April 28 (Bloomberg) — Holders of Greek bonds may lose as much as 200 billion euros ($265 billion) should the government default, according to Standard & Poor’s.
The ratings firm cut Greece three steps yesterday to BB+, or below investment grade, and said bondholders may recover only 30 percent and 50 percent for their investments if the nation fails to make debt payments. Europe’s most-indebted country relative to the size of its economy has about 296 billion euros of bonds outstanding, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
The downgrade to junk status led investors to dump Greece’s bonds, driving yields on two-year notes to as high as 19 percent from 4.6 percent a month ago as concern deepened the nation may delay or reduce debt payments. Prime Minister George Papandreou is grappling with a budget deficit of almost 14 percent of gross domestic product.
“It’s now not just market sentiment, but a top rating agency sees Greek paper as junk,” said Padhraic Garvey, head of investment-grade strategy at ING Groep NV in Amsterdam.
Before yesterday, Greece’s bonds had lost about 17 percent this year, according to Bloomberg/EFFAS indexes. The 4.3 percent security due March 2012 fell 6.54, or 65.4 euros per 1,000-euro face amount, to 78.32.
S&P’s reduction of Greece puts the nation’s debt on par with bonds issued by Azerbaijan and Egypt. Moody’s Investors Service rates Greece A3, while Fitch Ratings puts it at BBB-.
The turmoil comes as European Union policy makers struggle to agree on measures to ease the panic over swelling budget deficits. Leaders of the 16 euro nations may hold a summit after the Greek government’s decision last week to tap a 45 billion- euro emergency-aid package failed to reassure investors, a European diplomat and Spanish official said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she won’t release funds for the indebted nation until its government has a “sustainable” plan to reduce the deficit.
S&P indicated the cuts, which may force investors who are prevented from owning anything but investment-grade rated bonds to sell, may not be over, assigning Greece a “negative” outlook.
“The downgrade results from our updated assessment of the political, economic, and budgetary challenges that the Greek government faces in its efforts to put the public debt burden onto a sustained downward trajectory,” S&P credit analyst Marko Mrsnik said in a statement.
Traders of derivatives are betting on a greater chance that Greece fails to meet its debt payments.
Credit-default swaps on Greek government bonds climbed 111 basis points to 821 basis points yesterday, according to CMA DataVision. Only contracts tied to Venezuela and Argentina debt trade at higher levels, according to Bloomberg data. Venezuela is at about 846 basis points and Argentina is at about 844, Bloomberg data show.
The swaps pay the buyer face value in exchange for the underlying securities or the cash equivalent should a borrower fail to adhere to its debt agreements. A basis point on a contract protecting $10 million of debt from default for five years is equivalent to $1,000 a year.
Just minutes before lowering Greece’s ratings, S&P cut Portugal to A- from A+. Yields on Portugal’s two-year note yields jumped 112 basis points to 5.31 percent, while credit- default swaps on the nation’s debt rose 54 basis points to 365.
The downgrades may force banks to boost the amount of capital they are required to hold against bets on sovereign debt, said Brian Yelvington, head of fixed-income strategy at broker-dealer Knight Libertas LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut.
While bank capital rules give a risk weighting of zero percent for government debt rated AA- or higher, it jumps to 50 percent for debt graded BBB+ to BBB- on the S&P scale and 100 percent for BB+ to B-.
“These downgrades are going to cause people to increase their risk weightings,” Yelvington said.
–With assistance from Abigail Moses and Paul Dobson in London and Shannon Harrington in New York. Editors: Justin Carrigan, Chapin Wright
April 27, 2010, 5:07 PM EDT
By John Glover