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Why Greece Is Not the Next Lehman

Protestors are seen on the Syntagma square during a protest against plans for new austerity measures.
Vladimir Rys Photography | Getty Images
Protestors are seen on the Syntagma square during a protest against plans for new austerity measures.

As Europe struggles to find a fix for Greece—and Greek citizens take to the streets—traders worry that a Greek default might be like the failure of Lehman or worse.

But Byron Wien, vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners, dismisses the comparison and says the world is wiser.


"In retrospect, a lot of people think something should have been figured out so Lehman didn't have to go bankrupt," he said in a quick interview, as he left the set of CNBC's "Squawk Box" Wednesday. "The second thing is Lehman went under, but no bank went under."

If Greece defaults, it would take down Greek banks and cause pain across the European banking system, he said. Moody's warned late Tuesday it could cut the ratings of France's three largest banks—BNP Paribas, Credit Agricole and Societe Generale—because of their exposure to Greek debt. Standard and Poor's Wednesday cut the rating on Greek banks to CCC and said if Greece restructures its debt, it could affect the capital base of Greek banks.

Wien does not believe Europe will allow the crisis to go that far despite the lack of consensus on how to structure another bailout. "People are very sensitive to how much the rest of the world would be affected if Greece goes under," he said, noting that there was not that understanding about Lehman.

Brown Brothers Harriman currency strategist Marc Chandler believes that talks to find a solution for Greece will go down to the wire.

"I believe they're going to find a compromise to avoid a credit default event or major restructuring," said Chandler.

"For 50 years, Europe has pinned its hopes on greater integration. If there's a default by Greece, I don't think it stops there," he said.

Chandler said he had believed the EU would find a solution before its leaders meet June 24, but now that deadline could be extended. "The real deadline is when Greece runs out of money, and that might not be until early July," he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Getty Images
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

European officials are struggling with how to involve private sector participation in the bailout. The European Central Bank opposes any solution that would trigger a default. Germany is pushing a plan that would require bond investors to swap their bonds for new ones with maturities that are seven years longer.

The focus now is on a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Berlin Friday.

Chandler said a default would feel like Lehman or worse. Lehman created "a lot of the second leg down form October, 2008. In those six months to the Q2 of '09, the whole world seemed like it was melting down. Could we withstand it again?" he said.

Questions? Comments? Email us at marketinsider@cnbc.com

  • Patti Domm

    Patti Domm is CNBC Executive Editor, News, responsible for news coverage of the markets and economy.

  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

  • CNBC Senior Commodities Correspondent and Personal Finance Correspondent

  • JeeYeon Park is a writer for CNBC.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC

  • Rick Santelli joined CNBC Business News as an on-air editor in 1999, reporting live from the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade.

  • Senior Producer at CNBC's Breaking News Desk.