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Greece’s last chance for a deal with creditors awaits in Riga, Latvia

EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday in Latvia where PM Alexis Tsipras will try to secure a deal with creditors.

Alex Christoforou

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Post originally appeared on Zerohedge.

As we said over the weekend, it’s all about Riga again for Greece. EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday in Latvia where PM Alexis Tsipras will try to secure a more favorable outcome than did FinMin Yanis Varoufakis who, last month in Riga, reportedly did more chiding and lecturing than negotiating, a performance that may ultimately cost him his job once all is said and done. The situation is far more urgent this time around, with Greece having tapped its IMF SDR account to make a payment to the Fund and with the banking sector running dangerously low on collateral that can be pledged for emergency liquidity.

A bit more color from Deutsche Bank:

One thing that is starting to come to a head is Greece. With an EU leaders summit in Riga scheduled for Thursday and Friday, we should have a good idea of where current negotiations stand by the end of the week. Talks may well pick up in pace over the next few days with a spokesman for the Syriza party saying on Greek TV (Mega) that ‘we’re striving for a mutually beneficial agreement by Friday’ while pushing the party line that ‘our mandate from the Greek people is to reach an agreement where we stay in the euro area without harsh austerity measures’…

One other factor that will likely add pressure to accelerate negotiations this week is the news over the weekend that Greece came close to being unable to pay the May 12th IMF repayment. According to Greek press Ekathimerini, PM Tsipras sent a letter on May 8th to the IMF’s Lagarde saying that the Greek government would not be able to repay the €750m unless the ECB allowed for Greece to issue more T-Bills. In the end, the government decided that it would only be able to repay after it emerged that Greece could use €650m of Special Drawing Rights issued by the IMF (and in turn exhaust their reserves). Since this, another memo sent by the IMF and reported by the UK’s Channel 4 on Saturday has suggested that Greece will be unable to make the IMF payment due June 5th unless a release of funds is achieved (this marks the next significant payment date).

More details have indeed emerged about Tsipras’ recent dealings with the IMF. As it turns out, Tsipras sent a letter to Christine Legarde early this month warning her that no payment would be forthcoming on May 12 without some manner of lifeline from EU creditors. Here’s more via FT:

Greece came so close to defaulting on last week’s €750m International Monetary Fund repayment that the prime minister warned IMF chief Christine Lagarde he could not pay it without EU aid.

Athens ultimately made the payment without financial assistance from the bloc but only by tapping a rarely used emergency account Greece holds at the fund — an unorthodox transaction that amounted to borrowing IMF funds to pay the IMF.

Alexis Tsipras wrote to Ms Lagarde, warning that the IMF repayment would be missed unless the European Central Bank immediately raised its curbs on Greece’s ability to issue short-term debt.

The letter, first reported by the Greek daily Kathimerini but independently confirmed by the Financial Times, raises questions about how close Athens is to bankruptcy. In addition to payments due to the IMF next month totalling €1.5bn, the Greek government has struggled to meet its wage and pension bills, which must be paid at the end of the month…

Varoufakis, Bloomberg reports, was tipped about the SDR option on a trip to Washington last month:

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had been told about possibility of using IMF SDR holding account on visit to Washington in April, govt still needed permission from IMF before could use it to make May 12 IMF payment, Greek govt spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis tells reporters.

As far as pensions are concerned, Greece says it will pay government employees in May.

  • GREECE WILL PAY SALARIES, PENSIONS AT END OF MONTH: SPOKESMAN

Assuming the government makes good on that promise, it will quickly run up against another IMF payment on June 5 and as noted above, Athens will default if no deal has been struck by then. The following graphs show government revenues, government spending, and the payment schedule and demonstrate quite clearly why the situation is so urgent:

GreeceRevsVsSpend

 

GreecePayments_0

Here’s Bloomberg’s assessment of the fiscal situation:

How long can Greece carry on? With revenues just about covering the pay and pensions bill, there’s not much left over to make even the small(ish) payments due to the IMF in June. If Greece and its banking sector can limp a little further, the state should get a boost from income tax receipts that usually flow in July. Unfortunately, that might come too late to pay the ECB 3.5 billion euros due on July 20, and the repayment that follows in August looks like an impossible challenge without a disbursement of Eurogroup funds…

Should Greece’s citizens begin to lose faith in a positive outcome to negotiations, it’s quite possible that receipts could falter as more of the usual tax payments are held back and taxable activity is curtailed. Still, some boost to the Treasury’s bank balance is likely in July. General government revenues could be lifted by about 3.8 billion euros compared with the average for the other months of the year. That would get some way towards the figure needed to pay the ECB, though it might not come soon enough to avoid a missed payment…

Of course, making it as far as July depends on how long the Greek banking sector can survive. Absent a change to the haircut imposed by the ECB on Greek banks’ collateral, limitations on emergency liquidity assistance are unlikely to pose serious constraints before mid-July. Greek banks have enough collateral to access 93 billion euros in liquidity. That’s 13 billion euros above the current cap. The four-week average of increases by the ECB stands at 1.5 billion. At the current pace of increase, Greek banks could keep borrowing more for about eight weeks to offset deposit flight.

But the idea that the ECB will continue to prop up the Greek banking sector is becoming more tenuous as Mario Draghi recently came under fire from Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann who openly accused the central bank of breaking the monetary financing taboo. Rumors that the ECB will soon begin to tighten the screws by raising the haircut on collateral pledged for cash have been making the rounds for weeks and as Bloomberg warns, the move could come at anytime:

A crunch will come if the ECB increases the haircut on Greek collateral to levels not seen since last year. That could be prompted by anything from a complete breakdown in talks to a missed debt payment, the official said. A continuation of the current impasse could even be all that’s needed, the official said.

While talks are centering on whether to give Greece more money, the ECB could raise the stakes if it increases the discount on the collateral Greek banks pledge in exchange for cash under its Emergency Liquidity Assistance program. That could happen as soon as this week, after the Governing Council next meets in Frankfurt on May 20.

GreekLiquidityMay_0

Meanwhile, Commerzbank doesn’t seem to buy the idea that the equivalent of a DIP loan would be sufficient to keep Greece from collapsing in the event Grexit becomes a reality:

Greece probably has no choice but to leave the euro if it defaults as it would likely be unable to source the funds needed to recapitalize its banks, Commerzbank chief economist Joerg Kraemer writes in client note.

If the country were to default, the banks’ claims on the state would be essentially worthless and they wouldn’t be allowed access to new money through the ELA.

Only a fraction of the equity capital needed could be gained from Greek bank bond creditors.

A recourse to bank deposits may also yield little as most accounts are probably under the threshold of EU100k per person which would be spared in any restructuring.

As you can see, the bail-in hints are starting to be dropped, suggesting that in the final analysis, some Greeks may be Cyprus’d. Indeed, the IMF has already discussed this possibility behind closed doors. Here’s FT again:

According to two officials briefed on the talks, at least one board member raised the possibility of presenting a “take it or leave it proposal” to Greece…

The idea of a “Cyprus-like” presentation to Greek authorities has gained traction among some eurozone finance ministers, according to one official involved in the talks.

As for Greek officials, they’ve become quite adept at wholesale denials:

There should be a solution in May so we can resolve our liquidity issues,” Gabriel Sakellaridis told a news conference.

He ruled out a levy on bank deposits to raise cash and said the government would not sign a third bailout program.

Touch Capital Markets’ Andreas Koutras summed up the situation nicely when he gave Bloomberg his best Schaeuble impression:

“There were too many people crying wolf before. But as Hemingway wrote: How did you go bankrupt? Two ways: Gradually, then suddenly.”

References:

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-05-18/shape-greek-endgame-emerges-imf-discussed-cyprus-plan-after-tsipras-warned-looming-d

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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