Time to get real?

Spain’s plans to revive Bankia with state money and sort out its regions’ finances have well and truly unnerved the markets. It seems that Plan A — to inject state bonds straight into the stricken bank so that it could offer them to the ECB as collateral in return for cash — was roundly rejectd by the European Central Bank, so Madrid rapidly produced a second plan which will involve the government raising yet more money on the bond market, not helpful to its drive to cut debt.

That leaves the impression that Spain is making up policy on the hoof, not something likely to endear it to the markets. That’s particularly unfortunate since it has actually done an awful lot on the austerity and structural reform front over the past two years. But not enough.

It’s not all one-way traffic. Madrid is pressing its insistence that the ECB should be the institution to deliver a decisive message to the markets that the euro is here to stay – presumably by reviving its bond-buying programme (highly unlikely at this stage).

Spain’s big plus was that it had issued well over half its 2012 debt needs in the first five months of the year but with some of the Bankia recapitalization set to fall on the state and its indebted regions having to refinance far, far more debt than had been anticipated that advantage has been eroded. The government is set to impose a new mechanism on Friday to provide funds to the regions with strict strings attached.

For the next couple of month things aren’t too acute but the country faces hefty refunding humps in August and October which could prove difficult. It will want borrowing costs to be significantly lower by then which will require measures to foster investor confidence.

Euro zone ying and yang

The ying.
Sources told us last night that Spain may recapitalize stricken Bankia with government bonds in return for shares in the bank. That would presumably involve an up-front hit for Spain’s public finances (it is already striving to lop about 6 percentage points off its budget deficit in two years) which might be recouped at some point if the shares don’t disappear through the floor.
The ECB’s view of this will be crucial since the plan seems to involve the bank depositing the new bonds with the ECB as collateral in return for cash. If it cries foul, where would that leave Madrid?

Spain’s main advantage up to now – that it had issued well over half the debt it needs to this year – may already have evaporated after the government revealed that the publicly stated figure for maturing debt of the autonomous regions of 8 billion euros for this year is in fact more like 36 billion. Catalonia said late last week that it needed central government help to refinance its debt.  If more bonds are required to cover some or all of Bankia’s 19 billion euros bailout, Spain’s funding challenge in the second half of the year starts to look very daunting indeed.

The yang.
Latest Greek opinion polls, five of them, show the pro-bailout New Democracy have regained the lead ahead of June 17 elections although their advantage is a very slender one. If the party manages to hold first place, and secures the 50 parliamentary seat bonus that comes with it, then it looks like it would have the numbers to form a government with socialist PASOK which would keep the bailout programme on the road … for a while.

Not for the faint-hearted

With Spain’s banking system looking ever more parlous and the Damoclean Sword of Greek elections hanging over the financial markets, next week is not going to be for the faint-hearted.

Stock markets have endured another volatile week, rising early on before falling sharply just before the EU summit, then rising the day after – all this when very little changed on the euro zone landscape. Increasingly, the downward moves are sharper than the upward ones and there is little prospect of things settling before the June 17 Greek elections. It seems everyone is so nervous that if they are sitting on a day of gains, they cash them in double-quick.

Page one of the crisis management manual says get all the bad news out quickly. The handling of troubled Spanish lender Bankia has been an abject failure in that respect. First, the government said it would require about 9 billion euros to shore up, a few days on they are looking at 20 billion. One proposal doing the rounds is to create one nationalized bank out of a number of failed lenders. The big question, to borrow heavily from Louis XV, is: Apres Bankia la deluge?

More Greek elections?

Attempts to form a Greek coalition government appear to be running into the sand with no one prepared to dance with the two mainstream parties, New Democracy and PASOK, raising the probability of a fresh round of elections with all the uncertainty that will entail. The far-left Socialist Coalition will have a stab at forming an administration today but doesn’t really have the numbers to do it.

The only plan that looks like it offers a glimmer of hope is that put forward by PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos. He is after a “pro-European” coalition and has pledged to spread the cuts Greece has been ordered to make under its bailout programme over three years not two. If a burst of realpolitik every takes hold in Athens (and it’s worth noting that nearly all the parties say they want to stay in the euro), that could just be enough to get others on board. BUT, Venizelos would then have to go to Brussels to persuade the EU to go along with this relaxation of its targets and, on and off the record, officials lined up yesterday to say there was no prospect of that happening.
And his PASOK was the party that was most badly humiliated at Sunday’s election so it’s hard to see how it has a mandate to rule the Greeks, a majority of whom voted firmly against austerity, even it is in a broad coalition.

So new elections next month are likely which leaves a very compressed timeframe and who knows what political landscape will result second time around. The EU/IMF/ECB troika is supposed to return in June and can’t negotiate on the next bailout tranche if there is no government. In any case, Athens is supposed to find 11 billion euros of extra cuts as part of the aid programme and none of the parties are in a position to do that as things stand.