Tuesday, September 27, 2011

2012, here we come.... (#5)

When Argentina pulled off the biggest sovereign debt default in history back in 2001, it owed $82bn. Greece owes $500bn. Yikes, eh? Whether we're talking about a neat 50% 'haircut' or a full-on grunt-style buzzcut, it's not going to be especially fetching.

Not without irony, Argentina is now oft-cited as an example of vaguely positive damage limitation. This is partly because some of the pain was shifted from external creditors onto local savers and because, thanks largely to a strong dose of Peronist protectionism, local living standards have rebounded somewhat in the subsequent decade. (Not that international lenders are going to extend them further financing for a very long time.)

Argentina's default should properly be seen as a recent episode within the rather more tragic largometraje tracking the most spectacular decline in comparative affluence in world economic history. Just before WWI Argies enjoyed a higher standard of living than both the French and the Germans. They then spent the better part of half a century slipping from the First World to the Third, the only nation to have ever really accomplished this feat. (So far.)

These days they enjoy a GDP per capita of $15,854 which, in spite of the recent 'resurgence' barely exceeds that of Mexico ($15, 113). The banker bods at UBS recently opined that a Greek default (followed potentially by a Euro-exit) would quickly shave off at least 50% off their GDP. In per capita terms this currently stands at $28,434, so the suggestion is that the most likely scenario would see Greece falling back in line with the likes of near neighbours Bulgaria ($13,563) or even Romania ($11,860), which would leave the EU's southern border looking remarkably like that of the USA.


norm said...

Argentina's default was little more than a little passed gas in an elevator as far as its effect on the world's economy, Greece will be a bit of floor cleaning after the old fella exits the lift. A half trillion is just not enough to bring it all down.

GC said...