Greece Resumes Talks on Debt Writedown


Greece resumed talks Thursday with banks and insurers on an elusive deal for a major writedown of its debt in order to escape a looming default.

Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos met Thursday evening with the lead negotiators of the private creditors, Charles Dallara and Jean Lemierre, for what was described as "informal discussions".

The third round of talks between Athens and private creditors aims to reach agreement on a voluntary exchange of bonds that would wipe 100 billion euros ($130 billion) off the country's debt of 350 billion euros.

"There is very strong pressure on Greece and the banks to reach a deal from all member states," a European source said Thursday.

The Private Sector Involvement (PSI) deal under discussion would see private creditors take a "haircut" of at least 50 percent on the 200 billion euros in debt they hold.

Two previous rounds of talks have snagged on the amount of interest to be paid on the remaining debt.

Greek government spokesman Pantelis Kapsis told the private radio Flash on Thursday that he "hoped to conclude an accord as quickly as possible."

Stocks in Athens continued to rally on expectations of a deal, with the Athex index gaining 3.93 percent. Greek stocks have gained 23 percent from lows hit earlier this month.

Athens faces a critical bond reimbursement worth 14.5 billion euros on March 20.

It had hoped to present EU leaders a framework agreement on the debt writedown at their summit on Monday, and sign an agreement by February 13 so there is sufficient time for the writedown to be achieved.

A Greek finance ministry official said Thursday that a new analysis will be conducted to ensure that the writedown returns Greece's debt to a sustainable level.

The Eurozone and IMF will conduct the analysis and the writedown deal would be adjusted depending on its conclusions, added the official on condition of anonymity.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is bound by rules to lend only to countries that have sustainable debt levels, has insisted on achieving a 120 percent debt level, but sources close to the talks said proposals now on the table would only get it down to around 130 percent.

Greek media speculated that the results of the new debt analysis could also be used to step up pressure on official creditors.

The European Central Bank (ECB), which holds around 45 billion euros worth of Greek bonds, has so far ignored calls for it to also accept losses.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde warned Wednesday that European public creditors would need to pitch in and help Greece if banks and insurers did not agree to a sufficient cut in money owed to them.

The IMF however denied a report that it had pressed the ECB to write off some of the value of its Greek bonds to help finalize the Greek debt deal.

European Union officials made a debt writedown a condition before public creditors commit to a second EU rescue package worth 130 billion euros.

It has received two-thirds of the 110 billion euros it was promised under an EU-IMF program concluded in May 2010.

Patience is running thin with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble calling on Greece to act now on economic reforms in order to get fresh support.

"We've had enough announcements, the government in Athens must act now," he was quoted as saying in an interview to appear in Friday's edition of the Stuttgarter Zeitung.

While Greece has undertaken austerity measures its bailout partners have been exasperated by Athens' slow implementation of structural reforms and privatization that are widely seen as needed for the country to return to growth and pay off its debt.

Meanwhile, yields on Italian 10-year bonds briefly dipped below the six-percent threshold on Thursday for the first time since early December in a sign of easing market concern about the country's economic prospects, after another successful bond auction.

The yield had soared alarmingly over an unsustainable seven percent in early January on concerns that the government would not be able to raise funds on the market at affordable rates and eventually be forced to seek a bailout like fellow Eurozone members Greece, Ireland and Portugal.