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jueves 22 junio, 2017 19:46
   BLOG, Economía, Finanzas, Gobernanza

How the euro zone deals with failing banks


ALMOST a decade after the global financial crisis, aftershocks rumble on. This month Banco Popular, Spain’s sixth-biggest bank by assets, was bought for a symbolic €1 ($1.10) by Santander, the largest, in a takeover organised by European authorities. The “resolution” of Popular was the first of a failing euro-area bank under new procedures that came into effect in 2015. How did the system fare?

Popular had been suffering since the collapse of Spain’s national property bubble in 2008. Like other European countries, Spain was slow at first to deal with the crisis. It borrowed €41bn from European funds in 2012 to bail out its banking system—pouring a good portion of that into Bankia, a big savings bank. But its banking system is now much the healthier for a consolidation co-ordinated by the state, in which several local lenders were rolled into stronger institutions. A total of 55 banks has been reduced to a dozen or so, and more mergers may follow. Faster economic growth—just now, the fastest of any large economy in the euro zone—helps the banks too. Yet problems remained, notably at poor Popular. It did not share in the bail-out, instead raising equity from shareholders three times between 2012 and 2016. That strategy failed.

When the end came Popular was hoping to find a buyer. But depositors were withdrawing money fast and its share price fell by half within four days. On the evening of June 6th, seeing Popular’s liquidity draining away, the European Central Bank (ECB), which supervises banks in the euro area, declared that the lender was “failing or likely to fail”. A separate body, the Single Resolution Board (SRB), then took charge. Seeing no alternative, the next morning the SRB announced the Santander deal. Popular’s shareholders were wiped out. So were some bondholders, including owners of “contingent convertible” (“coco”) debt, which is turned into equity if catastrophe strikes.

The Spanish and European authorities, and Santander, declared the resolution a success, and probably rightly. Technically, it went like clockwork, despite the apparently cumbersome division of labour between the ECB and the SRB: Popular changed hands overnight. No taxpayers’ money was needed. The coco bonds, a post-crisis creation, worked as they were supposed to: swapped for equity and written down if need be. Owners of coco (and other) bonds now know, if they did not already, that the threat of a total loss is real. Prices of subordinated debt in two smaller Spanish banks tumbled after Popular’s failure; short-selling of the shares in one of them was banned. Not everyone, it is true, is convinced. Investors may wonder why regulators failed to spot the depth of Popular’s troubles sooner. Reports say some bondholders, believing that the ECB and SRB were too hasty, are contemplating whether to sue. The resolution is not, so to speak, wholly popular.


The Economist | economist.com

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