‘incomprehension’: Europe Flummoxed By Us Government Shutdown

By Mark Thompson @MarkThompsonCNN October 3, 2013: 8:27 AM ET Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has stuck to the task of painful economic reforms. LONDON (CNNMoney) Investors are scouring Europe for ways to make money from its tentative recovery, and one U.S. firm thinks it has found the answer — buy Greek government bonds. Japonica Partners said it believed Greek debt was “massively undervalued” and should be rated several notches above the junk status assigned by the big credit rating agencies. Greece has been shut out of international bond markets since 2010, when its government borrowing spiraled out of control. It has been rescued twice by the European Union and International Monetary Fund and was forced to restructure its debt in March 2012, imposing losses of more than 100 billion euros on private bondholders. Related: Europe’s recovery is weak, warns ECB But hedge funds — such as Dan Loeb’s Third Point — and other niche investors who bought into Greek debt since the restructuring have made a killing. Yields on Greek 10-year debt in the secondary market have plunged from around 44% in March 2012 to 9%. Japonica’s statement was greeted with derision by some investors Thursday, but the firm that made its name restructuring bankrupt Allegheny International in the early 1990s believes it has spotted an opportunity others may have missed. It claims to have become one of the larger, if not the largest, holder of Greek government bonds, and has hired a former senior executive from Norway’s oil fund — one of the world’s biggest investors — to help manage the portfolio. Related: Investors embrace European stocks “Greece is one of history’s most extraordinary sovereign rejuvenations hidden in plain sight by pervasive systemic misperceptions,” Japonica said, adding it expected yields should break below 5% in 2014. It’s a bold prediction but Japonica may have a point. Greece’s headline economic data and social crisis remain as depressing as ever, and it may yet need another 10 billion euros in support. Still, the government is on track to deliver a primary budget surplus — stripping out the cost of servicing its massive debt this year — and hopes to return to the bond market in the first half of 2014.

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Europe is already worried that the US is pivoting to Asia, and what this would mean for European strategic interests…. [The shutdown] will also reinforce existing European anxieties about a more inward-looking, less activist US. The Obama administration has acknowledged the global impact of the shutdown. It does have an effect on our relationships around the world and it cuts straight to the obvious question: can you rely on the United States as a reliable partner to fulfill its commitments to its allies? Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said to reporters this week. It does cast a very significant pall over America’s credibility to our allies when this kind of thing happens. A loss of confidence in the US? While a long-term shutdown would impact the global economy and thus Europe, it doesn’t directly mar transatlantic policies, such as the trade agreement negotiations that are underway. But it is the expression of a deeper problem of failed checks and balances that will impact American ties with Europe, says Josef Braml, a transatlantic expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. If the superpower has no room to maneuver, it will have to shift burdens to foes and friends, he says, which will then create a wedge. “We already see it in security policy, Dr. Braml says, especially the waning US commitment to NATO and its focus on Asia. Europe and especially Germans have to think of how they take care of their own security . It’s not that Europe is a stranger to political crisis. Governments from Greece to Italy to Portugal have fallen since the start of the continent’s sovereign debt crisis. And as Europe has been clawing out of its recession, the US has pointed fingers at Brussels and Germany, which powers Europe, for focusing too much on austerity and not enough on growth. As a presidential candidate, Mitt Romney singled out Spain in presidential debates, saying he didn’t want to go down the path to Spain. But now Europe is on the other side, looking at the US as a political system it would not want to emulate. The French daily Le Monde on Tuesday ran the headline : Jefferson, Wake Up. They Have Become Fools! “It is incomprehension, says Arun Kapil, a political science professor at the Catholic University of Paris.