Markets Cautious As Greece Meets Creditors Again

By Salon Staff

Published January 20, 2012 10:45AM (EST)

LONDON (AP) — Financial markets were cautious Friday ahead of another round of debt-reduction talks between Greece and its private creditors that could determine whether Europe's debt crisis flares up again.

While meeting with debt inspectors from the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the Greek government is also holding a third day of talks with creditors over a deal to get them to reduce the value of their Greek bond holdings. Greece is seeking to get creditors to agree a €100 billion ($129 billion) writedown.

Heads of the inspection team are meeting with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos ahead of the next round of discussions with the creditors. A deal is necessary if Greece is to get the next batch of bailout cash that would prevent a devastating debt default — Greece does not have enough money to cover a €14.5 billion bond repayment in March.

Last October, Greece's partners in the eurozone sanctioned a deal whereby private creditors would take a cut in the value of their bond holdings to help lighten the country's debt burden.

Hopes for such a deal as well as a run of successful European bond auctions and solid economic and corporate news, not least from the U.S. and China, have helped shore up market sentiment in recent days. Many stock indexes have risen to five-month highs, while the euro has clambered off 17-month dollar lows.

Having booked such gains, investors were more cautious on Friday.

"Optimism of a deal beginning to fade as the weekend approaches," said Michael Hewson, markets analyst at CMC Markets.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was flat at 5,741 while Germany's DAX fell 0.5 percent to 6,385. The CAC-40 in France was down 0.5 percent too at 3,312.

The euro gave up some recent gains, and was trading 0.5 percent lower at $1.2898.

Wall Street was poised for a subdued opening, too — Dow futures were down 0.1 percent at 12,571 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures fell 0.3 percent to 1,307.

Analysts warned that the recent optimism in the markets could disappear if Greece fails to successfully conclude its debt-reduction negotiations with the Institute of International Finance, which represents private sector bondholders.

A deal is unlikely to bring an end to Greece's debt problems, which is the heart of Europe's debt crisis.

Investors may conclude that a restructuring in Greece is not a one-off, but may be repeated in other debt-hobbled countries across the troubled 17-nation eurozone.

Ireland and Portugal have both been bailed out too. Portugal is widely-considered to be more at risk of needing further help than Ireland because of a lack of economic growth.

"There remains the danger for bondholders that at some stage Portuguese politicians decide to follow the Greek example," said Gary Jenkins, director of Swordfish Research.

Earlier in Asia in the last trading day before Chinese New Year holidays begin Monday, the Shanghai Composite Index climbed 1 percent to 2,319.12. Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 1.5 percent to close at 8,766.36. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.8 percent to 20,110.37 and South Korea's Kospi jumped 1.8 percent to 1,949.89.

Oil prices tracked equities lower — benchmark oil for February delivery was up 84 cents to $99.55 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.


Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this story.

Salon Staff

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