Greece is running out of cash

Greece narrowly avoided default this week, transferring a €750m repayment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) just before Tuesday’s deadline. However, Greece only mustered the money by tapping an emergency cash reserve provided by the IMF itself. This is designed for short-term liquidity emergencies at central banks, not for national debt repayments, and no country is thought to have tapped its IMF reserve since it was set up in 1969.

Finance minster Yanis Varoufakis suggested Greece might run out of money in two weeks, and there is no sign of a breakthrough in talks with creditors. The European Union and the IMF will only release the final €7.2bn of bailout funds if Greece agrees to reforms to bolster long-term growth and tax collection.

What the commentators said

Greece said it intends to put the IMF money back into that account at some point in the future, noted economist.com. But don’t hold your breath. Without the extra €650m the government took from the account, public-sector workers would have missed a salary payment this week. Another €650m is needed for salaries and pensions at the month-end.

This long stand off with creditors means that Greece hasn’t received any aid money for a year now. So Greece is desperately scraping the barrel. Local authorities, hospitals and universities have been told to transfer reserves to a central bank fund and the finance ministry is delaying payments to the government’s suppliers. All this could be enough to last through May, but according to a finance ministry official “it is not a sure bet”.

In the meantime, an “intriguing subplot” has developed, said Nils Pratley in The Guardian. Greece has warned that it could order a referendum if it can’t secure an agreement. In 2011/2012, European policymakers reckoned that asking the people was “far too dangerous”. But now it seems Berlin thinks it has a winning hand either way.

If Greeks voted to stay in the euro, they would also have to accept a tough reform programme, and Germany could “claim democratic legitimacy” for it. If they leave, at least there would be an end to the protracted drama. “Germany is perhaps being optimistic in believing the market fallout from Grexit would be minimal.” But European policymakers believe that they have done enough in the past three years to avert contagion and market panic if Greece really does leave. So “they are happy to take their chances”.