity Equity The capital put into an enterprise by the shareholders. Not to be confused with ’hard capital’ or ’unsecured debt’. . Under pressure from Brussels, the German government agreed to push some of the bigger banks to become more “market oriented” by withdrawing state guarantees Guarantees Acts that provide a creditor with security in complement to the debtor’s commitment. A distinction is made between real guarantees (lien, pledge, mortgage, prior charge) and personal guarantees (surety, aval, letter of intent, independent guarantee). known as “anstaltslast” and “gewährträgerhaftung” to back them up in times of failure.

Likewise Prime Minister Jacques Chirac began a process of privatizing French banks in the late 1980s to “shoulder its responsibilities to the business community.” (The banks that had been nationalized over time by General Charles de Gaulle in 1945 and by President Pierre Mauroy in 1982) Like the Germans, the French banks enjoyed state protection, and thus were easily able to raise money to lend out.

The European Union was firmly behind this since they wanted European entities to compete on a global stage. “Sometimes it is said that competition is not to the benefit of all: It can favor larger firms, but hurt smaller businesses. I do not share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. this view,” Mario Monti, the European competition commissioner, said in October 1997. “Naturally, competition will reward greater efficiency. It will put pressure on less-performing companies and on sectors already suffering from structural problems.”

But French banks knew that they could not make billions by competing in Germany, nor were German banks expecting to vanquish the French. They looked instead to a simpler and easier market to loan out the plentiful supply of cash they had – the poorer, mostly southern European states that had agreed to take part in the launch of a common currency called the Euro in 1999.

The logic was clear: In the mid-1990s, national interest rates Interest rates When A lends money to B, B repays the amount lent by A (the capital) as well as a supplementary sum known as interest, so that A has an interest in agreeing to this financial operation. The interest is determined by the interest rate, which may be high or low. To take a very simple example: if A borrows 100 million dollars for 10 years at a fixed interest rate of 5%, the first year he will repay a tenth of the capital initially borrowed (10 million dollars) plus 5% of the capital owed, i.e. 5 million dollars, that is a total of 15 million dollars. In the second year, he will again repay 10% of the capital borrowed, but the 5% now only applies to the remaining 90 million dollars still due, i.e. 4.5 million dollars, or a total of 14.5 million dollars. And so on, until the tenth year when he will repay the last 10 million dollars, plus 5% of that remaining 10 million dollars, i.e. 0.5 million dollars, giving a total of 10.5 million dollars. Over 10 years, the total amount repaid will come to 127.5 million dollars. The repayment of the capital is not usually made in equal instalments. In the initial years, the repayment concerns mainly the interest, and the proportion of capital repaid increases over the years. In this case, if repayments are stopped, the capital still due is higher…

The nominal interest rate is the rate at which the loan is contracted. The real interest rate is the nominal rate reduced by the rate of inflation.
in Greece and Spain, for example, hovered around 14 percent, and at a similar level in Ireland during the 1992–1993 currency crisis. So borrowers in these countries were eager to welcome the northern bankers with seemingly unlimited supplies of cheap cash at interest Interest An amount paid in remuneration of an investment or received by a lender. Interest is calculated on the amount of the capital invested or borrowed, the duration of the operation and the rate that has been set. rates as low as one to four percent.

Take the case of Georg Funke, who ran Depfa, a German public mortgage bank. Depfa helped Athens get a star credit rating, raised €265 million for the Greek government railway, helped Portugal borrow €200 million to build up a water supplier, and gave €90 million to Spain to construct a privately operated road in Galicia. For a while, the middle class in Greece like the middle classes in Spain and Ireland, benefited from the infrastructure spending stimulus. When Depfa nearly collapsed in 2008, Funke was fired.

Or take the case of Georges Pauget, the CEO of Crédit Agricole in France, who bought up Emporiki Bank of Greece for €3.1 billion in cash in 2006. Over the next six years, Emporiki lost money year after year, blowing money on one foolish venture after another, until finally, Crédit Agricole sold it for €1 – not €1 billion or even €1 million – but a single euro to Alpha Bank in October 2012. Crédit Agricole’s cumulative loss? €5.3 billion.

Money poured in from other banks like Dexia of Belgium. Via Kommunalkredit, Dexia loaned €25 million to Yiannis Kazakos, the mayor of Zografou, a suburb of Athens, to buy land to build a shopping mall. It made similar loans to other Greek municipal authorities including Acharnon, Melisia, Metamorfosis, Nea Ionia, Serres, and Volos.

“The tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 and 2007 … wasn’t just money, it was temptation,” financial writer Michael Lewis wrote in Vanity Fair. “Entire countries were told, “The lights are out, you can do whatever you want to do, and no one will ever know.”

Bloomberg took a look at statistics from the Bank for International Settlements Bank for International Settlements
BIS
The BIS is an international organization founded in 1930 charged with fostering international monetary and financial cooperation. It also acts as a bank for central banks. At present, 60 national central banks and the ECB are members.

http://www.bis.org/about/
, and worked out that German banks loaned out a staggering $704 billion to Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain before December 2009. Two of Germany’s largest private banks—Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank—loaned $201 billion to Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, according to numbers compiled by BusinessInsider. And BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole of France loaned $477 billion to Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.

There is a very good parallel to this situation of cheap and easy money in the recent sub-prime mortgage Mortgage A loan made against property collateral. There are two sorts of mortgages:
1) the most common form where the property that the loan is used to purchase is used as the collateral;
2) a broader use of property to guarantee any loan: it is sufficient that the borrower possesses and engages the property as collateral.
crisis in the U.S.

In a recent book, A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home, author Laura Gottesdiener explains that 30 years ago, African Americans were unable to borrow money to buy houses because of a practice called redlining—where banks drew fictitious red lines around neighborhoods they would not lend to even if the borrowers had good credit and good jobs.

Today, redlining is illegal, but the reverse has happened. In the 1990s, poor people around the U.S. were offered 100 percent loans to buy houses at low rates with virtually no collateral Collateral Transferable assets or a guarantee serving as security against the repayment of a loan, should the borrower default. .

“The mortgage market for white Americans was flush. There was no more money to be made from issuing mortgages to white Americans. The banks needed new consumers,” Gottesdiener told Corporate Crime Reporter magazine. “So, they moved into the minority market. But they weren’t selling the conventional loans. They were selling these incredibly exploitative predatory loans.

We know how the sub-prime crisis ended in 2008 – and it almost brought down the global economy.

What happened after the creation of the Euro was very similar. The Greek government is in debt today to Germany and France not just because they borrowed money for unwise projects, but also because the bankers pushed them to take money that they would never have been able to approved under normal circumstances.

But as Stiglitz has noted, these German and French banks have now been rescued. An ATTAC Austria study showed that 77 percent of the €207 billion provided for the so-called “Greek bail-out” went to the financial sector and not to the people.

How the Greeks will vote on the European Union austerity package this Sunday is hard to predict, but more must be done – it is time to investigate the bankers who created the EuroZone crisis and hold them accountable.

But the bankers are not the only ones. There must be repercussions for the European Union bureaucrats and politicians who promoted the idea that free-market competition in financial services would benefit everyone. And not least of all, there should be a serious debate on how to reverse many of the policies that were used to create the European single market in financial services.

Source: http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=16039




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