Anyone hoping that turning the calendar page to 2011 will mean the end of the euro debt crisis can’t take any comfort in these numbers: Eurozone countries will have to refinance or repay $740 billion in 2011, according to Italian bank Unicredit. That’s roughly $60 billion more than in 2010 and would be the biggest refinancing burden since the euro’s beginnings in 1999.
Right now the markets for credit default swaps, a derivative that allows a bond holder to lay off, in theory, the risk of a bond issuer defaulting, is pricing in a 50% chance of a Greek default within the next five years. The market puts the odds of Ireland and Portugal defaulting in that period at 30%.
This level of worry can produce exactly the crisis that bond investors fear. If buyers refuse to buy the bonds that a Greece, Ireland, or Portugal (and newcomer to the worry list Belgium) need to sell to roll over their debt, then these countries need buying by institutions such as the European Central Bank, or a bailout by the European stabilization facility—or they must default.
Portugal is the focus of near term worries since this relatively small economy has to repay or refinance $25 billion in debt by the middle of 2011.
The only good news in these figures—and it’s not much as good news goes—is that the situation is so dire that it may end squabbling among Eurozone politicians and lead to concrete action on a more comprehensive response to the crisis, one that might actually reassure financial market.