EU Pushes Coordinated Bank Aid

Merkel says European rescue fund should only be used as last resort.

The European Commission is pushing for a coordinated capital injection for banks to shield them from the fallout of a potential Greek default as Germany urges each country to prepare its own blueprint.

The commission, the European Union’s executive arm, is “now proposing to the member states to have a coordinated action to recapitalize banks and so to get rid of toxic assets that they may have,” President Jose Barroso said today in a video question-and-answer session. He didn’t give more details.

Financial shares continued their advance after German Chancellor Angela Merkel fed speculation that euro policy makers are working on plans to boost bank capital. During a visit to Brussels yesterday, Merkel made her most explicit comments yet on banks’ role in fighting the crisis, saying that the European rescue fund should only be relied upon as a last resort.

“If a country cannot do it using its own resources and the stability of the euro as a whole is put at risk because the country has difficulties, then there’s the possibility of using the EFSF,” the European Financial Stability Facility, she said. Using the EFSF rescue fund is “always tied to a certain conditionality.”

Merkel is due to hold talks from 3 p.m. in Berlin with International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, World Bank president Robert Zoellick and Angel Gurria of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development among others. European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet is due to join the talks after chairing his last rate-setting meeting. The finance ministers of Brazil, Mexico and France will also take part.

French Report
France’s Le Figaro newspaper reported today that the French government is working on a contingency plan to take stakes in the country’s lenders. A government official rejected the report as false, without further explanation.

“Time is running out” to establish if recapitalization is necessary, Merkel told reporters in Brussels. She said she backs recapitalizing European banks “if there is a joint assessment that the banks aren’t adequately capitalized” and finance officials develop “uniform criteria.” Germany is ready to discuss possible bank aid at this month’s EU summit, she said.

Signals that European politicians may step up efforts to aid banks and push investors to accept bigger losses as part of a Greek bailout reflect international pressure to end the debt crisis and domestic opposition to expanding rescues. Moody’s Investors Service followed its three-level downgrade of Italy on Oct. 4 by warning that euro-area nations rated below the top Aaa level may see their rankings cut.

Greek ‘Adjustment’
Merkel also said that “if needed, there will be an adjustment” in investors’ share of a 159 billion-euro ($212 billion) second aid package for Greece, pending a report by international auditors on Greece’s finances due before a meeting of European finance ministers next month.

France’s Natixis and BNP Parisbas SA were among the biggest gainers on the 46-member Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index, which added 2.5 percent after yesterday’s 4.8 percent advance. Natixis climbed as much as 10.2 percent, while Paribas was up as much as 7.2 percent.

European banks may need more than 140 billion euros of capital through a program similar to the U.S. Troubled Asset Relief Program, Morgan Stanley analysts say.

“Policy makers increasingly want to build a large solvency buffer,” the analysts led by Huw van Steenis said in a note. “We think banks in core Europe need to be recession proofed and banks in the periphery depression proofed.”

EU officials are working on plans to boost bank capital to contain the debt crisis, the IMF said yesterday.

“There is no secret at all that European authorities and the European Commission are all working together on a plan to bring more official capital, more public-sector capital, into the banking sector,” Antonio Borges, the IMF’s European department head, said yesterday in Brussels. “We would recommend that it move to a European approach,” he said. “More should be done on a cross-border basis.”



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