For investors everywhere, the stand-off between debt-laden Greece and its international lenders has been fast-paced and difficult to keep up with and speculation about possible outcomes has been intense. While no-one knows the eventual outcome, this is a story has been percolating now for six years, since Greece’s credit rating was downgraded by three leading agencies amid fears the government would default on its debt.
Since then, the Greek situation has faded in and out of public attention as rescue packages came and went and as widespread social and political unrest gripped a nation known as the birthplace of democracy.
Despite the blanket media coverage of Greece, this is a tiny economy, ranking 51st in the world by GDP in purchasing power parity terms (which takes into account the relative cost of local goods).
On this measure, Greece is a smaller economy than Qatar, Peru or Kazakhstan, none of which currently feature prominently in world news pages. Its economy is about half the size of Ohio in the USA or New South Wales in Australia and about a tenth of the size of the UK. Even within Europe, it is tiny, representing only about 2% of the GDP of the 19-nation Euro Zone.
While its total debt is large in nominal terms and relative to its GDP at about 180%, this still represents only about a quarter of 1% of world debt markets.
What worries investors is the wider ramification of the debt crisis for Greece’s European bank lenders, for the future of the single European currency and for the global financial system.
Many of these concerns are already reflected in market prices, such as in Greek government bonds, the spreads of peripheral Euro Zone bonds, regional equity markets and the single European currency itself.
The human misery and dislocation suffered by the Greek people through this crisis should not be downplayed and neither should the financial risks.
For the individual investor, the best approach remains diversifying across many countries and asset classes, remaining focused on your own goals and listening to your financial broker.