Without the deal, which would reduce Greece's debt load by at least euro120 billion, the bonds held by banks, insurance companies and hedge funds would likely become worthless. Many of these investors also hold debt from other countries that use the euro, which could also lose value in the event of a full-fledged Greek default. This is the scenario analysts fear most and why they hope investors will voluntarily accept a partial loss on their Greek bonds.
The agreement taking shape is a key step before Greece can get a second, euro130 billion bailout from its European Union partners and the International Monetary Fund. Besides restructuring its debt with private investors, Greece must also take other steps before getting aid. It must cut its deficit and boost the competitiveness of its economy through layoffs of government employees and the sale of several state companies, among other moves.
Greece faces a euro14.5 billion bond repayment on March 20, which it cannot afford without additional help.
The country got its first bailout in May 2010 when the EU and the IMF signed off on a euro110 billion aid package, most of which has already been disbursed.
Private investors hold roughly two-thirds of Greece's debt, which has reached an unsustainable level — nearly 160 percent of the country's annual economic output. By restructuring the debt held by private investors, Greece and its EU partners are hoping to bring that ratio closer to 120 percent by the end of this decade. Without a deal, analysts forecast that ratio ballooning to 200 percent by the end of this year as the Greek economy falters.