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Europe Crisis Plan Wins Global Backing as G-20 Urges Action

Europe Crisis Plan Wins Global Backing as G-20 Urges Action
The Group of 20 (G20) finance ministers and central bank governors pose for a family photograph at the French economy and finance ministry in Paris. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Europe’s revamped strategy to beat its two-year sovereign debt crisis won the backing of global finance chiefs, who urged the region’s leaders to deal “decisively” with the turmoil when they meet for emergency talks in a week’s time.

European officials yesterday outlined the initiatives they’re considering at a meeting in Paris of finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 economies. With the continent’s fiscal woes rattling financial markets and threatening the world economy, governments were urged to complete the plan at their Oct. 23 summit in Brussels and to tame the threat of contagion by maximizing the firepower of their 440 billion-euro ($611 billion) bailout fund.

“The plan has the right elements,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told reporters in Paris. Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said that “some of what is being considered, if fully implemented, would be sufficient in our opinion.”

Policy makers held out the possibility of rewarding European action with more aid from the International Monetary Fund, while splitting over whether the Washington-based lender needs a fillip of cash.

‘Substantial Arsenal’

“The IMF has a substantial arsenal of financial resources, and we would support further use of those existing resources to supplement a comprehensive, well-designed European strategy alongside a more substantial commitment of European resources,” Geithner said. He added that the U.S. would back more money for the IMF only if a “compelling case” was made as its current $390 billion war chest is “very, very substantial.”

Europe’s strategy, which has still to be made public, currently includes writing down Greek bonds by as much as 50 percent, establishing a backstop for banks and multiplying the strength of the newly-enhanced European Financial Stability Facility, people familiar with the matter said Oct. 14. Optimism the crisis may soon be tamed spurred stocks higher last week and pushed the euro to its biggest gain against the dollar in more than two years.

European officials “will have left Paris under no misunderstanding that there is a huge amount of pressure on them to deliver a solution,” U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne told reporters. Next weekend “is the moment people are expecting something quite impressive.”

Agreement ‘Close’

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said his G-20 counterparts welcomed Europe’s “confirmation that we’re aware of our responsibility and we’ll solve the problems in the euro zone.” European Union Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn told Bloomberg Television that euro-area authorities are “close” to an agreement on how to capitalize banks.

The G-20 officials -- who met to prepare for a Nov. 3-4 gathering of leaders in Cannes, France -- said the world economy faces “heightened tensions and significant downside risks” that must be addressed.31

They vowed to keep banks capitalized and financial markets stable, while reiterating an aversion to excess currency volatility. They also considered shortly naming as many as 50 banks as systemically important, two officials said.

Almost two years to the day since Greece set the crisis in motion by announcing it had underestimated its budget deficit, Europe’s latest strategy hinges on putting it on a viable path. Austerity has plunged Greece deeper into recession and provoked civil unrest that threatens political stability.

Italy Targeted

Failure to curb the pain has led to Portugal and Ireland requiring bailouts, and markets are now targeting larger debt-strapped nations such as Italy. Investors are concerned that if the crisis is allowed to fester, the world economy could face a repeat of the chaos that followed the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. Geithner warned three weeks ago that failure by Europe to act would risk “cascading default, bank runs and catastrophic risk.”

In the works is a five-point plan foreseeing a solution for Greece, bolstering of the EFSF rescue fund, fresh capital for banks, a new push to boost competitiveness and consideration of European treaty amendments to tighten economic management.

The Greek bond losses now envisaged in the plan may be accompanied by a pledge to rule out debt restructurings in other countries that received bailouts, such as Portugal, to persuade investors that Europe has mastered the crisis, said the people on Oct. 14.

Options Discussed

Options include tweaking a July accord struck with investors for a 21 percent net-present-value reduction in Greek debt holdings. One variant would take that reduction up to 50 percent, the people said.

Under a more aggressive proposal, investors would exchange Greek bonds for new debt at a lower face value collateralized by the euro area’s AAA-rated rescue fund, the people said. The ultimate option is a restructuring involving writedowns without collateral, they said.

The bank-aid model under discussion is to set up a European-level backstop capitalized by the rescue fund, the people said. It would have the power to take direct equity stakes in banks and provide guarantees on bank liabilities.

Officials are considering seven ways of multiplying the strength of Europe’s temporary rescue fund. The options break down into two broad categories: enabling it to borrow from the European Central Bank or using it to partly insure new bonds issued by distressed governments. The ECB has all but ruled out the first method, making bond insurance more likely, the people said.

EFSF Guarantees

EFSF guarantees of new bonds might range from 20 percent to 30 percent, a person familiar with those deliberations said. Recourse to bond insurance suggests the central bank will need to maintain its secondary-market purchases for an unspecified “interim” period, people said.

ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet, who attended his last G-20 meeting before he retires Oct. 31, reiterated the central bank hopes to stop purchasing government bonds once the EFSF is able to take over.

A consensus is emerging to accelerate the setup of a permanent aid fund planned for July 2013, the European Stability Mechanism. This week’s discussions will focus on creating it a year earlier, in July 2012, and easing unanimity rules that permit solitary countries to block bailouts.

Officials divided over whether Europe’s travails meant the IMF should be handed more cash, beyond agreeing it must have “adequate resources to fulfil its systemic responsibilities.” Emerging markets such as China are considering whether the lender needs more money, while officials from the U.S., Germany and Canada were among those to say either that the euro area must fix for its problems first or the IMF already has plentiful and untapped resources.

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