Tears in Greece, Joy in Spain and Trouble in Venezuela

"Escasez en Venezuela, Mercal" by The Photographer - Own work. Licensed under CC0 || Wikimedia Commons

Last Monday, the Athens Stock Exchange was opened. Capital controls remain in place, so it is not possible to sell shares and send the money out of the country. Short selling is still banned. Nevertheless (although according to expectations), Stock Exchange fell as a millstone into the pond. In just a few days it has lost about 20%, bank securities have lost much more. In the last five years, Piraeus Bank has lost 97% of its value and Eurobank (indeed, an apt name) an astounding 99.8% of the value. Their market value is currently five times lower that the market value of the Uber company. However, the Stock Exchange has not reached the historic low of the year 2012.

The Greek Prime Minister was infected by the optimism (the originator of the virus remains unknown). Negotiations about the third rescue package are supposed to be in final stage and everything is on the good way to get done up to August 20. If they are not able to manage it, the Eurozone will have to quickly draw another bridge loan to help Greece service upcoming debt payments once again. However, there are some bad news.

At the end of July, the IMF announced that without the write-off of at least one third of the Greek debt, it will not participate in the third package for Greece. For Europe, it may be unpleasant for two reasons. First, the sum would be reduced by “a few“ billions from the IMF. What is even worse, the world’s leading economic institution showed that it considers the third package hopeless without write-off of the debt. European politicians will have to explain with more difficulty to everyone why they want to pour tens of billions euro more into the Greek boiler. And this is the optimistic version of the consequences of the IMF’s decision – other analyses talk about the necessity to write-off more than half of the debt to stabilize the economy.

The biggest shock of the last week was brought about by the data on the industrial activity in the country. The PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) fell to the lowest level in the history of Greece. Not only many companies, but also the ordinary consumers from the border regions are looking for the safety in neighboring Bulgaria. Farmers have to face equally bad times as the next round of the prescribed reforms will presumably affect them, too. This gives way to a neglected topic of huge agricultural subsidies which have been wasted in Greece. Many farmers bought fleet of machines just because they were subsidized.

The good news is coming from the opposite side of the Mediterranean. Spain forecasts extremely good growth compared to the current European standards for the third quarter – up to 1% of GDP. Eventually, the overall growth is supposed to reach the level of 3,3% of GDP in the year 2015. Even the Spanish banks, which together with real estate market were at the core of the crisis, are slowly recovering. Revenues are rising, the sector is gradually consolidating – from the 55 banks in 2008, now exist only 14, and soon there will be maybe just 10 of them left.

In assessing the economic future in Spain it is necessary to be careful. The crisis has completely changed the standards through which we evaluate the economy. The numbers which would be considered miserable ten years ago, seem excellent today. Spain reduces its gigantic unemployment very slowly and with each passing month a stronger cohort of long-term unemployed people is created. It will be extremely difficult for them to get back on the employment’s horse.

The political situation is also uncertain. The Podemos party, dreaded by the Eurozone, has began to lose its initial power. It is almost certain that after the elections in autumn 2015 the government will be a coalition, but the couples in Spanish political party are the minimum, if any.

Of course, we cannot forget the simmering economic volcano – the debt. In 2014 the Spanish deficit was around 6% of GDP and the debt is attacking the level of 100% of GDP. The state must therefore annually get from the market a gigantic sum of money (in 2016 it will be about 230 billion of euros). Currently, it may actually be possible because of the ECB and its policies which promote the extremely low interest rates – around 2% (what makes it the lowest levels in history).

France has been also facing rough times recently. French farmers protested against the Slovak farmers and blocked the border with Germany (well, they actually thought that they were protesting against German farmers, when in fact, it is Eastern European farmers who have begun to replace the declining production of French agriculture).

Meanwhile, President Hollande and the French police did nothing to protect one of the pillars of the EU – freedom of movement. It seems that for the French government the pillars of the integration are rather common regulations, bureaucracy and high taxes for everyone; those are actually also the reasons for decline of the French farmers.

Nevertheless, it’s not just Europe that struggles with real issues and endless absurdities at the same time – let’s not forget that there are places where things can get much worse, and it does not apply only to the terrifying wars in Syria or Iraq. Regulated prices and the consequent food shortages in Venezuela have their first victims after riots in supermarkets. Around 100 riots take place every month. The country shifted to rationing system completely (buyers in shops are even required to have their fingerprints checked), and the situation is getting worse. The inflation exceeded 800% and the highest existing banknote has the value around 12 eurocents. The bankruptcy of the country in 2016 seems to be inevitable.

Translation by Natáia Hlaváčová