investment wildcard: Grexit

My first employer on Wall Street had an unusually aggressive negotiating style.  At one time, a big brokerage firm wanted to buy the company he founded.  They agreed on a price after lengthy negotiations.  Two weeks later, my boss reopened the negotiations and successfully raised the bid.  Then he did it again.

On the day the contracts were going to be signed, he asked for another 5%, figuring, I think, that the buyer would have no choice but to acquiesce rather than see all the time and effort it had put into the deal go up in smoke.

The buyer walked out the door instead.

According to the Japanese companies I’ve talked to over the years, Chinese government officials use the same psychological ploy–agree, let the other side relax and celebrate  …and then ask for more.  The one difference with China is that twenty years ago manufacturing there gave you both a labor cost and a capital cost advantage over making things elsewhere (the only instance of this I’ve seen in thirty years as an analyst).  So there was no question of going elsewhere.

From my casual observation, Greece has been using this same negotiating style with the rest of the EU over the past few years.  I suspect, however, that Greece’s position is closer to that of my old employer rather than China’s.

How so?

–Greece is small, representing only about 3% of the EU’s GDP.  Arguably, the most important thing it brings to the union is the cachet of once having been the cradle of democracy.

–EU financial institutions are much better able to withstand the shock of a Greek exit from the union than they were in the depths of the financial crisis.

–Greece has complied with virtually none of the dozen-plus structural reform mandates required by the current bailout, which expires at the end of this month.  This gives the EU no reason to believe that Greece will follow through on any terms it agrees to now

–allowing an unrepentant Greece to remain in the EU under far more relaxed standards than afforded to, say, Spain, could easily prove more destabilizing to the EU than cutting ties

–the negative economic consequences for Greece of Grexit could be enormous–enough to provide a cautionary example for other states, or regions within states to reconsider separatist movements.

my take

I think Greece is holding a much weaker hand than is commonly perceived.  I think that the chances Greek government negotiators will take the one step too far that will cause the other side to leave the room are significant–although I have no idea how to quantify that.  Finally, I think any negative reaction to an actual Grexit, ex Greek stocks, which I imagine would do very poorly, would be shorter and milder than the consensus thinks.

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