Is There a New Greek Bank Nationalization Risk After IMF News?

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After news broke that Greece and the European Union were too far apart on a deal, it was one thing. Now Greece has decided to bundle its interest payments that are due in June. The nation notified the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it plans to bundle all of its June payments, which means the IMF and other creditors will not receive payments until June 30.

This means that some $1.7 billion or so is going to be bundled. Whether this was requested by the IMF or by the Greeks may not even matter. IMF payments were due June 5, June 12, June 16 and June 19. The good news here is that this is not a technical default because it is allowed under the rules. Still, it indicates that Greece may think this gives it some leverage.

National Bank of Greece S.A. (NYSE: NBG) is the U.S.-listed sentiment proxy stock of how investors feel about Greece on any given day. This American depositary share (ADS) was down only about 3% at $1.41 in New York trading on Thursday morning before the news broke, but things went from bad to worse there.

NBG shares closed down 8.2% at $1.34, against a 52-week range of $0.98 to $4.16. The trading volume was also over 12 million shares.

NBG’s short interest was 15.5 million in mid-May, but this was somehow down almost by half from just a month earlier. Shorting stocks with a $1 handle is not always easy to do.

What investors need to consider here is that Greece has a serious risk above and beyond just the ongoing debt negotiations. Those negotiations could literally go on for months or years, albeit on a stop-start-restart basis. That is because a no-confidence vote call creates new elections, and there is no assurance (or even a history against) that the new regime will abide by the prior regime’s signed contracts and documents.

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This larger risk that bank investors in Greece face is bank nationalization. The Greek government could either seize the banks or they could seize assets.

Now consider that Greece’s socialists in charge have many party members and supporters who would be, at a minimum, at least sympathetic to such moves of desperation.