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Gambling on Greece, a near-term Catch-22

Jan. 11, 2012 at 3:06 PM

ATHENS, Greece, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Some investors in Europe are gambling on bailout funds slated for Greece, buying up bonds that banks no longer want, a financial analyst said.

"They are calculating that Greece will not default before March. If you own a bond that matures in March and it is January, then you have every incentive to delay," sovereign debt expert Mitu Gulati told The New York Times.

Greece is expecting the next tranche or disbursement of funds from the European Union bailout facility and the International Monetary Fund will prevent a default when bonds mature in March. The next tranche is expected to be about $38 billion, the Times reported Wednesday.

Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos has said Greece could default on its obligations, which would potentially leave investors with nothing.

But there is an odd Catch-22 at play. The bailout disbursement is contingent on Greece making progress on lowering its deficit. One way to do that is to negotiate better terms with investors.

Greece has been attempting to negotiate for a 50 percent reduction of what it owes bond holders -- a so-called haircut.

That has given banks an incentive to sell their holdings -- up to $260 billion of privately held debt.

At the same time, it has given investors incentive to buy at least short-term debt on the gamble that the bailout funds will arrive and Greece will make good on obligations that mature in March.

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