Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Don’t Misread the IMF “Mea Culpa” on Greece

Those who feel vindicated by the IMF’s “mea culpa” on Greece should really read what the IMF wrote, rather than select the “lessons” they like. The IMF has produced an interesting report on Greece—but the lessons are hardly the ones that the pundits seem to focus on.

What exactly did the IMF “admit?” Broadly speaking, it recognized two mistakes: it said Greece should have gotten a haircut earlier and that the IMF’s projections for how the Greek economy would perform were overly optimistic. But the IMF stands behind the essential elements of the program that we have come to know as “austerity.” It notes that, “it is difficult to argue that adjustment should have been attempted more slowly” (p. 20). In fact, the IMF explains:
The report does not question the overall thrust of policies adopted under the SBA supported program. Fiscal adjustment was unavoidable, as was the sharp pace of deficit reduction given that official financing was already at the limit of political feasibility and debt restructuring was initially ruled out. Structural reforms were clearly essential to restoring competitiveness. Some questions can be raised about the types of measures (overly reliant on tax increases) and structural conditionality (too detailed in the fiscal area), but the policies adopted under the program appear to have been broadly correct. (p. 32, emphasis mine).
As a result, the headline that the “IMF admits it was wrong” does not quite capture what the IMF said. We need to read more closely.

The IMF argues that Greece’s debt, even in May 2010, was likely unsustainable. Yet debt restructuring was ruled by the Europeans for three reasons: (a) reservations about moral hazard associated with debt “forgiveness;” (b) a default would have wiped out the capital of the Greek banking sector, necessitating an immediate recapitalization; (c) the effects on the European banking sector would have been hard to predict but possibly dire.

So far, there is nothing to dispute—these facts have been well known and well understood. The issue is not whether the IMF and the Europeans took different views on the merits of restructuring—they obviously did—but whether this mattered for Greece and its performance since 2010. The IMF, by the way, says very little about this. It notes that “not tackling the public debt problem decisively at the outset or early in the program created uncertainty about the euro area’s capacity to resolve the crisis and likely aggravated the contraction in output.” In a footnote, the IMF expands: “The recent paper on sovereign debt restructuring argues that delay in resolving an unsustainable debt situation serves to depress investment and growth in the debtor country and prolong financial uncertainty.” But the paper in question does no such thing—it merely states, again, that a “debt overhang” has a negative effect on economic activity.

The IMF, in other words, argues that a debt restructuring in May 2010 would have been preferable but it offers no concrete evidence why this is so. Barry Eichengreen has offered the following defense:
Had Greece quickly written down its debt burden by two-thirds, it would have been able to shed its crushing debt overhang. It could have used a portion of the interest savings to recapitalize the banks. It could have cut taxes, rather than raising them. It could have jump-started investment and gotten its economy moving again, if not in a matter of months, then, with luck, in no more than a year.
Of course, it is not clear why these positive things would have happened—why debt restructuring would have allowed Greece to “jump-start” investment and “gotten its economy moving again.” Neither is it clear why Greece would have been able to “cut tax taxes, rather than raising them.” Nor do we know where the “interest savings” would have come from since Greece had to borrow to pay interest—it could borrow to pay interest and service debt or it could default and borrow money to recapitalize banks. As the IMF acknowledges, “it is difficult to argue that adjustment should have been attempted more slowly,” meaning that the cornerstone of the program—tax hikes and spending cuts—would have been broadly similar.

Implicit in this Eichengreen worldview, however, is that debt and economic activity are intimately linked. So to explore this debt question more deeply, we have to examine the IMF’s second mistake: the larger-than-expected recession. To begin with, the IMF acknowledges that:
In any event, a deep recession was unavoidable. Greece lost market access in the first half of 2010 with a fiscal deficit so large and amortization obligations so onerous that it is difficult to see how a severe economic contraction could have been avoided. Indeed, if Greece had defaulted, the absence of deficit financing would have required primary fiscal balance from the second half of 2010. This would have required an abrupt fiscal consolidation, and led to an evaporation of confidence and huge deposit outflow that would have most likely made the contraction in output even larger. (p. 22)
Clearly, the IMF does not quite concur with Eichengreen that debt restructuring would have “jump-started investment and gotten [the] economy moving again.” The IMF believes a deep recession was unavoidable given the fiscal consolidation that had to happen anyway. So where does the IMF attribute its GDP miscalculation? Frankly, nowhere in particular. The IMF notes that:
The program initially assumed a [fiscal] multiplier of only 0.5 despite staff’s recognition that Greece’s relatively closed economy and lack of an exchange rate tool would concentrate the fiscal shock. Recent iterations of the Greek program have assumed a multiplier of twice the size. This reflects research showing that multipliers tend to be higher when households are liquidity constrained and monetary policy cannot provide an offset (see October 2012 WEO), influences that appear not to have been fully appreciated when the SBA-supported program was designed. (p. 21)
It then adds, however, that “Aslund (2013) has also argued that there is a habitual tendency of Fund programs to be over-optimistic on growth until the economy reaches a bottom (and thereafter to underestimate the recovery).” So this could be a broader bias in forecasting. Then, the IMF adds another few culprits:
However, the deeper-than-expected contraction was not purely due to the fiscal shock. Part of the contraction in activity was not directly related to the fiscal adjustment, but rather reflected the absence of a pick-up in private sector growth due to the boost to productivity and improvements in the investment climate that the program hoped would result from structural reforms. Confidence was also badly affected by domestic social and political turmoil and talk of a Greek exit from the euro by European policy-makers. On the other hand, the offset to the fiscal contraction from higher private sector growth that was assumed during the program period appears to have been optimistic … while some of the adverse political developments were endogenous and followed from limited ownership of the program ... A larger contraction should probably therefore have been expected, although it should be noted that market forecasters were no more accurate.
This seems like a much fairer and accurate read of the crisis—not one that blames “fiscal multipliers” but one that acknowledges the linkage between political change and economic activity. The lack of “program ownership” is a persistent theme in the IMF’s report—meaning that the IMF recognizes that Greek politicians were not committed to change.

To its credit, the IMF does not say that debt restructuring would have produced the magical economic benefits that several analysts assume. Perhaps because it has been bogged down in this story for three years, it has a more cynical (realistic) view of Greek political economy and the myriad problems that stand in the way of economic growth.

The real counterfactual to consider is not debt restructuring upfront but political commitment to change upfront—a rapid, immediate and across the board willingness to tackle persistent ailments in Greek politics and economics. Sadly, the only motive for undertaking reforms has been the debt overhang. Even if it has stymied economic activity—which, as I said, is not clear—it has clearly been a political catalyst. It has prompted discussion and introspection, but sadly, not quite as much reform yet. In some ways, this is what the IMF concluded as well, recognizing that this entire experience “provides further evidence that the success of a program hinges centrally on the depth of its ownership.”

If you have take away one word from the IMF’s report, it is not “mistake” but “ownership.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Γιατί Δε Θέλει Κανείς τη ΔΕΠΑ;

Η απόφαση της ρωσικής Gazprom να μην καταθέσει προσφορά για τη ΔΕΠΑ αποτελεί την τελευταία από μια σειρά απογοητεύσεων στην προσπάθεια ιδιωτικοποίησης της εταιρίας. Όμως αντί να αναρωτιόμαστε γιατί δεν υπέβαλε πρόταση για τη ΔΕΠΑ η Gazprom, θα πρέπει να ρωτήσουμε γιατί είχαμε ένα και μόνο πιθανό αγοραστή. Γιατί τόσο λίγο ενδιαφέρον;

Σίγουρα, η κατάσταση της ελληνικής οικονομίας είναι δυσμενής. Αλλά η ΔΕΠΑ έχει δυο μειονέκτημα που αποθαρρύνουν τους επενδυτές: πρώτον, δραστηριοποιείται σε ένα τομέα όπου το ενδιαφέρον των μεγάλων ενεργειακών εταιριών συρρικνώνεται, και δεύτερον, είναι μια εταιρία σε «αυτόματο πιλότο» όπου δεν μπορεί ένας επενδυτής να επηρεάσει βραχυπρόθεσμα την κερδοφορία της εταιρίας.

Η ΔΕΠΑ δραστηριοποιείται στην εισαγωγή, μεταφορά και πώληση φυσικού αερίου. Είναι, ουσιαστικά, ένας μεσάζοντας και η κερδοφορία της βασίζεται στην διαφορά μεταξύ της τιμής στην οποία αγοράζει αέριο από το εξωτερικό και της τιμής στην οποία το πουλάει στο εσωτερικό. Πριν μερικά χρόνια, η θέση αυτή (του εισαγωγέα-προμηθευτή) ήταν ελκυστική με έντονο επενδυτικό ενδιαφέρον. Αλλά τώρα, οι εταιρίες αποφεύγουν αυτό το κομμάτι της αλυσίδας. Η απελευθέρωση της αγοράς φυσικού αερίου στην Ευρώπη έχει μειώσει την κερδοφορία του εισαγωγέα-προμηθευτή αφού σε μια αγορά όπου οι καταναλωτές έχουν επιλογές, οι προμηθευτές παραμένουν ανταγωνιστικοί προσφέροντας χαμηλότερες τιμές. Υπάρχει, δηλαδή, συνεχής πίεση στην τιμή πώλησης. Παράλληλα, η αύξηση των τιμών προμήθειας αερίου έχει δυσχεράνει τη κερδοφορία του εισαγωγέα-προμηθευτή, ο οποίος βλέπει, από την μία, την τιμή προμήθειας να αυξάνεται, και από την άλλη, την τιμή πώλησης να δέχεται πίεση. Μια δραστηριότητα που ήταν παραδοσιακά απλή και κερδοφόρα είναι τώρα ριψοκίνδυνη και, σε ακραίες καταστάσεις, ζημιογόνα. Εξού και η μείωση του ενδιαφέροντος.

Στην Ελλάδα, η απελευθέρωση της αγοράς αερίου είναι ακόμα στα αρχικά στάδια. Το μονοπώλιο της ΔΕΠΑ έσπασε μόλις το 2010 και η ΔΕΠΑ έχει ένα μερίδιο αγοράς πάνω από 90% (2012). Αλλά η ΔΕΠΑ έχει προνομιακή πρόσβαση μόνο στο ~15-20% της αγοράς (στις Εταιρίες Παροχής Αερίου, ΕΠΑ). Οι ηλεκτροπαραγωγοί (70-75% αγοράς) και οι άλλοι μεγάλοι χρήστες (π.χ. Μυτιληναίος) μπορούν να εισάγουν αέριο μόνοι τους, γεγονός που περιορίζει την κερδοφορία της ΔΕΠΑ ακόμα και αν αγοράζουν αέριο από αυτή. Επίσης, από το Δεκέμβριο του 2012, η ΔΕΠΑ κάνει ηλεκτρονικές δημοπρασίες για ένα μέρος της προμήθειάς της, γεγονός που προμηνύει ακόμα πιο περιορισμένο ρόλο / περιορισμένη κερδοφορία για τη ΔΕΠΑ και μεγαλύτερη επιλογή για τους καταναλωτές. Θεωρητικά, μια εταιρία (π.χ. Gazprom) που έχει δική της παραγωγή μπορεί να αντεπεξέλθει καλύτερα στην απελευθερωμένη αγορά. Αλλά στην πράξη, η εταιρία αυτή πρέπει να αναρωτηθεί αν (α) η Ελλάδα αποτελεί τον πιο κερδοφόρο προορισμό για το αέριο της και (β) αν η ανταμοιβή για μια επένδυση σε αυτό τον τομέα είναι πιο ελκυστική από άλλες επενδύσεις που μπορεί να κάνει (π.χ. για να παράγει περισσότερο αέριο). Αυτές οι δύο δυναμικές εξακολουθούν να περιορίζουν την ελκυστικότητα της δραστηριότητας σε Ευρωπαϊκό επίπεδο.

Το δεύτερο πρόβλημα είναι η μειωμένη ευελιξία που παρέχει η ΔΕΠΑ σε ένα νέο επενδυτή. Το 90% των εισαγωγών της ΔΕΠΑ αγοράζονται με μακροπρόθεσμα συμβόλαια με τη Gazprom (Ρωσία), τη Sonatrach (Αλγερία) και τη BOTAS (Τουρκία). Οι ποσότητες αγοράς είναι (πάνω-κάτω) δεδομένες και οι τιμές κυμαίνονται βάση διεθνών τιμών στα πετρελαιοειδή και στο αέριο. Η αναδιαπραγμάτευση των μακροχρόνιων συμβολαίων είναι διαδικασία χρονοβόρα και αβέβαια. Μέχρι τη λήξη του πρώτου συμβολαίου με τη Gazprom το 2016, οι νέοι ιδιοκτήτες της ΔΕΠΑ δεν μπορούν να κάνουν πολλά για να αλλάξουν τα έξοδα προμήθειας. (Τα άλλα συμβόλαια λήγουν το 2021.) Και οι επιλογές της ΔΕΠΑ είναι ούτως ή άλλως περιορισμένες λόγω γεωγραφίας και διεθνών εμπορικών συνθηκών. Ένας νέος επενδυτής έχει περιορισμένη ευελιξία στο θέμα της προμήθειας.

Στην εμπορία, η ΔΕΠΑ έχει μια προνομιακή θέση είναι στις ΕΠΑ Αττικής, Θεσσαλονίκης και Θεσσαλίας. Οι ΕΠΑ έχουν αποκλειστικό δικαίωμα παροχής αερίου σε μικρούς χρήστες για 30 χρόνια. Η ΔΕΠΑ κατέχει το 51% σε όλες της ΕΠΑ (υπάρχοντες και μελλοντικές), με το 49% να ανήκει σε ξένους επενδυτές. Αλλά η ΔΕΠΑ δεν έχει τη διαχείριση των ΕΠΑ, που ανήκει στους ξένους (Shell και ENI). Άρα και πάλι ο νέος ιδιοκτήτης της ΔΕΠΑ θα είναι περιορισμένος στις στρατηγικές κινήσεις που μπορεί να κάνει σε θέματα όπως οι επενδύσεις για την επέκταση του δικτύου ή στην τιμολόγηση του αερίου.

Επιπλέον, οι διαστρεβλώσεις στο χώρο της ενεργειακής αγοράς απειλούν τις προοπτικές για το αέριο στη χώρα. Η χρήση του αερίου είναι περιορισμένη στην Ελλάδα (σχετικά με άλλες Ευρωπαϊκές χώρες), κάτι που σημαίνει ότι υπάρχει περιθώριο ανάπτυξης. Αλλά η αύξηση στην ζήτηση του αερίου επέρχεται συνήθως από την αντικατάσταση των πετρελαιοειδών ή της ηλεκτρικής ενέργειας με αέριο. Αλλά στην Ελλάδα, οι τιμές των προϊόντων αυτών είναι ελεγχόμενες και έτσι περιορίζουν την διεισδυτικότητα του αερίου. Για να μπορέσει το αέριο να αυξήσει το μερίδιο αγοράς, θα πρέπει η τιμολόγηση της ενέργειας να βασίζεται στις δυνάμεις της αγοράς και οι παρεμβάσεις (π.χ. φορολογία, πλαφόν) να είναι λογικές, προβλέψιμες και περιορισμένες. Δηλαδή, το αντίθετο με την πραγματικότητα της αγοράς.

Η κυβέρνηση χρειάζεται, λοιπόν, να ξανασκεφτεί πως ακριβώς θα πουλήσει τη ΔΕΠΑ (σε τι κομμάτια πέρα του διαχωρισμού ΔΕΠΑ-ΔΕΣΦΑ), πως θα την πλασάρει (εισαγωγέα-προμηθευτή ή «γεωστρατηγικό» κόμβο για τη ΝΑ Ευρώπη) και σε ποιους επενδυτές. Αλλιώς θα έχουμε μια από τα ίδια.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The Eurozone Since 2007 – In One Image

With so much written about the Eurozone economy in the last few years, it is almost impossible to understand what is really going on. This table is my effort to put it all together in simple terms.

Here is how to read the table. Each row represents a Eurozone country, and the countries are sorted according to their GDP in 2012 relative to 2007. So the first country on the table is Slovakia, whose real GDP in 2012 was 10.52% higher than in 2007. Slovakia’s economy has had the best performance in the Eurozone according to this measure (real GDP vs. 2007). The last country on the list Greece—its GDP was 20% below its 2007 level. The heat map (green-yellow-red) is intuitive: better performance means green; lower means red.

Every other number on the table is a subtraction of 2012 minus 2007. If a number is positive, then the 2012 number was higher than the 2007 number; if it is negative, then the 2007 was higher. All numbers are shown in real, million 2005 euros (data from Eurostat). Because they are in real, 2005 euros, the numbers do not add up (as they have different deflators)—but the errors are marginal. The columns are (from left to right):

GDP: Gross domestic product
C: private consumption, officially “household and NPISH final consumption expenditure”
G: government spending; officially “final consumption expenditure of general government”
I: investment; officially “gross capital formation”
X: exports of goods and services
M: imports of goods and services (because imports are subtracted from GDP, a positive here represents a drop in imports)

The heat map differs for each column. In the third column (GDP), the green-yellow-red designation represents the intensity across the column, which is why two numbers (Germany’s 85,639 and Italy’s 102,723) are the only ones that show up—they are just that much bigger than every other number. However, for the rest of the table, the green-yellow-red designation is row-specific, meaning that in the first country row (Slovakia), the largest number (9,165) shows up as green because it is the largest number among C, G, I, X and M for that country—even though there are other numbers on its column that are much greater.

That’s it with orientation. So what are we trying to show here? We are trying to ask three questions:

First, which countries in the Eurozone have done better than others?
Second, why? Has their economic performance been driven by consumption, government spending, investment, or trade?
And third, what are the biggest changes that are impacting the whole Eurozone?

This table offers a clear answer to all three questions.

First, of the 17 countries in the Eurozone, ten had a GDP in 2012 that was below its 2007 level (in real terms)—in the other seven countries, GDP was higher, and in the smaller economies of Slovakia and Malta, it was significantly higher. In Germany, Austria and Belgium, GDP was 2.1 to 3.6% higher in 2012 versus 2007. On the other end of the spectrum, Greece’s GDP was 20% below its 2007 level, by far the worst performance in the Eurozone. Another batch of countries (Italy, Ireland, Portugal, and Slovenia) had a GDP level that was 5% or worse relative to 2007. This distribution is interesting, of course, but it does not tell us the why. For that we have to look at the rest of the table.

The analytical process here is to look at each row and see where the greens are—that way we can understand, in each country, what drove economic performance. There is, however, one caveat: when looking exports, one should look at imports as well. Germany is a good example of why this is the case.

Germany’s real GDP rose by €85.6 billion from 2007 to 2012. If one looks across the row on Germany, the most important driver for GDP was exports, which increased by €156 billion. However, the country also imported an additional €147.7 billion in goods and services. On a net basis, trade contributed a mere €8.8 billion. In other words, Germany’s strong export position, which is normally credited for the country’s superior performance, made little contribution to GDP growth in this period. Instead, the main drivers were private and government consumption (plus €56 and €45 billion, respectively). Investment actually declined between 2007 and 2012, reflecting a broader Eurozone pattern (more on that below).

There is no need to go line-by-line but let’s focus briefly on each country where GDP was higher in 2012 versus 2007 (Slovakia to France). In this list of seven countries, only in three (Slovakia, Malta, Cyprus) did net exports represent the dominant source of economic performance. In the other four countries (Germany, Austria, Belgium and France) domestic consumption was a far more important driver. Also noteworthy is that investment declined in every single country in that period. The idea, therefore, that GDP growth in the Eurozone somehow depends on external competitiveness and that net export growth is the key does not hold true across the countries whose performance was best in the Eurozone in this five-year period.

Let’s us now look at the countries below the 2007=100 line (Luxemburg through Greece) and stay on this theme of export competitiveness. Of those ten countries, seven were able to boost exports in real terms relative to their pre-crisis levels in 2007. The only countries that have been unable to export as much as they did in 2007 were Finland, Italy and Greece—in every other country, exports were higher than in 2007. If one includes imports, in eight out of the ten countries, the trade balance made a positive contribution to GDP either because exports rose, or because imports declined or both. Being able to (net) export more, therefore, was no promise of being able to avoid a recession (more on this later).

Look at Spain, for example. Its exports were €26.3 bn higher and its imports were €64.4 billion lower between 2007 and 2012. Those numbers represent a 10% increase in real exports and a 20% decline in real imports. This change in its external position has made a remarkable contribution to a country whose 2012 GDP was €938 billion (in real, 2005 euros). Yet this change in net trade has been paltry relative to the complete collapse of investment by €108 billion (minus 36% in real terms). Of course, the decline in investment is mostly (87%) due to construction. It is, in other words, a pretty natural correction from the pre-crisis bubble. The final part of the puzzle has been a decline in consumption, which is partly the result of unemployment and partly the result of higher taxation (including VAT increases).

Ireland shows a similar pattern. Investment has fallen by €27.6 billion, which marks a 58% real decline! But this too is a real-estate correction: between 2002 and 2007, real investment increased by 45%, and 88% of the drop in investment came from construction. Similar to Spain, however, Ireland’s external position has cushioned the impact of declining investment (and consumption). The country’s net gain of €26 billion in trade has almost singlehandedly offset the drop in investment, meaning that the magnitude of the GDP decline is, more or less, equal to the decline in consumption.

In Italy, the dynamics are slightly different. First, this is one of the three countries where exports have yet to reach their 2007 levels. But this result is mostly due to a sharp drop in exports in 2009 (minus €72 billion). Since 2009, the country’s exports have been rising steadily, just not fast enough to return to their 2007 levels. The country’s imports, however, show a different trajectory as the sharp contraction (minus €52 billion) has provided a boon to GDP. However, Italy’s problem is investment. Unlike Spain and Ireland, however, the decline in investment is attributable mostly to business investment for equipment (57% of the total)—the balance is driven by construction. And in Italy too, there has been a sharp decline in consumption, coming almost entirely in 2012.

Portugal looks similar to Ireland. The change in net trade (€12.7 billion) more or less offsets the decline in investment—and the GDP drop, then, comes from lower consumption. As in the other countries with real-estate bubbles, the majority of the drop (63%) came from construction, although less than in Spain (87%) or Ireland (88%).

Greece stands out in this peer group in several ways. First, it is, by far, the worst performer since 2007. Second it has only one bright spot (lower imports), making it one of two countries where only one item in this balance is positive (the other country is Italy). In Greece, the recession has been driven almost equally between investment and consumption—the former can be attributed in part to construction (70% of the drop) and the latter to unemployment and rising taxes.

Having looked at individual countries, let us step back and look at the Eurozone-wide picture. First, it is obvious that the drop in GDP is really a factor of Germany growing (+€85 billion) but without a supporting cast to offset the declines in Italy (-€102 billion), Spain (-40 billion) and Greece (€42 billion). On a net basis, Italy’s decline accounts for the bulk of the decline in the overall Eurozone—Germany’s gain offsets the decline in Greece and Spain, and the rest of the union is more or less even.

Second, the Eurozone has a clear investment problem: investment rose in only one of the 17 countries (Luxemburg). Yet looking at the countries with the sharpest declines in investment, the problem seems to be a correction from a real-estate bubble before the crisis. Only in Italy and Germany does there seem to be a business investment problem. This is something to pay close attention to.

Third, external competitiveness gets undue focus. For the seven countries whose 2012 GDP was higher than in 2007, net exports made a big difference in only three cases; of the ten countries where GDP declined, net trade made a material contribution in seven, but this was not enough to offset the decline in investment. In other words, their problem is not external competitiveness but investment—unless one thinks that exports should have boomed enough to completely absorb the bursting of a real-estate bubble, which is unrealistic.

Fourth and final, this reading supports the thesis that, in many ways, this is a very conventional crisis. Several countries suffered from a pre-crisis real-estate bubble. Exports are rising despite the claims that within the common currency, export competitiveness is somehow a function of “internal devaluation” (there was little correlation between export growth and unit labor costs changes). Countries are facing budgetary pressures that they have to cope with, yes; they have to digest the implications of burst bubbles, yes; and they have to make structural reforms, yes. What’s new about all that which relegates the Eurozone crisis to requiring a completely different analytical lens? Absolutely nothing, except excited economists who do not want to bother to look at data.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Greek Bailout Balance Sheet (2010—2012)

It has been almost three years since the Greek government signed up to receive €110 billion from the Europeans and the IMF. This post is about the flow of funds in that period—how much money has flowed from what source and to what end (see also this post).

To examine the finances of the bailout, one has to look at the government’s budget and its broader financing needs (such are repaying debt, recapitalizing banks, etc). Let us begin with the first item (data from ELSTAT, here, p. 23).

The first line of the chart says that the Greek government received €265.3 billion in the period from 2010 to 2012. Of that, social contributions made up the largest portion, 31.6%, followed by taxes on production and imports (including VAT), which amounted to 29.5%. Taxes on income and property added less than 21%. The rest came from capital transfers (such as EU funding) and other sources.

In that same period, Greece spent €328.7 billion, of which €290.8 billion was for actual expenses, excluding interest on debt. This is an important observation. It means that even if Greece had completely repudiated its debt on January 1, 2010, it would still have been short by €25.5 billion (€290.8 minus €265.3). Together with the €37.9 billion in interest payment, the total deficit is €63.4 billion. This is the amount of money that the Greek state needed in order to cover its expenses and pay interest on debt.

Looking at spending more specifically, all the taxes on production and imports just barely covered the bill for public sector employees (wages). Social contributions, at €83.7 billion on revenue side, covered just 60% of the total “social benefits” bill (pensions, health care, etc.). If one added all the taxes on income and property (€83.7 billion + €55.2 billion), the state could cover social benefits in full (€139.3 billion). In other words, all the taxes and social contributions that the state collected went exclusively to pay for the wages of the public sector and for social benefits—nothing more (such as buying goods and services, investing, etc.)

Goods and services (€32.7 billion) was more or less balanced by “other” revenues (€33.5 billion), while capital revenues (such as revenues from public investment and from EU funding) covered only half of capital expenditures. Collectively, all the other pieces were short €26.5 billion—this excludes taxes and social contributions on the revenue side, and wages and social benefits on the expenditure side.

This is one part of the equation. The second part is the enlarged financing needs of the state which are:

Total financing needs =
+ Covering that overall deficit of €63.4 billion
+ repaying debt that was maturing in 2010—2012 (before the restructuring)
+ other expenses such as recapitalizing banks, buying back debt as part of the PSI

(The data for this analysis comes from the IMF, here, p. 62.)

The Greek government needed €247 billion in the period from 2010—2012. Of that, a mere 7.7% went to finance the government’s deficit—the rest went for other purposes. Around 15.4% went to pay interest on debt—this money went to both domestic and foreign investors. Another 12.3% went to repay Greek investors who held government bonds that were expiring in that period. A full 24.3%, the largest item, went to repay foreign holders of Greek government bonds—in sum, almost €60 billion. Around 18% went to recapitalize banks, 14% went to support the PSI (such as buying back debt) and 8.6% went for other operations.

In other words, more than 50% of the money that Greece needed in that period was to deal with the country’s excessive debt burden (interest on debt and repaying residents and non-residents). Given that the bank recapitalization and PSI were both, ultimately, linked to the country’s debt, almost 84%, or €206 billion, was ultimately devoted to Greece’s debt—which, at year-end 2009, was €299 billion. Importantly, however, a large sum (€60 billion) went to bailout foreign banks and other investors. So this operation was minimally about covering the current profligacy of the Greek state—it was mostly about covering its pass excesses.

Where did Greece find that €247 billion (the totals do not add up due to rounding, so this number shows up as €247.1 billion)? Domestic residents (chiefly banks, insurance companies and the like) provided 54.1 billion (21.9%) of that funding. Privatization receipts covered another 0.4% and borrowing from foreign (private) investors contributed 1.2%. In sum, The Greek state was thus able to borrow money from either its own residents or from foreign investors to cover 23.6% of its financing needs—which would have sufficed to cover the government’s budget deficit and repay residents who held Greek debt (in effect, banks lent money to the government so that the government could repay its debts—so banks were rolling over the debt of the government). In fairness, however, some of this bank lending was only made possible because Greek banks could, in turn, borrow from the European Central Bank.

The rest of the funding came from the Europeans (65.3%) and the IMF (8.8%). It is interesting here to note how disproportionate the funding has been between the two sources—much as the troika is often equated with the IMF, the IMF has been a very marginal contributor to this whole package money wise. It is also interesting to note the connection between foreign the inflow of funds versus outflow of funds. Foreign creditors received back €59.9 billion in maturing debt and they received a (likely) majority of the €37.9 billion spent on interest. In all, therefore, almost half the funds provided by the European government governments went back to pay foreign (largely European) investors.

In sum, all the taxes and social contributions that the state collected merely sufficed to cover the state’s wages and social benefits. The rest of the balance left a deficit of about €26 billion. More or less, this is what Greece needed to keep running. However, the Greek state borrowed a cumulative €247 billion instead—most of this went to deal with the country’s past excesses and exorbitant debt. Of that flow of funds, the largest recipients were foreign investors, who received about half the money that (usually) their own governments lent to Greece.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

How Greece was Supposed to Turn Out

As we approach the three-year anniversary of the Greek bailout, I thought these four charts would be instructive. They compare the forecasts made at the time (by the IMF and the Greek government) versus what actually transpired.

The first graph shows GDP indexed to 2008. According to the plan, GDP was supposed to bottom out in 2011 at ~8% below its 2008 level. By 2012, the Greek economy was supposed to be growing at 1.1%. Instead, GDP is 20% below its 2008 level and continuing to contract. The current thinking is that growth may come in late 2013 or 2014.

The second graph shows the country’s debt. In this case, revisions have changed the baseline. The initial forecast saw Greece’s debt/GDP ratio peaking at 149% of GDP in 2011 and 2012. But this assumed a starting point of 115% of GDP in 2009. Instead, debt in 2009 was 130% of GDP and the peak came in 2011 at 171% before a restructuring brought it down to 157% of GDP in 2012. This forecast is probably the closest to reality of the four shown here.

The third graph shows inflation. The forecast in 2010 expected that prices in 2012 would be a mere 4% higher than in 2008. Instead, prices in 2012 were 10% higher than in 2008—a miss of some 160%. As the IMF explained later, it underestimated the monopolistic and quasi-monopolistic structures of the Greek marketplace that would prevent prices from falling. That and steady increases in VAT pushed prices higher, squeezing households.

The last chart shows the unemployment rate. The 2010 forecast predicted that unemployment would peak at 14.8% in 2012 before declining to 14.3% in 2013. Instead, unemployment in 2012 averaged 24.2% and reached 26% in Q4 2012. The difference is almost 500,000 people.

In sum, the Greek economy has contracted by more than twice the amount forecasted in May 2010, prices have risen 1.6 times faster than anticipated, and unemployment has been 60% higher than expected.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Greece’s Persistent State—and Budget Deficit

Since 2010, Greece’s overriding objective has been to shrink its budget deficit. Much is made of the fact that Greece will soon have a primary surplus—meaning that excluding interest payments, the government’s revenues will exceed spending. A closer look at the country's finances, however, paints a less optimistic picture (data from here). And more worryingly, the retrenchment of state is moving very, very slowly.

Revenues. In 2012, government revenues reached a six-year low: at €86.6 billion, the country took in less money than at any point since 2007. On a real basis (controlling for inflation), the picture is even bleaker as 2012 marked a ten-year low, meaning that in 2003, the country collected more revenue on a real basis than in 2012. However since the economy has been contracting rapidly (20% real decline since 2008), revenues as a share of GDP reached an all-time high (44.7% of GDP). As a share of national income, the Greek state has never collected more money than it did in 2012. In effect, higher taxes are preventing revenues from falling in line with GDP—hence the record level of revenues in 2012.

Total expenditures. Government spending has showed a similar pattern. On a nominal basis, spending is at a five-year low; on a real basis, it is roughly at the same rate than in 2003—2004. And just as in revenues, total government spending as a share of GDP reached an all-time high in 2012 at 54.8%. At no point in Greek history has the state spent more money as in 2012. Why is that?

Primary expenditures. What if we exclude interest payments? In that case, 2012 is no longer a low point since primary spending increased in 2012 versus 2011. On a real basis, primary spending was at the same rate as it was in 2005—2006; as a share of national income, primary spending was still an all-time high in 2012. The high level of spending, in other words, has nothing to do with interest rates.

Primary spending is the sum of six components: wages, social benefits, goods and services, subsidies, current transfers and capital transfers. Let us examine each in detail.

Wages (25% of primary spending in 2012). Government spending on wages has declined by 22% on a nominal basis since the peak of 2009; it has declined by a starker 28% on a real basis. On a nominal basis, spending on wages is still above its 2006 levels; on a real basis, it is roughly where it was in 2002—2003. As a share of national income, however, spending on wages remains at high levels—only in 2009 and 2010 did the state spend more on government wages than in 2012. In that sense, the state has made little progress in cutting back spending on wages.

Social benefits (46% of primary spending in 2012). On a nominal basis, spending on social benefits has declined by 9.4% since 2009; on a real basis, the decline is starker at almost 17%. Yet on a real basis, the state spent more on social benefits than in 2006. As a share of national income, spending on social benefits reached an all time high at almost 23% of GDP—which is 55% higher than the spending in 2000 (14.8% of GDP). The full data for 2012 is not available on a comparable basis, but spending on old age (pensions) kept rising during the crisis—it was 11% higher in 2011 than in 2008, for example. Unemployment insurance, although it has risen since 2009, still accounts for a mere 5% of spending on social benefits. By far, spending on social benefits forms the biggest component of state spending and the main reason why Greece has been unable to lower its deficit further.

Goods and services (9.8% of primary spending in 2012). This is the part of the budget that has shown the greatest drop—50% on a real basis since 2009. However, this includes a nearly €2 billion drop in spending on weapons systems, accounting alone for 22% of the drop between 2009 and 2012.

Other items (19% of primary spending in 2012). Of the remaining pieces, capital transfers form the most significant portion—they are also the component that rose most significantly in 2012 from €6.7 billion to over €15 billion—presumably, this includes the recapitalization of the Greek banking system.


Based on data from ELSTAT, Greece’s budget deficit actually rose in 2012. The Ministry of Finance, in its consolidated accounts showed a deficit of 6.6% of GDP—although the figure for the “Net incurrence of liabilities” puts a figure closer to that of ELSTAT. But what do these numbers tell us?

They tell us that the state is alive and well in Greece. Government spending—even excluding interest and capital transfers—was near an all-time high in 2012. Spending on wages and social benefits remains at very high levels—both in absolute terms and relative to national income. Meanwhile, the tax squeeze is pushing revenues to all-time highs despite a sharp contraction in economic activity. The tax payer is thus called to pay for wages and social benefits which persist at either all-time highs (social benefits) or near them (wages). So yes, Greece may soon get to a primary surplus, but without a serious curtailment of state spending—of which the 2013 budget targets—the primary will not do much good.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Is the Austerity Debate Relevant for Greece?

The debate over austerity has intensified in the past few weeks; this is relevant because folks in Greece will often say that, “research has shown that austerity is bogus, and Greece was just a guinea pig for the wrong idea.” Is that true?

The debate over austerity is, in fact, two overlapping debates—and both debates are mostly irrelevant for Greece. The first debate is whether fiscal consolidation (i.e. cutting spending and raising revenue) can generate economic growth in the short run. The second debate is whether there is a debt threshold after which economic growth takes a sharp hit. (See the end of this article for some references.) Over the past few years, there has been research that supports and rejects both propositions, thus producing highly conflicting messages for policy-makers. What should one make of this research and how does it apply to Greece?

To understand the policy dimensions of this debate, it is important to distinguish between austerity as a precaution and austerity as a last resort. In fact, this is the most important distinction to make and it is one that is seldom made. In the United States and other developed economies there is a debate over austerity as a precaution—a desire to bring order to the country’s balances for fear that without austerity, markets will start questioning the country’s ability to repay its debts. This is the line of reasoning that says “if we don’t balance the budget, we will become another Greece.” But in several European countries, including Greece, austerity was not a precaution but a last resort. Countries chose austerity not because they were afraid that markets would go after them but because markets were going after them.

The inability to separate austerity as a precaution and austerity as a last resort leads to great intellectual confusion. It is the reason why everything that Paul Krugman writes about Greece is irrelevant from the start—he is using an “austerity as a last resort” case to argue about “austerity as a precaution.” Of course, at the continental level, “Europe” is practicing austerity as both a last-resort and a precaution since Germany could in fact bail out the periphery by taking on debt itself (or inducing inflation). The problem is that unlike the United States, where there is a long history of federal-state relations, Europe has no mechanisms by which the debt-assuming core could protect itself against the profligacy of the periphery. So Germany may in fact be practicing “austerity as a precaution” but that is as much a political decision (cannot bail out the profligate periphery) as it is an economic decision (fear of rising interest rates or rising inflation).

To understand whether austerity makes sense in Europe in general and in Greece in particular, we ought to ask “compared to what?” In 2009, Greece’s budget deficit was 15.6% of GDP in 2009—at that point, fiscal consolidation was not an option but a necessity. Academics and policymakers could have a highly interesting debate about whether fiscal consolidation or deficit spending is the appropriate policy during a recession, but that debate would have been irrelevant because Greece could not choose deficit spending—markets refused to lend it money any more. The options facing Greece were different degrees of austerity: either an austerity of the type that the country has followed or a sharper, front-loaded austerity coupled with default, a new currency, higher inflation and other measures that would curtail the country’s standard of living.

The biggest problem with the austerity debate, however, is that it tends to underplay the nuances of each country and each case. It treats two countries with similar macro-economic indicators – budget balance, debt-over-GDP, economic growth, inflation – as similar. They are usually not. How countries got into a position where they require fiscal consolidation matters. There is a slow correction in that regard with more case studies (see the BIS article, for example or the IMF WEO 2012). But the details still get lost in the broader narrative. In my book, Beyond Debt, I explained the perils of this reasoning:

Assume an economy with ten people, each of whom spent €1,000 per month. One morning, a person walks into this economy with a gun and threatens to shoot anyone who spends over €800 a month. Consumption falls by twenty percent. Then, one person disobeys and is killed. With only nine people left, the economy now consumes only €7,200, a 28% decline from its peak. On paper, an economist might look at this economy and think it needs a monetary stimulus through lower interest rates. Or, the economist could say that the government should step in and support consumption directly since private consumers are not consuming. Of course, both suggestions would be absurd—what the country needs is someone to stop the guy with the gun. A Keynesian stimulus in an economy with underlying ailments is akin to trying to heat a room with an open window—the heat will help, but best to close the window first (pp. 84—85).

In the case of Greece, for example, arguing that the country would benefit from deficit spending is lubricous (even if it were possible, which it is not). When the recession started in 2008, real primary spending grew by 6.8%; in 2009, as the recession deepened, it grew by another 4.9%. In other words, the economy got a government stimulus of about +16% and yet the economy fell into recession. It would be hard to argue that in the 2006—2009, when the size of the state grew by a fifth, the problem with the Greek economy was insufficient government spending. The opposite was true.

Nor does one get a complete picture of “austerity policies” by merely looking at the headline figures. As I have written in the past, Greece’s policies are anything but austerity (see here, here, here, and here). Even in 2012, spending on government wages was barely below its 2010 levels as a share of GDP and considerably above what it was in the period from 2000 to 2007. Spending on social benefits reached (again) a historical high, and no, this is not because of generous unemployment benefits. Structural reforms, on which any fiscal consolidation really depends, have lagged and effectively stalled. In that environment, it is hard to create growth and it is hard to convince investors to lend you money because they see that you are not serious about cutting your deficit.

In sum, diagnostics matter. Details matter. The research on austerity can yield some insights but most of these are not very applicable to Greece’s case. Greece’s problems are painfully banal and they don’t need cutting edge to diagnose or cure. They require common sense and political courage. No amount of research can change that elementary fact. 

BBC, “The mysterious powers of Microsoft Excel,” April 20, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22213219

Harvard Business Review, “Austerity’s Big Bait-and-Switch,” April 11, 2013, http://blogs.hbr.org/ideacast/2013/04/austeritys-big-bait-and-switch.html

International Monetary Fund, “Chapter 3: Will It Hurt? Macroeconomic Effects of Fiscal Consolidation,” World Economic Outlook, October 2010, http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2010/02/pdf/c3.pdf

International Monetary Fund, “Chapter 3: The Good the Bad, and the Ugly: 100 years of dealing with public debt overhangs,” World Economic Outlook, October 2012, http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2012/02/pdf/c3.pdf

Krugman, Paul. “The 1 Percent’s Solution,” New York Times, April 25, 2013,

Perotti, Roberto, “The ‘Austerity’ Myth: Gain without Pain?” BIS Working Papers, No 362, November 2011, http://www.bis.org/publ/work362.pdf 

Pollin, Robert and Ash, Michael, “Austerity After Reinhart and Rogoff,” Financial Times, April 17, 2013, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/9e5107f8-a75c-11e2-9fbe-00144feabdc0.html

Reinhart, Carmen and Rogoff, Kenneth, “Debt, Growth and the Austerity Debate,” New York Times, April, 25. 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/26/opinion/debt-growth-and-the-austerity-debate.html

Reinhart, Carmen and Rogoff, Kenneth, “Responding to our critics,” New York Times, April, 25. 2013,

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Greece’s Elusive Export Boom

Greece needs exports to generate economic growth. The press often touts the country’s newfound focus on overseas markets. But the numbers show a less positive and more complicated picture.

ELSTAT’s national accounts data show that Greece has, in fact, experienced an export boom. Exports of goods and services, which contracted sharply in 2009, have risen every year since then. Within a three-year period, exports have grown by €7.8 billion, or 17.5%, an impressive performance. Yet on a real basis, exports in 2012 were a mere 3% higher than in 2009, meaning the “export boom” is, in fact, mostly a matter of inflation. What is worse, exports on a real basis declined in 2012.

The data from the Bank of Greece paint a similar picture, albeit with more granularity. Services, which have historically made up 2/3 of exports, have performed poorly in recent years—in part due to tourism (see here) and in part due to shipping. Goods, by contrast, have shown a clearer upward trend, rising at an average 13% a year. In other words, the growth in nominal exports is really the result of higher exports of goods.

On closer inspection, however, this growth is somewhat spurious. Of the €6.7 billion increase from 2009 to 2012, almost 2/3 comes from higher oil exports. The rest (€2.3 billion) are the result of other, non-oil exported goods.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with oil exports, of course, expect that oil (product) exports are made possible only after (crude) oil is imported and refined. As a result, there is a limit to how much economic growth oil exports can generate. The oil balance (imports minus exports) is still negative by €10.2 billion. More importantly, the growth in exports is almost exclusively the byproduct of weak domestic demand: in 2008—2012, domestic demand fell by 122 kb/d, while exports grew by 112 kb/d.

To summarize. On a national accounts basis, exports have grown since their 2009 low point, but were flat on a nominal basis in 2012. Taking into account inflation, however, exports have not grown at all since 2009. Services, which tend to dominate the export basket, have performed poorly since 2009; goods, by contrast, have shown a steady boom. Yet within that goods growth story, 2/3 can be attributed to growing exports of oil product, which are merely the result of weak domestic demand. If there is an increasingly competitive Greece which is exporting more to the world, the data is hardly picking this up.

Greek Tourism (Mostly) Disappoints (Again)

Every year, I write an article about how tourism has once again failed the Greek economy (see here, here, and here). Alas, 2012, was no different—with one exception.

Tourism receipts fell by 4.6% in 2012 (data from here). This was the third worst performance since 2000—only in 2003 and 2010 did Greek tourism bring in less than it did in 2012. In fact, given that a euro in 2012 was much less valuable than one in 2000, tourism receipts in 2012 were 32% below their 2000 levels. In other words, the decline of Greek tourism has been chronic, and 2012 marked just another bad year.

In general, Greece’s problem has never been attracting tourists—the number of tourists visiting Greece has been one of the few positives in a story of negatives (although Greece’s market share is declining, meaning that Greece’s growth is failing to keep pace with the broader market). Rather, Greece’s deeper, structural deficiency has been value extraction: tourists tend to spend less and less time in Greece and they also spend less and less money per night. That explains why, for example, receipts from tourism in 2012 were 6.6% below their 2005 levels even though the number of tourists was 7.8% higher.

Yet 2012 marked a slight departure from these broad trends. Last year, Greece’s chief problem was tourist attraction as the country received 910,000 fewer tourists than in 2011, a 5.5% decline that was roughly in line with the 4.6% reduction in revenues. Tourists from France, Germany, the United States and Belgium registered steep declines; those from Russia, the United Kingdom and Albania were the only bright spots in terms of higher arrivals.

There is one piece of news that was heartening, however: spending per night increased for the second year in a row from €69.6/night to €71.1/night. In fact, this was only the second year since 2005 that the increase in spending outpaced the increase in inflation—where, in effect, the real income that a tourist brought to Greece rose (this is the last line in the table).

It is hard to overstate the importance of this trend. If, in 2012, Greece had been able to get out of a tourist the same amount of money per night, in real terms, than in 2005, the country’s tourism receipts would have been 20% higher in 2012. Another way to look at it is this: the fact that a tourist spent only €71.1/night, versus the €69.7/night in 2005, carried an opportunity cost of €2 billion.

This is why value extraction is so important. Tourists spent less time in Greece (9.08 nights versus 10.66 nights in 2005) and they spend less each night they stay in the country. Therefore, even though Greece is able to attract more tourists, it cannot generate more money. Thankfully, 2012 included some positive data points in that regard as spending per night rose for the second year in a row. There is still a long way to go, but it’s a good trend.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Krugman’s Political Guesstimates

Paul Krugman recently wrote that, “It’s now three years since I suggested a possible route to Greek exit from the euro … Obviously, that hasn’t happened. Despite intense suffering, the Greek political elite’s commitment to the euro has proved incredibly strong. My analysis of the economics wasn’t wrong, but my political guesstimates were off.” 

I have no intent to pick on Krugman—predictions are often wrong, and I too wish I hadn’t written some of the things I did. (For a rebuttal of Krugman’s view on Greece, see my post “Is Krugman Right about Greece?”) But Krugman’s admission underlines a broader intellectual failure—the failure of the economics profession (for the most part) to think seriously about politics. In effect, Krugman writes, “I underestimated how much Greeks cared about the euro.” This is an error of the first order. 

The “Greek political elite’s commitment to the euro” is hardly a surprise. Support for the euro has been one of the few—I would dare say maybe the only—constant in Greek politics over the past three years. Arguably, if SYRIZA had convinced voters that it could keep Greece in the Eurozone, it would have won the June 2012 elections. Nor is support for the euro weakening. In February 2013, Public Issue estimated that 70% of the people had a positive view of the common currency, much above the 47% that held a positive view of the European Union. In March 2013, the support for the euro dipped but still held at 59%. It is hard to think of anything in Greece with an approval rating of 59%—except the euro. 

What amazes me is that something so self-evident to so many Greeks seems so utterly incomprehensible to so many professional economics. And therein lies the analytical problem—so many people writing about the Eurozone crisis take no time to understand the politics and psychology under which countries are making decisions; and so they end up with an overemphasis on the economics while making “political guesstimates” or, more accurately, political “guessumptions” that are fundamentally flawed. 

Perhaps the most insightful article I have read on the Eurozone crisis came from Fred Bergsten of the Peterson Institute for International Economics (available here or here). What I so enjoyed about the article is that it saw the crisis in both political as well as economic terms. And so it understood and predicted behavior in a much cogent way than economists have done. It is no accident that Bergsten has a long career in government and his PhD is not a traditional economics PhD (he went to Fletcher). 

If the financial crisis forces economists to grapple with financial markets, perhaps the Eurozone crisis will force them to finally pay real attention to politics.

Beyond Debt: The Greek Crisis in Context

My book on the Greek economic crisis, Beyond Debt: The Greek Crisis in Context, is now available through Amazon (amazon.com, amazon.com e-book, amazon.co.uk, amazon.fr, amazon.de). 


How did Greece, with less than 3% of the population of the European Union, become the epicenter of Europe’s “existential crisis?” Why did Greece opt for an obligation-laden bailout rather default or leave the Eurozone, as many said it should? Could it have avoided the disappointments that followed, including needing a second bailout, holding repeat elections, and swearing in its fourth prime minister in a year? 

The conventional narrative answered these questions by viewing the Greek crisis as the result of a “flawed currency union.” Many economists, moreover, thought Greece was foolish to seek a bailout rather than renege on its debts or leave the Eurozone. And as the crisis deepened, economists again blamed the international community for pushing “austerity” onto Greece. 

Beyond Debt offers a different account of this crisis. It sees it, first and foremost, as a Greek crisis, best understood through the lens of Greek history, politics and economics. The crisis was triggered by global events, but it was not caused by them. As the book shows, Greece’s chosen path—a bailout—made infinitely more sense than either a default or the abandonment of the common currency that many economists called for. And while others see “austerity” as the problem for Greece’s woes after the bailout, Beyond Debt blames instead an indecisive government that could not see reform through to the end.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Η Ελλάδα και η Γεωπολιτική της Ενέργειας

Τους τελευταίους μήνες διαβάζω διάφορα άρθρα για τα μεγάλα γεωπολιτικά παιχνίδια που αφορούν την ενέργεια στην περιοχή μας. Επειδή ασχολούμαι επαγγελματικά με αυτά τα θέματα και άρα έχω σχέση (τώρα ή στο παρελθόν) με διάφορες εταιρίες που δραστηριοποιούνται στην περιοχή, δεν έχω γράψει κάτι πάνω στην ενέργεια γιατί δεν θέλω οι αναγνώστες μου να αναρωτιούνται τι «συμφέροντα» εξυπηρετώ με αυτά που γράφω. Παρόλα αυτά, αυτά που διαβάζω είναι τόσο περίεργα, πρόχειρα, ημιμαθή, ή (απλά) χαζά, που νιώθω μια υποχρέωση τουλάχιστον να εξηγήσω ποια είναι τα θέματα που συζητιούνται, ποιο είναι το πλαίσιο μέσα στο οποίο συζητιούνται, και τι θα πρέπει να σκέφτεται ένας αναγνώστης όταν βλέπει ένα τέτοιο άρθρο.

Τα Κοιτάσματα (Αιγαίου, Ιονίου, Κρήτης)

Καιρό ακούμε ότι πρέπει η Ελλάδα να εκμεταλλευτεί τα (τεράστια) κοιτάσματα πετρελαίου και φυσικού αερίου που έχει προκειμένου να βγει από την κρίση. Όταν διαβάζετε τέτοια άρθρα, να θυμάστε τα εξής:

1. Αγνοήστε τους αριθμούς. Ακούμε μεγάλα νούμερα για δισεκατομμύρια βαρέλια πετρελαίου ή δισεκατομμύρια / τρισεκατομμύρια κυβικά μέτρα φυσικού αερίου. Όλοι οι αριθμοί είναι υποθετικοί σ’ αυτή τη φάση. Στην αρχή της διαδικασίας, υπάρχει μια γεωλογική μελέτη που λέει, «Εδώ ίσως να υπάρχει κάτι». Τότε κάνεις μια σεισμική έρευνα για να αποκτήσεις μια καλύτερη εικόνα του τι υπάρχει. Αν η δεύτερη μελέτη δείξει κάτι, τότε κάνεις μια γεώτρηση. Μετά κάνεις και δεύτερη και τρίτη. Αλλά μέχρι τότε, δεν ξέρεις τίποτα. Το μόνο που έχεις είναι ένα προαίσθημα. Η Ελλάδα βρίσκεται στην πρώτη και δεύτερη φάση της αλυσίδας. Αυτό δε σημαίνει ότι η Ελλάδα δεν έχει πετρέλαιο και φυσικό αέριο, αλλά σημαίνει ότι προς το παρόν, δεν ξέρουμε σχεδόν τίποτα. Αγνοήστε τους αριθμούς.

2. Η εκμετάλλευση των φυσικών πόρων παίρνει χρόνο. Η εξόρυξη πετρελαίου και φυσικού αερίου από το βυθό της θάλασσας μπορεί να χρειαστεί μια δεκαετία από τη στιγμή που θα εκδηλώσει μια εταιρεία ενδιαφέρον μέχρι την παραγωγή. Άρα χρήματα μπορεί να δει η Ελλάδα μετά το 2020 και κανένα από τα σημερινά μας προβλήματα δε θα λυθούν από το πετρέλαιο και το φυσικό αέριο. Ούτε υπολογισμοί του τύπου «Εχουμε ένα δισεκατομμύριο βαρέλια επί $100 το βαρέλι, άρα έχουμε $100 δισεκατομύρια» έχουν νόημα γιατί αγνοούν τις επενδύσεις για την εξόρυξη, την απόσβεση αυτών των επενδύσεων, και το χρονικό των εκροών-εισροών. Ούτε η προοπτική εσόδων βοηθάει: πολλές χώρες δανείστηκαν χρήματα έναντι μελλοντικών εσόδων από το πετρέλαιο και το φυσικό αέριο και το μετάνιωσαν. Η εκμετάλλευση των φυσικών πόρων παίρνει χρόνο και τα προβλήματα που έχουμε θα πρέπει να τα λύσουμε πολύ πριν έρθει το πετρέλαιο και το αέριο να μας «σώσει».

3. Η Ελλάδα απέχει πολύ από το επίκεντρο του ενδιαφέροντος. Όταν μιλάς σε εταιρίες για το που θέλουν να επενδύσουν, σχεδόν κανείς δε λέει «στην Ελλάδα». Από περιέργεια, έχω ρωτήσει αντιπροσώπους διάφορων εταιριών για το ενδιαφέρον τους. Πάνω κάτω η απάντηση είναι: «πολύ ζόρι για μικρή ανταμοιβή». Δεν λέω ότι δε θα έρθουν εταιρείες, ούτε ότι οι εταιρίες έχουν δίκιο να παραμελούν την Ελλάδα. Αλλά όποιος νομίζει ότι υπάρχουν τόσες εταιρίες που πως και πως περιμένουν να έρθουν στην Ελλάδα, ζει στον κόσμο του. ‘Αλλωστε, αρκετές χώρες (ακόμη και καθιερωμένοι παραγωγοί) έχουν αποτύχει να προσελκύσουν επενδύσεις. Δεν έρχονται έτσι τα «κεφάλαια» μόνο και μόνο επειδή τα θέλουμε.

4. Προσέχετε τι εύχεστε. Η ιστορία λέει ότι υπάρχουν τρία σενάρια για μια χώρα που βρίσκει πολύ πετρέλαιο και φυσικό αέριο. Ένα σενάριο (π.χ. Νορβηγία) είναι τα έσοδα να διαχειριστούν σωστά, να αποταμιεύσει το κράτος για μια ώρα ανάγκης, να μην επισκιαστούν άλλες δημιουργικές δραστηριότητες στη χώρα, και να μην μπορεί ο κάθε πολιτικός να βάλει στο χέρι στο κουμπαρά. Ένα δεύτερο σενάριο (π.χ. Μέση Ανατολή) είναι ότι ο ενεργειακός πλούτος κυριαρχεί και η κύρια μέριμνα του κράτους είναι να μοιράζει χρήματα. Το πάρτι κρατάει όσο υπάρχουν χρήματα αλλά οι δημοκρατική θεσμοί μαραζώνουν. Το τρίτο σενάριο (π.χ. Νιγηρία) είναι ότι τα χρήματα δεν αρκούν ή δεν υπάρχουν ικανοί θεσμοί να τα διανέμουν. Τότε, όλοι σκοτώνονται (κυριολεκτικά) για το κουμπαρά. Τι θα συνέβαινε εάν η ελληνική κυβέρνηση είχε από το πουθενά €10 δις σε έσοδα από την ενέργεια; Τι θα συμβεί με τις μεταρρυθμίσεις, τις δημόσιες δαπάνες, την καταπολέμηση της φοροδιαφυγής, ή τη διαφθορά; Προσέχετε τι εύχεστε.

Η Ελλάδα ως Ενεργειακός Κόμβος

Η Ελλάδα μπορεί να γίνει ενεργειακός κόμβος επειδή βρίσκεται στο δρόμο μεταξύ αποθεμάτων φυσικού αερίου στην Κασπία και τη Μέση Ανατολή και αγορών στα Βαλκάνια, την Κεντρική Ευρώπη και την Ιταλία. Με τη φράση «ενεργειακό κόμβο» εννοούμε δύο σενάρια: το ένα είναι να χτιστεί ένας αγωγός από την Κασπία προς την Ευρώπη ο οποίος θα περνάει και από την Ελλάδα▪ το άλλο είναι να χτίσει η Ελλάδα κάποιους σταθμούς υποδοχής αέριου, το οποίο θα μεταφέρουν αγωγοί στις αγορές των Βαλκανίων, της Κεντρικής Ευρώπης ή της Ιταλίας.

Τα οφέλη του ενεργειακού κόμβου είναι τα εξής. Πρώτον, οι επενδύσεις για την κατασκευή των εγκαταστάσεων θα φέρουν δουλειές στη χώρα. Για τι μεγέθους επενδύσεις μιλάμε; Στο πιο απλό σενάριο, €200 με €250 εκατ. (υπεράκτιος σταθμός στη Βόρεια Ελλάδα και μεταφορά με αγωγό στην Βουλγαρία). Στο πιο ψηλό σενάριο, ίσως €1 με €1,5 δις (με χερσαίο αγωγό που καλύπτει μεγάλο κομμάτι της ελληνικής περιφέρειας). Και στα δύο σενάρια, όμως, τα χρήματα δεν μένουν όλα στην Ελλάδα γιατί θα χρειαστεί να εισάγει η χώρα υλικά, μηχανήματα και τεχνογνωσία. Και μετά την κατασκευή, η διατήρηση δεν είναι τόσο ακριβή ούτε χρειάζεται πολλές θέσεις εργασίας.

Δεύτερον, υπάρχουν χρηματοοικονομικά οφέλη. Τέτοιες επενδύσεις έχουν αποσβεστικό ορίζοντα εικοσαετίας όπου ο χρήστης του συστήματος πληρώνει τον ιδιοκτήτη ένα τέλος χρήσης. Για τι ποσά μιλάμε; Περίπου €45 με €75 εκατ. ετησίως στο χαμηλό σενάριο και €280 εκατ. ετησίως στο υψηλό σενάριο. Αλλά, αυτά τα χρήματα θα χρησιμοποιούσουν πρωτίστως για να αποπληρώσουν τα δάνεια κατασκευής, και οι ελληνικές εταιρίες δεν πρόκειται να είναι 100% μέτοχοι σ’ αυτές τις επενδύσεις. Το καθαρό όφελος είναι πιο μικρό.

Τρίτον, υπάρχουν πολιτικά οφέλη. Η αίσθηση μου είναι ότι ο ενθουσιασμός για την περίπτωση της Ελλάδας να γίνει ενεργειακός κόμβος βασίζεται κυρίως στην πεποίθηση ότι κάτι τέτοιο θα ενισχύσει το «γεωστρατηγικό» ρόλο της χώρας. Βάζω τη λέξη «γεωστρατηγικό» σε εισαγωγικά γιατί δεν είμαι σίγουρος ακριβώς τι σημαίνει. Δουλεύω στην ενέργεια εδώ και μια δεκαετία σχεδόν και έχω σπουδάσει διεθνής σχέσεις και οικονομικά, και ακόμα αναρωτιέμαι τι εννοούν αυτοί που χρησιμοποιούν αυτή την έκφραση. Η εμπειρία μου λέει ότι χρησιμοποιούν τη λέξη «γεωστρατηγικό» αυτοί που θέλουν να διογκώσουν τη σημασία αυτών που λένε.

Δεν αμφιβάλλω ότι το φυσικό αέριο έχει στρατηγική σημασία – αμφιβάλλω όμως ότι έχει τη σημασία που υποθέτουν πολλοί αναλυτές. Η πρόσφατη ιστορία έχει αρκετά παραδείγματα όπου μια κομβική χώρα προσπάθησε να χρησιμοποιήσει τη «γεωστρατηγική» της θέση έναντι μιας άλλης χώρας και έφαγε τα μούτρα της. Η Ουκρανία νόμιζε ότι έχει δύναμη επειδή το ρωσικό αέριο περνούσε από την Ουκρανία για να πάει στην Ευρώπη. Αλλά όταν τσαντίστηκε η Ρωσία, έχτισε νέους αγωγούς και το εισόδημα της Ουκρανίας από τη διαμεσολάβηση έχει πέσει. Η Ρωσία, με τη σειρά της, έκανε το ίδιο στο Τουρκμενιστάν, και το Τουρκμενιστάν έχτισε νέους αγωγούς προς το Ιράν και την Κίνα και οι εξαγωγές του προς τη Ρωσία έχουν πέσει. Το να είσαι ενεργειακός κόμβος είναι σα να είσαι πόρτα στο μαγαζί – μπορείς να το παίξεις μάγκας για λίγο και με ανίσχυρους ανθρώπους, αλλά ούτε δικό σου είναι το μαγαζί ούτε σε παίρνει να το παίξεις εξουσία για πολύ.

Η Ιδιωτικοποίηση της ΔΕΠΑ

Τέλος, διαβάζουμε για τα μεγάλα παιχνίδια που παίζονται για το ποιος θα πάρει τη ΔΕΠΑ και το πως αυτό σχετίζεται με τα παραπάνω θέματα. Ας ξεκινήσουμε από μια απλή ερώτηση: τι είναι ακριβώς η ΔΕΠΑ (δηλαδή, τι αγοράζει κανείς);

Πρώτον, η ΔΕΠΑ έχει τρία μακροπρόθεσμα συμβόλαια για την παροχή αερίου στην ελληνική αγορά. Δεύτερον, έχει μια προνομιακή θέση (30-ετή μονοπώλιο) για την παροχή αερίου στη λιανική αγορά (μικρούς χρήστες). Τρίτον, έχει ένα δίκτυο πωλήσεων στην ελληνική αγορά (συμβόλαια, σχέση με πελάτες, γνώση της αγοράς). Τέταρτον, έχει πλάνα για επενδύσεις που θα έκαναν την Ελλάδα ενεργειακό κόμβο (αγωγοί ή τερματική σταθμοί). Και πέμπτον, της ανήκει ο ΔΕΣΦΑ, που ελέγχει το δίκτυο φυσικού αερίου της χώρας (αν και, πλέον, η ΔΕΠΑ δεν έχει προνομιακή πρόσβαση σ’αυτό το δίκτυο).

Το ενδιαφέρον για την ΔΕΠΑ, λοιπόν, σχετίζεται με το ενδιαφέρον για κάποια (ή όλα) από αυτά τα πέντε κομμάτια. Έχει σημασία να σκεφτόμαστε έτσι γιατί θα πρέπει να ρωτήσουμε τι επιπτώσεις έχει η πώληση της ΔΕΠΑ σχετικά με αυτούς τους πέντε ρόλους. Η ιδιωτικοποίηση μιας εταιρίας όπως η ΔΕΠΑ δεν είναι το ίδιο με το να πουλάς ένα αμάξι. Μοιάζει περισσότερο με την πώληση του διπλανού διαμερίσματος: δεν διαλέγεις αγοραστή, διαλέγεις γείτονα, και άρα δεν ρωτάς μόνο πόσα δίνει ο καθένας. Θα είναι ήσυχος ο γείτονας; Φιλικός; Λογικός στην αντιμετώπιση προβλημάτων; Θα μείνει ο ίδιος εκεί ή θα το νοικιάσει / πουλήσει; Είναι το μόνο του διαμέρισμα και άρα θα το προσέχει ή έχει άλλα δέκα οπότε μπορεί να το παραμελήσει; Είναι σημαντικό να κάνουμε αυτές τις ερωτήσεις και οι απαντήσεις είναι αρκετά σύνθετες.


Στην τελική, το μήνυμα μου είναι, απλώς, μην ψαρώνετε και μην τρελαίνεστε. Τα πραγματικά οφέλη μπορεί να είναι σημαντικά αλλά όχι αρκετά για να αλλάξουν ριζικά (ή σύντομα) την τροχιά της χώρας μας. Πολλά από τα παιχνίδια που ακούτε παίζονται στο μυαλό των αναλυτών που (συνήθως) δεν πολυκαταλαβαίνουν τι ακριβώς γίνεται αλλά γοητεύονται από θεωρίες συνωμοσίας και από την ιδέα ότι η Ελλάδα βρίσκεται στο επίκεντρο ενός τεράστιου γεωπολιτικού, γεωστρατηγικού, γεω-οτιδήποτε παιχνιδιού που θα καθορίσει το μέλλον της Ευρώπης. Η συμβουλή μου: όσο πιο μεγάλες οι σκέψεις και οι λέξεις στο άρθρο, τόσο πιο λάθος είναι. Μη χάνετε το χρόνο σας.