Greece is simply 'too big to fail'

Greece continues to be a sore spot for the global economy as the newly-elected government has made clear that it doesn't plan to honor past agreements made with the European Union.

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Protesters take part in an anti-austerity pro-government demonstration in front of the parliament in Athens February 11, 2015.
Yannis Behrakis | Reuters
Protesters take part in an anti-austerity pro-government demonstration in front of the parliament in Athens February 11, 2015.

Greece, France, the rest of the European Union, and a host of international banks have already agreed to write off a significant percentage of Greece's debt as a way to stabilize the economy and keep Greece in the euro trade group. But now Greece says they want a different deal. This is obviously not a positive for Europe and does have the potential to destabilize global economics if Greece simply declines to pay their bills.

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Creditors will likely have to craft a revised repayment schedule tied not just to austerity, but also to growth. Look for a new round of concessions; Greece recognizes that the appetite for more drama is very low among other member countries. Renegotiation might not be the preferred solution, but "too big to fail" lives. The politicians in Greece know that and despite the posturing by creditors, they know it as well.

But here's the important question: Will Greece and its renegotiations crash the global economy? No.

It is important to recognize that the global economy and markets are pretty much under the assumption that Greece will continue to be a problem child for Europe. It is our view that there is an expectation that Greece is not going to follow through on their commitments and is likely priced into the global equity market. Greece could make problems for the global economy and do their best to destabilize international banks. But I doubt that that intentional deed would be attempted. And, in the event it were to occur, it is likely governments would step in to provide support for impacted institutions.

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Perhaps governmental intervention sounds very familiar. Perhaps the recently announced quantitative easing program for €1 trillion announced by the European Central Bank sounds familiar as well. Europe is taking a page out of the United States' playbook. Citigroup and AIG were too big to fail and the US government stepped in. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, General Motors and Chrysler were too big to fail and the US government stepped in. Like these examples, Greece is too big to fail and the European Union will step in as well.

What this means for Europe is more debt that will clog the economic growth of the entire euro zone. Every dollar Greece does not pay has to be absorbed by someone and that burden falls ultimately to the European population. The same is occurring in America as the United States government action to rescue institutions has fallen to U.S. citizens in the form of very low interest rates on fixed income assets.

As an investor, it's important to recognize that there is no free lunch and these losses are subtracted from future GDP growth and will impact earnings results for companies. Large European banks will be under pressure even if the European Union steps in to provide support. It also means that, like Japan (that failed to adequately reflect real estate values on corporate balance sheets), Europe is setting itself up to be negatively impacted for a significant period of time and that will impact investment returns.

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We continue to underweight European assets, although Germany will be a bright spot on a relative basis. Certain sectors such as pharmaceuticals will still provide opportunities despite their location in Europe (in large part because many of these firms are multinational companies deriving a significant percentage of the revenues outside of the United States). Multinational companies will be cushioned from the full impact of a Greece implosion. Cushioned, however, does not mean immune and assumptions should be adjusted accordingly based on possible fallout.

Commentary by Michael A. Yoshikami, the CEO and founder of Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, Calif.