Greek bonds are now safer for investors — and will only get safer, EU official says

  • Greece is scheduled to end nearly a decade of external help this August.
  • The yield on the 10-year government bond has fallen about 30 basis points in the wake of the recent debt deal.
  • Centeno told CNBC in Strasbourg that he is confident Athens will deliver financial commitments.
Mario Centeno, Portugal's finance minister, arrives for a European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday June 29, 2018. 
Jasper Juinen | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Mario Centeno, Portugal's finance minister, arrives for a European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday June 29, 2018. 

Greek government debt has become more favorable to international investors thanks to a recent debt deal, and will only continue along this path, according to a key EU finance official.

Greek bonds are often the first in the firing line during bouts of market turmoil. Yields — which have an inverse relationship to prices — spiked considerably during the euro zone sovereign debt crisis of 2011. Mario Centeno, the president of the Eurogroup which combines the 19 finance ministers from the euro zone, sought to reassure investors when speaking to CNBC in an exclusive interview Wednesday.

Centeno said that an agreement to soften future debt repayments, reached two weeks ago, has reduced investors’ concerns over the embattled European nation. Under the deal, creditors have pushed back any interest and loan repayments for 10 years. There is a commitment to give Greece any profits made by central banks in the euro zone on their respective holdings of Greek bonds; as well as a promise from Europe to reassess the sustainability of the debt in 2032.

When asked if these measures had made the benchmark 10-year Greek government bond less risky, Centeno said: “I am sure it is and it will be even more so after August 20.”

Greece is scheduled to end nearly a decade of external help this August, after implementing more than 400 policy measures demanded by creditors. The yield on the 10-year government bond has fallen about 30 basis points in the wake of the recent debt deal. It moved from standing at about 4.2 percent to 3.9 percent. In contrast, Italy’s 10-year yield currently stands at 2.668 percent and the U.S.’ at 2.85 percent.

“But this is, I won’t call it a slow process, but again looking at past experiences you see countries exiting a program gradually gaining confidence,” Centeno said, hinting that Athens still has a lot to do to keep the economy going.

It’s not just about attracting investment but also delivering on financial commitments. Greece’s creditors have demanded a 3.5 percent primary surplus for the next four years and 2.2 percent in the 37 years after that.

Despite the economic unpredictability related to such a long time period, Centeno told CNBC in Strasbourg, France, that he is confident Athens will deliver.

“I just want to remember that Greece has got two years in a row more than 4 percent (for a) primary surplus, which means that we are converging to a lower level of primary budget surplus. If you ask me, if it is demanding, yes it will be, if it is challenging, certainly, so this resilience across the economic and political cycles is crucial to define the success of the program,” he said.

A woman walks past a graffiti refering to the Greek debt and reading 'Forever a loan' outside the Academy of Athens building on August 28, 2017.
Louisa Gouliamaki | AFP | Getty Images
A woman walks past a graffiti refering to the Greek debt and reading 'Forever a loan' outside the Academy of Athens building on August 28, 2017.

Complicating matters further, the debt relief measures only cover the loans related to the country’s second bailout program, not the third that is ending in August. As a result, the most problematic repayment dates remain intact.

“I don’t know if it is really delaying the problem, we have a debt sustainability analysis that points to a debt that is sustainable,” Centeno said, adding that he is confident that the macroeconomic assumptions made by the Eurogroup will materialize.

Barclays’ analysts said in a note Thursday that the “positive trend in market sentiment is set to continue in the months ahead.” But, there still are several factors that could ultimately affect Greek bonds.

“The fact that the bulk of debt relief measures have been granted upfront and unconditionally is positive, in our view; however, the public debt trajectory over the long term greatly depends on the substantial, ongoing fiscal efforts, and somewhat optimistic macroeconomic assumptions,” the analysts said.