Greece returns to bond markets with 5-yr bond

By Nicholas Paphitis

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 9 2014 2:16 p.m. MDT

Protesters carry an anti-EU banner during a 24-hour nationwide general strike, in Athens, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Unions say they are seeking an end to the painful savings policies that successive governments imposed to secure international bailout loans after Greece nearly went bankrupt in 2010. The repeated income cuts and tax hikes deepened a six-year recession, while unemployment has reached a record 28 percent.

Petros Giannakouris, Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — Greece announced Wednesday it was returning to international bond markets for the first time in four years amid growing signs of confidence in the country that triggered the European debt crisis.

The finance ministry said in a statement it had instructed international banks to issue the five-year euro-denominated bond, and that the sale "is expected to be priced and carried out in the immediate future."

The exact size of the bond sale has not been revealed, but Greece's deputy prime minister said recently it is likely to be about 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion). Although the specific date was not formally announced, it is widely expected to be Thursday.

Hammered by a severe loss of confidence triggered by massive debt and a huge budget deficit, Greece hasn't been able to tap investors for cash because of excessively high borrowing rates since 2010. Unable to borrow on international markets, the country has been relying since then on international bailout funds from the International Monetary Fund and other European countries that use the euro.

However, Greece's borrowing rates on the markets have been falling steadily in recent months as its public finances have improved following tough austerity measures.

"This is an important step in Greece's effort to fully exit the crisis," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou told The Associated Press minutes after the announcement.

On Tuesday, Greece's short term borrowing costs dropped considerably, with interest rates on a six-month treasury bill sale falling to 3 percent, from 3.6 a month earlier.

However, ratings agencies still consider Greek government bonds to still be well below investment grade, with the three major agencies rating them as junk.

Some analysts were skeptical, noting that that private investors ended up suffering significant losses when their bond holdings were trimmed in 2012 to ease Greece's crushing debt load.

"You have to ask who in their right mind would want to take a chance on a country that haircut its previous bondholders ... and where the political and economic situation remains extremely unpredictable," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at London-based CMC Markets.

In return for its bailout funds, Greece has had to impose a series of deeply resented spending cuts and tax hikes that have led to frequent demonstrations and strikes over the past four years. The country's economic output has shrunk by a quarter and unemployment has sky-rocketed to 28 percent.

On Wednesday, unions held a 24-hour nationwide general strike, halting trains and island ferries and leaving state hospitals running on emergency staff. At least 10,000 protesters took to the streets of the capital in noisy but peaceful demonstrations. A similar number marched in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

"Today's strike is being held for the working class to respond decisively ... to the measures the government is deciding against workers' rights, to the problems of poverty, unemployment, the abolition of collective wage agreements," said Giorgos Pondikos, a member of the communist party-linked PAME union who was among the protesters.

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