Greece Makes Itself Relevant Again, at Least for a Couple of Weeks

Greece is making itself temporarily relevant yet one more time. Greece’s Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, has called for a presidential election to be moved up to next week rather than what was expected to be in February. This process does not mean that a presidential outcome and parliamentary vote outcome will be known immediately, but this will effectively replace Karolos Papoulias ahead of the planned time — and the release of this came hours before eurozone finance ministers decided to extend Greece’s locked up bailout talks into early 2015.

The problem here is that the left opposition party Syriza is currently expected to win by a narrow margin, at least that is what preliminary polls have indicated. They have threatened to back out of the reform and austerity measures that allowed Greece’s bailout to take place. The long and short of the matter is that Greece could be back in financial crisis in short order. Bloomberg recently gave a great background on this, and the title should speak for itself: “Tsipras May Become Next Greek Leader, Mixing Mao With Bond Yield.”

The American depositary shares for National Bank of Greece S.A. (NYSE: NBG) were trading down 12% at $2.10 in early bird trading in New York. That puts it within striking distance of a new 52-week and multiyear low, as the 52-week range is $2.04 to $6.18.

Global X FTSE Greece 20 ETF (NYSEMKT: GREK) was also indicated down under $16 in early trading indications, after closing at $17.37 on Monday. This exchange traded fund’s 52-week trading range is $14.79 to $25.76.

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The reason that Greece matters again is because of the risk that the Syriza threat is carried out. Europe is in a very vulnerable position, and one more problem arising (or re-arising in this case) is just not going to help out on broader European efforts. Tsipras’s pledge is to keep private sector commitments in place, but to persuade or force government creditors to take write-downs to bring Greece’s debt down to acceptable levels.

One reality is that Greece really should not matter on its own. But if Greece backs out of its austerity and budget agreements, then what is to stop other PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) from doing the same? Ireland would seemingly stick on its correct path, but one has to always wonder about Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Greece has backed itself into becoming a nation that now effectively lives under a third world governing system. If the price to pay that was agreed to the first (or eighth) time around is now too high, simply call early elections and threaten to tear up the documents. What Greece does not have as a strong-arm tool is its own printing presses for currency. That would require leaving the euro.

Greece matters again. That may be the case for only a couple of more weeks, or maybe they trigger other problems in the lands of the PIIGS. If so, then Greece may matter for far more than just a couple of weeks.

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It is amazing that the European nations and the European Central Bank have allowed this situation to keep coming back into the fray, over and over. Agreements have to matter through time. Otherwise nations cannot exist on any credit at all, and terms of doing business simply become too egregious. At what point will creditors and international markets allow this country to remain so relevant? That remains the trillion drachma question.

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