Europe’s Rescue Fund Is Only Last Resort: Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Europe’s rescue fund will only be used as a last resort to save banks and that investors may have to take deeper losses as part of a Greek rescue.

Merkel’s comments, her most explicit on banks’ role in fighting the debt crisis since the spillover from Greece began to threaten France and Italy, followed talks with European Commission President Jose Barroso in Brussels. Financial shares rose yesterday amid speculation that euro-area policy makers are working on plans to boost bank capital to contain the crisis.

“Time is running out” to establish if recapitalization is necessary, Merkel told reporters. Troubled banks need to first seek capital on their own and national governments will help if that’s not possible, she said.

“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 rescue fund is “always tied to a certain conditionality.”

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.

‘An Adjustment’

Merkel 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.

She said that she supports 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.

France’s Credit Agricole SA and Dexia SA led the 46-member Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index up as much as 4.8 percent yesterday. Credit Agricole climbed 9.9 percent to 5.17 euros at the close of Paris trading, while Dexia was up 1.3 percent to 1.02 euros.

Capital Needs

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 International Monetary Fund said.

“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.”

No ‘Concrete Plan’

EU spokesmen moved to damp speculation triggered by a Financial Times report late on Oct. 4 on progress toward a bank- recapitalization plan.

EU Economic and Monetary Commissioner Olli Rehn “doesn’t speak of a concrete plan in hand,” his spokesman, Amadeu Altafaj, said. “He speaks of an initiative, of discussions in progress and he pleads for a European approach.”

The speculation about efforts to support banks followed a finance ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg in which officials signalled their intent to prod investors to cover more of the cost of bailing out Greece. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that Germany’s Soffin bank-rescue fund, set up in October 2008 during the financial crisis, may need to be reinstated, his spokesman told reporters in Berlin yesterday.

“Many euro countries have now realized that the July deal is too advantageous for investors and there’s too little investor burden sharing,” Finland’s Finance Minister Jutta Urpilainen said in Helsinki. “This was discussed at Monday’s euro group; how can we find a way to increase burden sharing? No solution’s been put forward so far.”

Greek Swap

Banks are negotiating a bond swap with Greece that would cut the nation’s debt load at a cost to investors estimated at about 21 percent. They pushed back at suggesting deeper losses.

It would be “counterproductive” to reopen the Greek deal now that investors have signaled support and the euro area’s 17 parliaments are close to ratifying the agreements, Charles Dallara, managing director of the Institute of International Finance said, said by phone. IIF represents more than 450 banks and took part in the negotiations that led to the second rescue package for Greece.

When the bailout was announced, banks and other bondholders were expected to contribute about 50 billion euros alongside 109 billion euros in public funds and a proposed 20 billion-euro debt buyback.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tony Czuczka at aczuczka@bloomberg.net; Rebecca Christie in Brussels at Rchristie4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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