“It’s a French plot,” cried Ralph the barber as he nicked my neck. I was at the local barbershop for the bi-yearly haircut. And Ralph was rampaging. Naturally I assumed it was over the World Cup. He is Italian, after all.
I told him that I would forgo my allegiance to England and root for Italy. “Just take the razor from my throat,” I pleaded.
“You idiot,” Ralph said. “I’m not talking about the World Cup. I’m talking about Greek bonds!
He then went on to explain the European Central Bank has been buying up Greek bonds, even though Athens is already getting money from an EU rescue fund. And that German central bankers suspect a “French plot” behind the bond acquisitions.
“I don’t get it,” I said, as Ralph nicked me, again.
“What idiot couldn’t see that it gives French banks the perfect opportunity to get rid of their Greek assets,” Ralph said.
According to Ralph, the European Central Bank (ECB) has already spent close to $50 billion buying up government bonds from Spain, Portugal, Ireland and, in particular, Greece.
German bankers are wondering why the ECB is buying Greek bonds in the first place, now that the euro-zone countries’ bailout package for Greece has been approved.
Nevertheless, some of the central bankers have a sneaking suspicion that there is a French conspiracy at work. By buying up Greek debt, the ECB keeps bond prices artificially high. French banks, in particular, benefit because it enables them to sell their Greek bonds to the ECB, as an inexpensive way of cleaning up their balance sheets.
France’s banks and insurance companies have a total of about €80 billion in Greek government bonds on their books.
German banks, on the other hand, are not potential sellers, because they have made a voluntary commitment to Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble to hold their Greek bonds until May 2013.
“Ralph, Where do you get this stuff?” I asked?
“Der Spiegel, of course,” said Ralph.
“I didn’t know you could read German,” I said.
“I can’t,” said Ralph.