Athens.- By Vassilis Panagiotou/ANA
The non-profit and strictly non-political and non-governmental organisation ‘Greece Debt Free (GDF)’ set up by ship owner Peter Nomikos to help relieve Greece’s debt burden – taking advantage of the very low prices for which Greek bonds are currently trading – has already managed to buy 2.5 million euro of Greek debt during its first month in existence. In an interview given to AMNA on Friday, Nomikos outlined how the idea began and also how it works.
Nomikos created an electronic platform where private individuals and firms can make donations that are then used to buy Greek bonds trading on the market for prices ranging from 10-20 percent of their face value. Ultimately, GDF intends to write off the debt entirely, thus securing a benefit much greater than the amount of cash donated.
“Our proposal is simple. Anyone that wants to help Greece can donate one euro and GDF will buy and then write off with this one euro about eight euro of Greek debt,” he explained.
“If you communicate this message to anyone that loves Greece, things can truly change,” he added.
The interview with Nomikos was as follows:
Q: How did you get the idea of starting up this initiative?
N: “I started considering the idea of the GDP last year, in the midst of the Arab Spring movements. It was unbelievable how half a billion people can become motivated and lead to a democratic change via the social media (facebook, twitter, YouTube etc) in the Middle East. An entire nation was mobilised within a few weeks. GDF was designed to take advantage of these new means of networking and communication. Via GDF anyone can now help Greece, with trust and transparency. It is a tool for everyone.”
Q: The base of your organisation is in the United States. Why the U.S. and not Greece?
N: “In Greece I could not be sure that the money would remain ‘untouched’, I didn’t know what would happen if some law changed or if the political situation in the country changed suddenly. Then the donations would not be safe. Our organisation must remain separate from these things and politics. Therefore, the GDF had to have its base operating under the legal status of U.S. charitable foundations so that our donors can be sure that their donations will be used precisely for the purpose outlined in our web page.
The GDF, therefore, is under U.S. law for charitable foundations, which means that U.S. citizens donating money for the purposes of the foundation can deduct their donation from taxes. This is an incentive for expatriates in the U.S. This means that every donation originating in the U.S. can write off debt amounting to 11 or 12 times the amount of capital donated, instead of eight for non-U.S. donators. This is a unique option that does not exist in Greece.”
Q: For every euro donated, how much nominal debt is written off?
N: “As one can see on our web page, for every euro that someone donates to GDF, eight euro of Greek debt are bought by the GDF and later written off”.
Q: Why, do you believe, hasn’t the Greek state proceeded to make similar moves?
N: “I do not want to comment on the political movements of the Greek government. Comments on this are the job of the media. GDF is not a political organisation”.
Q: What do you do once you buy the bonds? Do you keep them or write them off at once?
N: “We buy them and then write them off later. If you write off a large amount of debt immediately, this would likely result in an increase in the price of the bonds. You must remember that the ‘cheaper’ Greeks buy their debt, the better. To cancel later is a standard practice in bond buyback programmes.
Q: Some in Greece question your statement that if every Greek donated 3,000 euro, you could collect 34 billion euro and buy the huge Greek debt of 284 billion euro. This is based on the assumption that bond prices will stay at 12 cents to the dollar, which is not correct. How do you deal with the problem of rising bond prices?
N: “We never said anything of the kind. Our Internet message refers to the bonds that are available now and can be bought at this time. We do not make any statement about the purchase of the whole debt and how much this would cost. For us at GDF, our primary goal is to reduce the debt to sustainable levels. If tomorrow morning the Greek government could get 34 billion euro from the IMF and spend this sum on buying back a part of the Greek debt, this would make us all glad and would be a major diplomatic success. Let us assume now that we Greeks collect 34 billion euro to buy back bonds, wouldn’t this be a huge success for the Greek nation? We would surely buy some back at the price of 12 cents on the dollar, some at 30, 40, 50 or even higher. The average purchase price, however, would be every low and in every case of bond buy back – whether state or company – the average price is the most important.”
Q: However, if these bonds are bought in bulk, their price will rise. How do you deal with this possibility?
N: “GDF collects all the donations and proceeds with coordinated purchases in a manner that we believe will not sufficiently affect the prices of bonds. If we asked each person to buy the bonds on their own and bring them to us, this would trigger an increase. We avoid this, simply asking for the money and carrying out the purchase of the bonds ourselves. If enough money is collected so that the purchase of bonds raises their prices, then we must look at the average purchase price. Because every price below their nominal value is money saved. But the lower the purchase price is, the better. Because if the crisis intensifies, the participation of every patriot will be greater since the same bonds will be bought with less money.”
Q: Do you believe that you will face reactions from Greek banks and pension funds, who are the main ‘owners’ of Greek debt?
N: “I believe that there should be no objections. This move is a gain for Greece and all Greeks must embrace it. The bond holders that are not selling will welcome every reason for a reduction of the debt toward generated GDP, since this will increase the value of the paper they hold.”
Q: From a practical point of view, what is the procedure that someone needs to follow in order to donate any sum and how confident can they feel that the money will be used correctly?
N: “Anyone can access our website from the Internet and make their donation via paypal or money order. Afterward we will buy the bonds. It is that simple. We soon hope to have a call centre ready that will be able to serve interested parties and receive donations over the phone. In this way we will try to buy the maximum possible amount of Greek debt at the lowest price. For example, if two bonds are trading, one at 12 cents to the dollar and the other at 13 cents to the dollar, we will choose the one selling at 12 cents and then write off 100 cents of debt.”
“In terms of reliability, one additional reason why I chose the U.S. to set up the GDF is that the U.S. legal framework for such companies ensures that the money donated to them is used strictly and solely for the purpose for which it is intended. I personally funded, at my own expense, the cost of legal protection, planning and creation of the website and, of course, the founding of GDF, and I continue to pay for the operating expenses. I did this so that the GDF is not burdened and all the money donated goes solely for the purpose for which it is intended. We are a mechanism, not just an organisation.”