For the typical person/investor, it's natural to skip over news stories about Greece, and mutter, I'm not interested in Greece. I don't see how events in this far-off, small country Greece can affect me.
But experienced investors know that events in Greece -- a member of the Eurozone, whose finance ministers are weighing Greece's $430 million in additional spending cuts in exchange for a $171 billion (€130 billion) bailout package -- most certainly matter to investors and business executives alike.
Although a relatively small economy (2010 GDP: $301 billion), a default by Greece on its $20.5 billion in bonds due March 20 would likely send another shockwave through global financial markets -- another Lehman Bros.-type event that would stress stock, bond, currency and lateral credit markets.
Would A Greece Default Be Another Lehman?
No one can predict with certainty the ramifications of another Lehman-type event, but it is safe to say that bond and stock assets prices would fall, and banks and other institutional investors (pension funds, hedge funds, mutual funds etc.) would have to re-evaluate their risk models and risk premises. And that could constrain credit at a time when the anemic European economy and the still-fragile U.S. economic recovery can not tolerate a tightening of credit: credit markets still have not fully recovered from the initial two waves of the financial crisis (Lehman Bros. bankruptcy, and initial recognition of Greece's debt problem.)
Further, it doesn't take a University of Chicago economist to figure out the impact tightening credit markets will have on job creation in Europe and the United States.
On each continent, banks and other credit providers may reduce or even cancel planned and future loans to businesses of all sizes -- removing some critically-needed grease from the wheels of commerce, resulting in a shuttering projects and business expansion plans. In short, tightening credit would likely result in hundreds of thousands of fewer jobs created per month -- something that would likely send Europe's economy into a pronounced recession and slow the still-inadequate U.S. economic expansion to a crawl.
Further, most experienced investors know what recession or lower economic growth mean for corporate earnings in Europe and the U.S. Mostly likely, they would take a hit, and the expectation of those less-impressive earnings (and in some cases operating losses), would weigh on both European and U.S.stock markets. Or as the Wall Street axiom reveals: As earnings go, so goes the U.S. stock market.
Greece Worst-Case Scenario: Contagion
Further, the above is just a modest-impact scenario from a Greece default. Under a worst-case scenario, a Greece default could spark contagion -- institution investor selling of bonds, and other assets, often irrationally -- in Portugal, Spain, and Italy, on concern that these other debt-plagued nations will also default on their debt obligations. Widespread, panic selling of bonds and other assets in those three nations would likely push interest rates up considerably in Europe and the U.S. -- increasing businesses' operating costs and further constraining commerce.
Stock and bond asset price declines. Banks and other lenders less-willing to make much-needed loans for business expansion. A hit to corporate earnings. Contagion that spreads to Portugal, Spain and Italy. All of the aforementioned would cloud the investment landscape, smack most portfolios, and trigger job losses in Europe and the United States -- and all could stem from a Greek default.
And that only underscores that, far from being inconsequential, the outcome regarding the Greece debt crisis matters very much to investors, business executives, and job seekers alike, on both sides of the Atlantic.