Greek debt drama in final act
There will be no Houdini like escape for the Greeks this time. The EU has established a cut off point of February 15 where all deals involving the government's austerity program, it's negotiations with bond holders, and the political tug of war must all be resolved or the bailout won't be forthcoming and a March 20 deadline for a debt repayment of $18 billion will be missed sending Greece into a messy default.
Tortuous negotiations over a second bailout for Greece are set to come to a head on Wednesday, putting fragile market confidence to the test on the same day data is tipped to show the euro zone is entering a mild recession.
U.S. retail sales and the release of minutes from the last Federal Reserve rate-setting meeting, data on UK inflation and unemployment, more corporate earnings and a Bank of Japan policy meeting also stand on the market's radar.
But it is Greece and a March 20 deadline, when the country must find 14 billion euros ($18.6 billion) to meet debt repayments or face the prospect of a chaotic default, that will hold the market's attention.
Euro zone officials have said February 15 marks a cutoff points for agreement on a new bailout deal, without which Greece will have no funds to cover the March repayments.
"We have a very stretched timetable, so if there's no agreement on Wednesday any Greek deal would be in dangerous territory," Thomas Costerg, European Economist at Standard Chartered Bank said.
"Although a disorderly default is not our central scenario, risks are definitely rising and we think this would have huge consequences potentially on confidence, on financial markets and on the banking system."
What will happen then? Besides the US and world stock exchanges falling like a rock, there may be several European banks that will need a massive bailout from the European Central Bank. As long as the contagion remains localized with Greece, the crisis will be manageable.
But the worst case scenario of a series of defaults by several countries, including Portugal, Ireland, and perhaps Spain or Italy would crash the financial system and could lead to a depression. This prospect has a way of focusing the minds of Greece and her creditors which may mean that a deal will come together at the last minute that will satisfy the EU and the release of the $160 billion in bailout monies will be forthcoming.