Greece is at the center of the sovereign debt crisis that is worrying many investors and increasing the volatility of stock markets across the world. This is not a new phenomenon for that country, which has defaulted on its external debt many times since achieving independence at the beginning of the 19th century. Here are some facts that all investors should know about the history of Greek sovereign debt defaults.

TUTORIAL: Bond Basics: Characteristics

Ancient Default
The first recorded default in Greek history occurred in the fourth century B.C., when 13 Greek city states borrowed funds from the Temple of Delos. Most of the borrowers never made good on the loans and the temple took an 80% loss on its principal.

Five Times
Greece has defaulted on its external sovereign debt obligations at least five previous times in the modern era (1826, 1843, 1860, 1894 and 1932). The first episode occurred in the early days of that country's war of independence, and the last default was during the Great Depression in the early 1930s. The combined length of period under which Greece was in default during the modern era totaled 90 years, or approximately 50% of the total period that the country has been independent. (For related reading, see Recession and Depression: They Aren't So Bad.)

Although many might consider this level of default to be excessive, Greece is nowhere even close to the top of the list. Venezuela and Ecuador, with 10 defaults each, share the (dis)honor of being the greatest serial defaulters of the modern era.

Greek War of Independence
The Greek War of Independence began in 1821 and targeted the end of Ottoman authority, which had ruled most of that region for centuries. In 1824, a loan of 472,000 pounds was secured on the London Stock Exchange to continue this fight. This offering was oversubscribed and buyers were required to put down only 10% of the purchase price with a promise to pay the balance over time. An additional loan of 1.1 million pounds was floated in 1825.

The unfortunate fact about these two loans was that speculators and middlemen in London skimmed off much of the proceeds before Greece received any funds. Another issue was that the Greek War of Independence soon descended into civil war between rival factions, making it difficult to even figure out who should receive these funds.

No interest payments were ever made to the bondholders on these two loans, and the value of the paper eventually plummeted to a fraction of the par value. It wasn't until 1878 that the Greek government settled on the loans, which by then with accrued interest had increased to over 10 million pounds.

Loan of 1832
In 1832, another loan totaling 60 million drachmas was given to Greece, which was officially an independent sovereign nation. The loan was arranged by the French, Russian and British governments, and was ostensibly given to help Greece build its economy and manage the initial stages of governance.

The funds were mostly squandered on the maintenance of a military and the upkeep of Otto, a Bavarian prince that was made King of Greece by the English. Greece managed to stay current on this loan until 1843, at which time the government stopped payments.

The Interregnum
After this default, Greece was shut out of international capital markets for decades. During this interregnum, the government became dependent on the National Bank of Greece for borrowing. The government's needs were modest at first but soon escalated and the National Bank of Greece provided funds at interest rates that were twice the international lending rate. (For related reading, see Get To Know The Major Central Banks.)

1893 Default
After the Greek government settled outstanding defaults in 1878, the global capital markets opened once again to Greece and, as you might expect, lenders were only too eager to provide funds. This borrowing increased to unsustainable levels and the government suspended payments on external debt in 1893.

In 1898, foreign pressure led Greece to accept the creation of the International Committee for Greek Debt Management. This committee monitored the country's economic policy as well as the tax collection and management systems of Greece.

1932 Default
In the early 1930s, many countries defaulted on sovereign debt obligations as the world economy contracted and entered what became known as the Great Depression. Greece imposed a moratorium on paying on its outstanding foreign debt in 1932. This default lasted until 1964, the longest of any of the country's five defaults. One interesting historical anecdote is that Eleftherios Venizelos was the Greek Prime Minster that defaulted on Greece's sovereign debt in 1932.

Evangelos Venizelos, the current Greek Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, is at the center of current crisis and heavily involved with negotiations with the European Union. The two are not related, however, and there is even unsubstantiated speculation that he changed his name to Venizelos to gain political advantage. (For related reading, see The Italian Crisis.)

The Bottom Line
The history of the Greek financial system is not encouraging to those investors that are hoping that this country avoids defaulting on its sovereign debt obligations. Some may take comfort in knowing that while previous defaults were dislocating to the market, the global financial system did not suffer any long term damage because of these events.

Related Articles
  1. Economics

    The History of Stock Exchanges

    Stock exchanges began with countries who sailed east in the 1600s, braving pirates and bad weather to find goods they could trade back home.
  2. Stock Analysis

    6 Risks International Stocks Face in 2016

    Learn about risk factors that can influence your investment in foreign stocks and funds, and what regions are more at-risk than others.
  3. Economics

    3 Economic Challenges France Faces in 2016

    Learn about the three most significant economic challenges facing France in 2016. How will France implement reforms to improve its GDP and reduce unemployment?
  4. Retirement

    3 Reasons Why This Is the Perfect Time To Visit Greece

    Discover three reasons why now is the best time to visit Greece, including the favorable exchange rate and the country's unrivaled hospitality.
  5. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    3 ETF Strategies for Growth in Europe for 2016 (FXEU, DFE)

    Learn about the outlook for European economies and how European equities could be poised for a more prosperous 2016 than U.S. equities.
  6. Economics

    The Marshall Plan and the Revitalization of Post War Europe

    The Marshall Plan helped revive the economies of Western Europe after WWII largely by reforms that created greater economic cooperation in the region.
  7. Economics

    3 Economic Challenges Poland Faces in 2016

    Learn how Poland's economy faces many challenges entering 2016, mainly due to uncertainties surrounding the European Union and a change in its political regime.
  8. Economics

    What is UCITS?

    Essentially, UCITS are investment funds regulated by the European Union.
  9. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The Top 5 ETFs to Track the Euro Stoxx 50 for 2016 (FEZ, HFEZ)

    Learn about a handful of the world's top ETFs designed to provide exposure to large-cap eurozone equities through the EURO STOXX 50 Index.
  10. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The Top 5 ETFs to Track the FTSE X0 for 2016 (UK)

    Read about some of the best ETFs offering exposure to mid- and large-cap companies in the United Kingdom, and decide whether they match your investment needs.
RELATED FAQS
  1. Is Greece a developed country?

    Greece is a developed country by most meaningful metrics. However, its financial struggles have been well documented in the ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How will a value added tax impact the government budget?

    In 1992, the Congressional Budget Office conducted an economic study on value-added tax, or VAT. At the time, the CBO concluded ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. How do I evaluate a debt security?

    Debt securities are a form of loan from an investor to the government or a business. Among the many different types of debt ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What austerity measures can a country implement to curtail government spending?

    Broadly speaking, there are three types of austerity measures. The first is focused on revenue generation (higher taxes), ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of listing on the Nasdaq versus other stock ...

    The primary advantages for a company of listing on the Nasdaq exchange are lower listing fees and lower minimum requirements ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Why have austerity policies failed to stabilize Greece's economy?

    Austerity policies are intended to reduce government debt and bring stability to that nation's economy. Austerity's effectiveness ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Presidential Election Cycle (Theory)

    A theory developed by Yale Hirsch that states that U.S. stock markets are weakest in the year following the election of a ...
  2. Super Bowl Indicator

    An indicator based on the belief that a Super Bowl win for a team from the old AFL (AFC division) foretells a decline in ...
  3. Flight To Quality

    The action of investors moving their capital away from riskier investments to the safest possible investment vehicles. This ...
  4. Discouraged Worker

    A person who is eligible for employment and is able to work, but is currently unemployed and has not attempted to find employment ...
  5. Ponzimonium

    After Bernard Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme was revealed, many new (smaller-scale) Ponzi schemers became exposed. Ponzimonium ...
  6. Quarterly Earnings Report

    A quarterly filing made by public companies to report their performance. Included in earnings reports are items such as net ...
Trading Center