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Fool me once, shame on you -- fool me twice, shame on the EU.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, European leaders and Greece came to an agreement last week which involved Greece receiving its second bailout in little more than a year. Greece, which was just weeks away from a possible default on its mountain of debt, will likely receive a bailout somewhere near the $157 billion it received last year in exchange for even tighter austerity measures which include increased taxes and reduced government spending. Considering that the previous austerity measures were met with heightened resistance from citizens and a sizable failure to meet established goals by the Greek government, are we to assume round two will be any better?
The credit markets don't seem to think so.
As of last week, Greek one-year derivatives, which are a form of protection against default, were trading at 2,150 basis points, implying a default probability of greater than 80%! Greek 10-year bonds are still trading within a stone's throw of 17%.
Unfortunately for investors around the world, Greece's problems aren't contained just within its borders. Irish and Portuguese 10-year bonds recently hit new highs of 12% and 11.4%, respectively, while Spain's 10-year bond remains nearly 280 basis points above the German 10-year benchmark. In sum: Things are deteriorating rapidly in Europe, and this time, sweeping the problem under the rug simply isn't going to cut it.
So what's an investor to do?
Avoiding Europe is an option, but a difficult one, considering that most large companies have European exposure whether you realize it or not. Instead of exposing yourself to one or two companies in the region, consider trading a basket of stocks through an exchange-traded fund if you feel compelled to invest in Europe. Personal suggestions that may merit further consideration include the Vanguard European ETF (NYSE: VGK ) and the iShares S&P Europe 350 Index (NYSE: IEV ) , which both offer a well-balanced and diversified portfolio of some of Europe's largest companies.
Another way to play this crisis is by being a Swiss franc bull. The Swiss government doesn't hold anywhere near the amount of gold in its reserves that the United States or Germany has, but relative to its total gross domestic product, the amount of gold that the Swiss government controls is significantly higher than its larger counterparts. This provides a degree of safety behind the Swiss franc that owners of the euro or U.S. dollar simply don't have and could make the Rydex CurrencyShares Swiss Franc Trust (NYSE: FXF ) a possible must-own.
If this crisis were a baseball game, I'd say we're a long way from even the seventh-inning stretch. I don't deny that the EU needed to lend its assistance to Greece, but I'm betting that this won't be the last time such help is needed.
Did the EU make the right decision in bailing out Greece again? Let us know in the comments section below.