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Protests, riots, bombs. Welcome to the catastrophe that is Greece!
Or so the headlines would say, anyway. If you're relying on mainstream media alone, you'd think Greece is teetering on a financial and social precipice. Thirsting to know the story behind the story, though, the Motley Fool has dispatched a team of analysts -- yours truly and Global Gains' analysts Tim Hanson and Nate Weisshaar -- to evaluate the events first-hand. Is Greece imploding, or is the market getting this just plain wrong? Are Greek stocks a screaming buy?
That's what we're here to find out, and you can follow our musings, research, commentary, and conclusions in real-time at www.FoolGreece2010.com. If you're like I was just last week, though, you could probably use a primer on why this situation matters. Here's a primer on the Greek situation.
Question: So, I'm an American. Why do I care?
Answer: Two reasons. First, the potential opportunity. Greek-centric stocks like National Bank of Greece (NYSE: NBG ) and Coca-Cola Hellenic (NYSE: CCH ) are deeply out of favor right now. Maybe they're value traps, or maybe they're fantastic values for the patient, opportunistic investor. That's what we're here to find out.
Second, don't lose sight of the knock-on effects here. Their chips could fall in a lot of ways that ultimately force the euro to take a fall against the dollar. Yes, even despite our own massive deficits. Among a litany of ways that could affect global trade and the geopolitical order, that's bad news if you're invested in euro-heavy international players like a Diageo (NYSE: DEO ) , Unilever (NYSE: UL ) , and Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM ) .
Question: So with that out of the way, what exactly is going on in Greece?
Answer: Here's the deal. Greece, like the U.S., has been spending more cash than it's been taking in for a long time now. The deficit clocked in at 12.7% of GDP in 2009, well above the 3% threshold the EU has mandated for any country that wants to use the euro.
Unlike the U.S., though, Greece doesn't have the financial horsepower to keep the game up for much longer. In fact, it needs to roll over close to 17 billion euro -- about $24 billion -- over the course of the next two months. That's money Greece doesn't have, and very possibly won't be able to raise from investors. That means they may need to lean on outside help via the Germans or the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to stay afloat.
Both to appease potential bailout buddies and to actually bring some order to its economy, the Greek government is raising taxes and slashing subsidies and wages. Naturally, Greeks aren't too happy with the situation.
Question: So, who is in charge here?
Answer: A socialist coalition that recently took power after a special election in which a conservative coalition was ousted.
Question: So, commies are running Greece?
Answer: Not exactly. If anything, the head of research at an investment bank we spoke with today told us that he reads the governing socialist coalition as being quietly market-friendly. And for all us capitalists out there, keep in mind it was a supposedly fiscal conservative outfit that ran this truck into a ditch in the first place.
Question: So does Greece need a bailout?
Answer: Maybe not. They could still somehow convince private investors to swallow down billions in Greek debt over the next two months, though that's a tall order. But that's really only a bandage on the wound. According to the BBC, Greece spends about 12% of its GDP on debt servicing costs. Ouch.
Question: So, enter Germany?
Answer: Good chance, yeah, though German citizens aren't wild about the idea of bailing out the fiscally irresponsible Greeks. Plus, a bailout opens the door for Germany having to pony up when Spain probably starts crying wolf in the next year or two. This could be a terrible precedent for the Germans, who don't want to become the sugar daddy of the EU.
Question: So, are people freaking out?
Answer: Actually, the situation on the ground is easier-going than you'd expect. We saw a protest today, but nothing above and beyond those which we see in D.C. all the time. All that, coupled with the confidence we saw from talking to investor insiders today, are starting to give us the feeling that Greek stocks just might be really, really cheap.
Question: Sweet. Where can I learn more?
Answer: We're documenting all of our research in real-time at www.FoolGreece2010.com. That includes what we're hearing from companies and investors as well as a running tally of every time I get hit by a car (don't ask).
We're going to conclude the trip with the our top investment ideas based on what we learned in this troubled market. Help us help you get a copy of that by providing your email in the box below.