How much could it cost to bailout Greece, Portugal, and Spain? Would you believe $630 billion?

04/28/2010 12:20 pm EST


Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor,

Economists and investment banks are starting to put some concrete numbers on the Greek—and Spanish and Portuguese—debt crisis. And they’re large. To me shockingly large.

Kenneth Rogoff, a former economist for the IMF (International Monetary Fund) turned Harvard University economics professor—and whose book, This Time Is Different, co-authored with University of Maryland economist Carmen Reinhart, is a great source on the consequences of runaway national debt that I’ve used repeatedly on—told the New York Times that the IMF alone would need to commit $200 billion to bailing out Greece, Spain, and Portugal.

So far the IMF has pledged $15 billion to the initial $60 billion IMF/European Union bailout plan for Greece. That’s likely to get kicked up to $25 billion as a result of current talks with European Union governments.

But unfortunately that $200 billion is only a partial bill, just the cost to the IMF, for this crisis.

Goldman Sachs says that Greece alone will need a total of $200 billion from all parties over the next three years.

Barclay’s Capital economist Piero Ghezzi told the Times he puts the numbers at $120 billion for Greece, $53 billion for Portugal, and (ready?) $460 billion for Spain.

Think German taxpayers are angry now? Just wait until they figure out that the billions that they’re being asked to pony up to bail out Greece in the current $60 billion plan is just a down payment.

As far as the financial markets are concerned, it doesn't really matter whether these estimates of the cost of a bailout are right. The markets are looking at these numbers, taking them with a grain or three or salt, and then asking the big question: Does the European Union have the will to end this crisis even if total costs are only 50% (or 40% or 30%) of these projections? Even 30% of the Barclays estimate is more than $200 billion--more than 3 times the size of the proposed Greek bailout plan.

 I don’t think the European Union governments are going to be able to take the popular anger and put together bailout packages of this dimension. The European Union is going to have to swallow its collective pride and let the IMF lead the package and take the heat. It’s what everybody does because it gives governments political cover so they can make the hard decisions. Eventually the European Union is going to have to agree to let the IMF run the bailout show.

The real danger now is that European Union governments will debate that step for so long that the financial markets will simply stop lending to Greece, Portugal, and Spain in a vote of no confidence in the politics of Europe.
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