Lehman-like Meltdown Looms Large

Greece may be a small European nation with small financial problems when compared to a backdrop of a quadrillion dollars of accumulated global debt (according to the Bank of International Settlements), but Greece has also become the litmus test for the resolve of political leaders to fix the problem with the euro and its dependent counter-parties worldwide.

As the pressure from the IMF on the Greek president intensifies while the crowds on the streets of Athens grow in size and violence, traders have been monitoring sovereign debt interest rates for signs of contagion amid the crisis in Greece.

Signs have appeared in the European bond market, whereas the yields on Greek, Irish and Portuguese 10-year sovereign debt have all surpassed the 10% print, with all three moving higher every week to levels which are now higher than the lofty rates of March 2010 when the Greek crisis emerged in earnest.

What everyone seems to fear is another Lehman-like meltdown.  And for good reasons, too.  But this time crisis could be much worse.  A major financial institution failing is one thing.  It’s together another story if the ones doing the bailing out need bailing out.  And as the crisis deepens, the loan amounts grow while the number of pockets left to guarantee the additional debt grows smaller and smaller.

Germany and France are financial backbones of the EU, and both countries’ politicians feel pressure from those determined to keep the euro together as well as from constituents who want nothing to do with bailing out “lazy” Greeks.

Asked if the markets need to fear a Greek debt default, Belgian finance minister Didier Reynders told Belgium’s RTL Radio, “We can indeed fear it because that’s what we experienced in 2008.”

“Remember — the collapse of an American bank, Lehman Brothers, Reynders continued.  “Everyone said ‘OK, a bank’s gone under.’ But that triggered a collapse in confidence right through the financial sector and banks could no longer borrow money amongst themselves. And we saw what that meant.”

Reynders warned of a repeat of another contagion if Greece, the EU, and the IMF cannot come to a deal on tranche number two of the original Greek debt restructuring agreement reached last year—which Greece had failed to achieve key financial metrics stipulated within the initial terms for a second tranche.

“If we turn our backs on Greece, it won’t be able to repay its debts to banks and therefore savers in our country (and savers, globally),” he said.  “The domino effect will begin and there will be consequences in Ireland, in Portugal and perhaps even here (in Belgium).

A collapse of Greece and the contagion that is sure to follow could happen “tomorrow,” bullion expert Jim Sinclair told Eric King of King World News.

“It’s just that bad . . . this thing can blow at any time,” Sinclair continued.  “Wiemar Republic had no more problems than we have right now.”

The saga in Europe continues next week as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy meet today before they head off to an EU summit scheduled for next week.  Merkel wants one-third of the bailout package to come from banks, while Sarkozy’s French banks seeks a resolution as well after downgrades of French banks were issued by credit rating agencies this week.