23 July, 2014 / Ramazan 24, 1435

Flags of the EU member states fly near a statue holding the euro sign in front of the European Parliament in Brussels.—AP Photo
Flags of the EU member states fly near a statue holding the euro sign in front of the European Parliament in Brussels.—AP Photo

BRUSSELS: Euro zone finance ministers are expected to approve an agreement on Friday to lend up to 100 billion euros to Spain so it can recapitalise its banks, but the exact size of the loan will probably only be determined in September.

Ministers are expected in a conference call to sign off on a lengthy memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Spain spelling out the terms of the aid, which will be fully disbursed by the end of 2013.

But before Spain can decide exactly how much money it needs, it must first see the results of in-depth audits of its banking sector, which is riddled with bad property loans.

“The plan is to formally endorse the draft as it stands,” one euro zone official said of the conference call, which is due to begin at 10:00 GMT.

“All the rest will come later in the year, with the results of the bank-by-bank stress tests in September clarifying recapitalisation needs and paving way for restructuring plans to be drawn up in October, as set out in the timeline annexed to the MoU.”

The bank bailout, together with fresh austerity measures and looser fiscal targets agreed with Madrid, are aimed at avoiding a full sovereign bailout that the euro zone can barely afford.

There are signs of growing discontent at the economic pain being heaped on the Spanish public. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards marched against the centre-right government's latest measures on Thursday evening, following more than a week of demonstrations across the country.

Parliament approved on Thursday a package of 65 billion euros of spending cuts and tax hikes which are likely to deepen the recession already gripping Spain.

Under the bailout memorandum, 14 banking groups that make up about 90 per cent of Spain's banking system will be tested for their recapitalisation needs in a review due to be completed by the second half of September.

Madrid expects 30 billion euros in a first tranche of money that will be available immediately for state-rescued banks that urgently need funds.

An independent audit from consultancy firms Oliver Wyman and Roland Berger, published on June 21, showed the banking sector needed up to 62 billion euros in total.

But a second, more detailed audit, as well as new stress tests, will help determine precisely how much each bank needs and in which form — loans or cash.

Spain's three biggest banks — Banco Santander, BBVA and Caixabank — would not need extra capital even in a stressed scenario, the independent audit said.

It also said immediate problems were limited to four banks: Bankia, and CatalunyaCaixa, NovaGalicia and Banco de Valencia, the last three of which have been nationalised.

That leaves seven banking groups in the spotlight: Sabadell, Popular, Ibercaja-Caja3-Liberbank, Unicaja-CEISS, Kutxabank, Banco Mare Nostrum and Bankinter .

Focus on saving banks

The money for the capital will be provided by the euro zone's temporary rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), a 440 billion euro fund set up in 2010 that has about 250 billion euros left, not counting the money for Spain.

The EFSF has already been used to bail out Greece, Ireland and Portugal, making Spain the fourth euro zone nation to receive emergency aid in the 2-1/2-year-old crisis.

The EFSF loans to Madrid will have an average maturity of 12.5 years and a maximum of 15 years, with interest rates of between three per cent and four per cent.

Once the permanent European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is operational, probably in September, it will take over the job of funding Spain's programme.

All Spain's banks will have to increase their core capital ratios to nine per cent by the end of 2012 and keep them at this level until the end of 2014. However, the government will review by December the requirements for setting aside capital to cover losses on real estate assets.

There will be a special focus on savings banks, or “cajas”, which had close links with local governments and were responsible for much of the unsustainable lending over the last decade, and their governance structure, will be reviewed.

According to the MoU, Spanish authorities will prepare by the end of November a new law to reduce the stakes that savings banks have in commercial lenders to non-controlling levels.

Banks that are controlled by the cajas and receive state aid would become listed companies.

The measure is mostly symbolic; applying only to a handful of banks representing a small share of Spain's banking system, but a failure to implement it could worry investors.

The document also says that holders of hybrid capital and subordinated debt in state-rescued banks will have to take a haircut on their investments in order to minimize the cost to taxpayers of the restructuring.

Hundreds of thousands of small shareholders who bought instruments such as preference shares are likely to be affected.

The first injection of capital into banks not already rescued by the state and unable to raise capital by themselves can be expected by October, after reviews by the Spanish government and the European Commission.

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