What happens once a country leaves the euro?
On financial markets a new currency first needs a new currency code that can be identified by computers for trading and payments. They are issued by the Swiss-based International Standards Organisation, a worldwide federation of national standards. It provides an alphabetic three-character code, with the first two letters representing the country and the third the name of the currency. In Greece’s case it could not go back to its old code for drachma, GRD, because there are still some outstanding payments to be made. It would require a new code, most likely GRN.
Is that really all it takes for markets?After that, the code must be entered into software and payments systems so the computers can recognise it for payments processing and trade confirmations and other critical but unseen functions. Market infrastructure providers say this can be done in one business day if needed.
In reality it requires far more. Switching over to a new currency is trickier when it comes to resolving long-dated forward financial contracts, such as swaps and options.
There is a host of legal questions that have to be resolved as payments are switched from one currency to another. Some trades may have to be modified or even rebooked. It is far from an impossible job, but as it involves legal changes, it is a slow and careful process.
Thankfully there is no wall of long-term Greek derivatives trades. The five-year saga has made investors wary and few have accepted Greek central bank-backed collateral for their trades, even if the European Central Bank has permitted it to be used as collateral in Eurosystem monetary policy operations. Some market participants have suggested it could be done in 30 business days but that might prove to be optimistic too.
What would the market expect the Greek government to do to support its new currency?
The Greek government would be likely to set a new Greek currency at half the value of the euro to gain some degree of competitiveness, and enforce that through a mixture of capital controls and currency intervention, and create liquidity through bond issuances.
But how to redenominate euro notes is the hard part. Greece would suffer from disruption to the banking system, bankruptcies, people trying to take their money out of the country illegally and uncertainty about commercial transactions.
It took the euro three years to get from launch date to notes issuance, and although it is unlikely that it would this long for Greece to set up a new currency the process could still take months.
What impact would Greek exit have immediately on the markets?
Market turmoil following an announcement of capital controls or an exit from the euro would not worry a forex settlement service such as CLS.
It is unlikely that there would be a lot of trading business at first though. It is an open question as to how much of the new currency people would have to trade.
Beyond that, Greece would also have to develop a system to settle payments in central bank money, but that could take several years.
Could be a good outcome for Greece?
“Introducing a new Greek currency is do-able over time,” says David Puth, CLS chief executive, “but it is not cost-free.”
“The introduction of a new currency is complex when done in a planned way. When done suddenly and under duress, the process will be disruptive with many unintended consequences that cannot all be anticipated.”
OK, so that’s the Greek side of the saga. What about the euro, is that unaffected?
Not exactly. That is because a Greek exit blows apart the principle sacrosanct to the EU — that eurozone membership is a club you can join but cannot leave. That affects investors, corporations and others with uneven exposure to a break-up of the eurozone.
Such as who?
Such as an Italian manufacturer, say, whose assets and revenues are in Italy but whose financing is done in euros.
So what could it do to protect itself?
James Wood-Collins, chief executive of Record Currency Management, which advises clients on hedging forex exposures, suggests establishing re-denomination swaps or legal tender contracts. They would put a price on the likelihood and impact of a country leaving the eurozone and re-establishing its domestic currency.
“Banks and other market participants have discussed such instruments in recent years, but a market has not yet been established,” he says. “The potential exit of Greece could provide the necessary catalyst for this development.”
(caption by MoneyWeek)