Too Little, Too Late - Why Spain's €100B Bailout Just Won't Do It

By : Subscribe to Oliver's | June 11, 2012 9:54 PM IST

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With a week to go before crunch elections in Greece, Spain finally caved to international pressure this weekend and accepted assistance from the European Union for its spiraling banking crisis.

On Saturday, it emerged Spain would take up to €100 billion ($126 billion) in financial assistance to prop up its ailing banks, becoming the fourth and largest country in the eurozone to accept financial assistance, joining Greece itself, Ireland and Portugal.

Along with the money, Madrid has also submitted itself to oversight from the Troika of the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank -- something Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had said would not happen.

Meanwhile, EU officials have been keen to trumpet the latest eurozone Band-Aid as a triumph for collective action and an answer to critics who accused the group of acting too slowly and with not enough money in the past.

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"This is a very clear signal to the markets, to the public, that the eurozone is ready to take determined action," Olli Rehn, the EU's top economic official, said on Sunday. "This is preemptive action."

"We deliberately wanted to ensure there is some additional safety margin," Mr. Rehn added.

But is it really enough?

According to Heidi Moore at Marketplace.org, after the financial crisis of 2008, the systemic risk that paralyzed the global financial system in the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers never went away.

Using Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Engle's SRISK measure [the amount of money a bank or financial institution would need to keep working if another major crisis occurred], Moore argues that banks are at a greater risk now than they were at the height of the credit crunch.

Take JPMorgan for example. In 2008, the bank would have needed $110.9 billion handy to remain capitalized during the crisis, according to SRISK figures. In 2012, it would take $145.1 billion to keep JPMorgan solvent and functioning.

What about another U.S. giant, Bank of America? It was $97.3 billion in 2008, rising to $129.2 billion in 2012.

The eurozone banking crisis, she added, has added an international flavor to the systemic risk of collapse once again facing the financial universe.

Among the top 10 non-U.S. banks with the largest SRISK numbers, Spain's Banco Santander is in ninth place with a $106.4 billion hole that would need to be filled if another shock, such as a hasty, unmanaged Greek exit from the euro, were to happen.

Suddenly, €100 billion doesn't look like a lot of money.

"The Ghost of Big Bailouts Past seems to haunting the banking system, and it's calling up the fellow spirits of the dead -- the panic and bank runs and lack of confidence that made the end of 2008 such a spooky time," she wrote.

"Spain and Greece are dealing with issues that look like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers in their last days, only dressed up for a costume party in the eurozone."

On top of this, the general consensus is that Saturday's banking loan is just a stop-gap measure.

Spain, analysts contend, will require a full government bailout in the style of Greece, Ireland and Portugal in the near future.

"Spain's banking bailout may help to pull the country away from the center of the eurozone storm for a while," London-based Capital Economics said in a statement on Monday.

"But we doubt that it is the only support that the country will need."

Others, such as Jeff Layman -- chief investment officer at BKD Wealth Advisors -- see the latest cash injection as part of an ongoing series of euro zone bailouts set to continue indefinitely.

"The bailout of Spain is just the latest in what will likely be a continuing stream of support necessary to keep the Euro area economy afloat," he said.

"Recapitalizing Spanish banks is vital to this effort, but I really don't know if it will be enough or not."

And the markets seem to agree.

After a so-called "bailout bounce" with oil, stock markets and bonds all rallying, the numbers have once again turned south.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 31.60 points on Monday morning trading, while Standard & Poor's 500 Index was also down 2.90 points, and the Nasdaq Composite Index was down 0.48 points.

And while Spanish bond yields rose, the flight to the perceived safety of U.S. Treasuries continued.

Fueled by skepticism over the bailout's ability to deal with the wider eurozone crisis and the creeping realization that the money only adds to Spain's ballooning debt, 10-year U.S. Treasury notes rose by as much as 9 basis points to 1.73 percent in Monday morning trading.

"While the deal provides some temporary relief in the near-term with the hopes of stabilizing the Spanish financial system, the trade-off is that it in-effect socializes the nation's bank losses by shifting the debt burden from the banks onto the government's fragile balance sheet," said Dave Abate, CFP, senior wealth advisor at Strategic Wealth Partners.

"Tacking this debt load on only further elevates Spain's worrisome Debt to GDP ratio and increases the headwind against growing the Spanish economy."

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