Jun 07 2012

The European Version of Too Big To Fail

Europe weighs up limited Spanish rescue

By Peter Spiegel in Brussels, Victor Mallet in Madrid and Ralph Atkins in Frankfurt

European officials are weighing up a bailout programme for Spain that would aid its fragile domestic banking sector while imposing only “very limited conditionality” on Madrid, a concession that could make a reluctant Spanish government more willing to accept international assistance.

Unlike earlier bailouts for Greece, Portugal and Ireland, the proposed Spanish rescue would require few austerity measures beyond reforms already agreed with the EU and could even dispense with the close monitoring by international lenders that has proved contentious in Athens and Dublin, according to people familiar with the plans.

EU support would instead be contingent on increased external oversight and accelerated restructuring of the Spanish financial sector to address lingering concerns about political interference and cronyism in the cajas, the regional savings banks that loaded up on questionable real estate loans during the housing bubble.

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, added to the pressure building on EU and Spanish officials on Wednesday, after he left interest rates unchanged and put the onus to solve the eurozone debt crisis squarely on the continent’s politicians. While saying the ECB stood “ready to act”, Mr Draghi insisted that most of the problems befalling the eurozone have “nothing to do with monetary policy”.

Spain Holds a Trump Card in Bank Bailout Negotiations

by Nicholas Kulish and Raphael Minder

The question has seemingly become one of when, and not if, Spain’s banks will receive assistance from European countries, with investors on Wednesday predicting an imminent rescue and pushing up stocks and bonds on both sides of the Atlantic.

Spain, the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy, is too big to fail and possibly too big to steamroll, changing the balance of power in negotiations over a bailout. Political leaders in Madrid are insisting that emergency aid to their banks avoid the stigma in capital markets that has hobbled countries like Greece, Portugal and Ireland after accepting tough rescue terms. They are also fighting to slow the pace of austerity and economic change that have pushed those smaller countries into deeper recessions.

Spain has the added advantage of seeking help in a changed political environment in which calls for growth have begun to outweigh German insistence on austerity. Unlike Greece, Spain’s government did not run large budget deficits before the crisis, giving it leverage to argue that European aid to its banks should not come weighed down with a politically delicate loss of decision-making power over its own economic and fiscal policies.

Yves Smith take on what to do about the teetering European Banks:

Although markets reacted as if a deal was imminent, the FT makes it sound as if quite a few details need to be ironed out. And no wonder: the ECB, the one institution that could act unilaterally, has indicated it will only play a limited role and is leery of making long-term loans to Spanish banks or buying their debt. In addition, Spain appears to be taking an unwise posture, of asking for as little money for its banks as it thinks it will need. Rumors from Spanish officials come in at €40 billion, while European officials are looking at numbers more than twice that large. The big rule of fundraising is always raise a good bit more than you think you need in the first round; it will be vastly more expensive if you need to come to the well later.

Given that the shape of a Spanish bank rescue is very much in play, posts by European experts may well influence the outcome. While some of these recommendations might sound like the banking versions of apple pie and motherhood, it’s important to recognize that few of these basic principles have been adopted in recent bailout programs.

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