Hung parliaments, the Greek debt and a mounting deficit

Posted on: 10 May 2010 by Mark O'haire

The hung parliament should have little or no impact on the markets yet the volatility makers have made sure it has.

For most, this is too hard to read let alone study and understand. To the volatility makers (hedge fund managers et al) it's a dream.

A flat market is no good to them, but uncertainty and madness creates emotional choices which creates the 'turn' for them to make multiple gains on the way up or down.

Easy money. And so we will have a hung parliament and the potential for another election within a year, whilst the debt in Europe carries on regardless.

The hung parliament should have little or no impact on the markets yet the volatility makers have made sure it has. We might call that a buying opportunity.

The press have been all over me for most of the morning asking about the impact of the hung parliament and my response was, who cares. The hung parliament is not causing the volatility, it is the state of the European economies and their ability to repay debt that is causing the issue.

On 7 May the Dow Jones was one of the largest fallers. Explain how their industrial average would have been impacted by the three musketeers having to go back into a room and 'do a deal'.

It is frankly irrelevant. The only way the UK markets will respond badly is if the leaders put themselves and their parties interests ahead of the electorate. They will have learned from the expenses fiasco that is inappropriate and doesn't win you votes as a few exiting MP's have found to their cost.

They will know that a mounting deficit should be the focus. If they decide to put any of their personal interests ahead of that it will be the last time they will gain a vote. Let's remember that within the next year you might expect another election, so current behaviour will be well monitored.

The worrying bit is the Greek/European debt. Some may brush Greece aside and think, how can that affect anything. Let's consider some numbers for you. The web of debt is fascinating.

No-one will want Greece to go pear shaped. Everyone owes everyone else, lots of money and no-one will want the shaky block to be pulled out of the Jenga pile.

Consider the European debt situation but in particular Greece's situation. This really will sound like an episode of Soap but I am willing to try it.

As of December 2009, Greece owed $236 billion. That's a lot by the way. Of that, Britain is owed $15bn, Germany three times as much at $45bn, and France a massive $75bn. That's not an easy debt to write off when you are in a big deficit yourself.

The web gets much more messy. Greece owes Ireland $8.5bn and Ireland owes them $0.8bn. It also owes Italy $6.9bn. However Italy owes Ireland a colossal $46bn and it owes Spain $47bn, although Spain does owe it $31bn back.

Confused, you will be, so hang on. Italy owes France $511bn (or near 20% of the French gross domestic product - its economy).

Spain owes Ireland $30bn, France $220bn and the UK $114bn. And so it goes on and on with each country owing each other lots of money.

So if one were to go pop, its really bad reading on your own bank account. Whilst an economy might weaken and its currency with it, the devaluation of that currency can lead to a country having to pay much more for its debt and that is fine, unless the country cannot pay it back at all.

Now whilst the UK is very well known for being in debt, its worth pointing out that the web of debt owed to the UK from Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece totals $418bn.

Try explaining that to the other half if it isn't paid back. But I am sure they will sort it all out, because, well, they are clever.

By Peter McGahan

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Peter McGahanPeter McGahan is an Independent Financial Adviser and Managing Director of Worldwide Financial Planning. Worldwide has won 16 Financial Times awards in the last four years. Peter has also been named the top media IFA of the year by in 2009.

Peter comments regularly in major journals such as the Mail on Sunday, Irish News and Sunday Times and is a weekly columnist for FT Adviser. He has also appeared on Working Lunch and the Today programme. In addition he is an expert on international tax matters for a range of international publications.

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