Saturday, 19 May 2012

Crisis of Confidence: Fears of Bank Runs Mount in Southern Europe

SPIEGEL ONLINE INTERNATIONAL: Following the downgrade of 16 Spanish banks by Moody's, the focus in the euro crisis is back on the banking sector. Greeks are withdrawing hundreds of millions from their accounts, with reports that the same is happening in Spain. Experts are calling on the European Central Bank to step in and prevent full-scale bank runs.

The final wake-up call came from Moody's. On Thursday evening, the US rating agency downgraded 16 Spanish banks in one fell swoop, some of them by three notches. On Monday, the agency had already downgraded 26 Italian banks -- including major institutions such as UniCredit and Intesa Sanpaolo. The outlook for all the institutions involved is negative, Moody's said.

These are drastic steps, but they are hardly excessive. The European sovereign debt crisis long ago also became a banking crisis. The fate of the affected countries can not be separated from that of their financial institutions: If a state goes bankrupt, its banks too will struggle to survive. On the other hand, the examples of Ireland and Spain show that a shaky banking system can quickly overwhelm national budgets.

Moody's justified its downgrades of Spanish banks with the argument that the ability of the government to support individual banks has worsened. On Friday, the Spanish central bank was also forced to admit that the proportion of bad loans on the books of Spanish banks has risen to an 18-year high. According to the central bank, the share of bad loans rose in March to 8.36 percent, compared to 8.15 percent in the previous month. » | Stefan Kaiser | Friday, May 18, 2012