Argentina, Russia, and Ecuador have all done it. As fellow Fool John Maxfield writes, sovereign defaults happen all of the time! So why doesn't Greece join in and default already? We shouldn't be too scared if we've lived through previous defaults, right? Wrong. Here's why Greece's default means more than sovereign defaults of the past.
That's a lot of baklava
For one, Greece heavily outweighs previous defaults:
Total Public Debt at Default (millions)
Source: The New York Times.
Some may point out that Greece's GDP of about $300 billion is dwarfed by the European Union's total GDP of over $16 trillion. Because it represents such a small slice, what would be the big deal if it defaulted and left the EU?
The big deal is that Greece represents the potential future of Italy, Spain, Portugal, and even the entire EU. With Italy's debt-to-GDP already over 100%, Spain's unemployment over 20%,and Portuguese 10-year bonds spiking to over 17% at the end of January, future action may be required to save any country from economic malaise. While Greece represents a small part of the EU's GDP, Italy clocks in at over $2 trillion worth of GDP, Spain claims $1.4 trillion in GDP, and the countries combined add up to over 20% of the EU's GDP.
Whatever actions Greece takes, other countries that are facing mountains of debt will be watching to see the outcome. If Greece is freed from hefty interest payments without much pain, why wouldn't other countries follow its path?
Who might be hurt
As Fool Sean Williams writes, American banks like Bank of America
European banks, on the other hand, have taken bigger hits from Greece itself. The Royal Bank of Scotland
The Foolish takeaway
Greece represents a potential blueprint for troubled EU economies, and should not be taken as just another default. While American banks are relatively protected, massive writedowns will continue to affect European banks, especially if countries on the brink tip over into defaulting. Greece itself may be small, but its shadow looms large.
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