A Greek accountant despairs

How bad is the economic mess in Greece? Just ask Dimitris Skiadas, a despairing Athens accountant who is struggling to keep his clients' finances in some kind of order in a fifth year of recession.

Added to the eurozone laggard's many economic woes, Skiadas said that the trust needed to do business has gone up in smoke since the debt crisis began in 2009 and spread across Europe.

Foreign suppliers are asking to be paid in cash, a system of post-dated cheques used to settle accounts between companies is imploding and talk about a possible exit from the euro is putting a lot of business on hold.

"It's a disaster!" said Skiadas, as he fielded calls in his office in Athens.

Most of his clients are small businesses worried about the prospects for the economy, with many on the verge of bankruptcy.

His work now more involves legal trouble and calling up clients to get paid.

"Even small projects are cut down or blocked because everybody is expecting a devaluation" after a possible future euro exit, said Skiadas, who also works for foreign energy and retail firms.

Elections on June 17 eased fears of an immediate exit for Greece but experts are warning that the prospect is still on the cards if the debt-mired country fails or refuses to meet economic targets set by its EU-IMF creditors.

That will partly depend on the assessment of auditors from the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund arriving Monday.

The crisis, he said, has created a vicious circle in which the austerity measures aimed at ultimately aiding the economy are in fact blocking activity.

"Starting in 2009, salaries were cut in the public sector. Consumption went down. Then retail businesses started firing people and lowering wages.

"Consumption went down further. Then in the next circle, suppliers for the retail sector were hurt too," he said.

The IMF says the Greek economy had contracted almost 14 percent by the end of 2011 from when the global financial crisis began and nearly a quarter of the workforce is idle, with that figure rising to more than half for young people.

Public debt was 161.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) last year.

Regardless of the landmark elections, which brought a conservative-led coalition to power, many young Greeks have been voting with their feet and emigrating or trying to get an education abroad.

Skiadas sees the effects of this devastating recession on the ground, with the trouble that companies have looking for credit.

One of his oldest clients is a company in Athens that makes labels for clothes -- a family-owned business set up in 1932.

The owner wants to use the land his factory is on as collateral for a loan.

"It was priced 1.3 million euros ($1.6 million) in 2009 and he just got an offer for 700,000. He was lucky he only needed a small bank loan," he said.

The company had 17 employees in 2009, now it only has five.

But the biggest trouble for Skiadas is the breakdown of trust, which makes Greeks wary of doing business with each other and keeps away foreign firms.

"There is no trust any more. Even small projects are blocked," he said.

"Everybody is suing everybody to get their money back," he said, adding: "Foreign companies are asking to be paid in cash with the order not on delivery as before. Nobody trusts Greek companies any more."

Skiadas said that a system of post-dated cheques as guarantees with banks is "a bubble that has already exploded."

In 2009, the average period between a transaction and the settling of the account was around four or five months.

"Now, the delay is 10-11 months" -- and many cheques bounce, he said.

"It's a problem because we were buying the future."

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