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defaulting on debt

As Greek Debt Default Nears, Investors Need to Take Cover

At this point a Greek debt default is virtually unavoidable, and it could happen in a matter of weeks.

The ensuing chain reaction will upend markets around the world and will almost surely lead to more defaults among the European Union's (EU) other debt-plagued nations, collectively known as the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).

The bond markets have already passed sentence, with the yield on two-year Greek bonds spiking to an astronomical 76% yesterday (Tuesday). Yields on 10-year Greek bonds rose to 24%.

By comparison, the 10-year bond yields of another PIIGS nation, Italy, rose to 5.74%. Meanwhile, bond yields for the EU's strongest economy, Germany, have dropped below 2%.

The credit default swap (CDS) markets, where investors can insure their bond purchases against default, agree with the bond markets' verdict. As of Monday it cost $5.8 million and $100,000 annually to insure $10 million worth of Greek debt for five years, which means the CDS market now considers default a 98% probability.

Most European stock markets have been hammered over the past several weeks, with some dropping as much as 25%.

"Default is inevitable," said Money Morning Global Investment Strategist Martin Hutchinson. "Greeks are paid about twice as much as they should be, and that gap can't be solved by austerity."

How Soon is Now

In recent weeks Germany has shown more reluctance to dig deeper into its own pockets to bail out Greece and the other PIIGS. At the same time, Greece has struggled to implement the austerity measures that are required if it is to continue receiving aid from the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Greece's budget deficit has increased 22% this year, while its economy is projected to shrink more than 5%.

Every new development appears to bring Greece closer to the brink of default - and some see that happening in the very near future.

"My guess is there will be a Greek debt default by the end of this fiscal quarter - yeah, that means very soon," said Money Morning Capital Waves Strategist Shah Gilani.

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Don't Look Now but the National Debt Could be $23 Trillion by 2021

There was a lot of back-patting in Washington this week after U.S. President Barack Obama signed a debt-ceiling deal that he and members of Congress claim will reduce the national debt.

But here's the truth: This deal does nothing to reduce America's debt burden. In fact, the $14 trillion we owe now could every easily exceed $23 trillion by 2021.

That's a 62% increase.

It only takes a little bit of number crunching to see what I mean.

The deal brokered by Congress cuts spending by just $917 billion over a 10-year period, with a special congressional committee assigned to find another $1.5 trillion in deficit savings by late November.

Even if you round up, that $2.5 trillion in "savings" over a 10-year period is inconsequential when you consider that President Obama added nearly $4 trillion to the national debt in just a few short years in office.

How can you make any progress on the debt front when you're adding $4 billion in new liabilities every day?

And the story is even worse than that: According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), even the $2.5 trillion the government claims to be saving is quickly vaporized by inflation and lost economic output.

CBO: Contrary to Barack Obama

The CBO in January estimated that a 0.1% reduction in growth rates would increase the deficit by $310 billion over the next 10 years, while a 1% increase in inflation rate would increase the deficit by $867 billion.

The CBO projects the average growth rate from 2011 to 2016 will be 3.25%, and the non-partisan group has the average rate of inflation pegged at 1.55% over that same period.

However, growth in the first half of 2011was 0.8% and the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) inflation index - the type of inflation the CBO looks at - was 3.5%.

So let's do the math.

If growth and inflation statistics magically revert to CBO expectations - which would be a long shot considering how much they're already off - then the budget deficit over the next 10 years would rise by $928 billion. That alone is more than enough to wipe out the $917 billion of initial savings in the debt-ceiling bill.

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