Friday, June 1, 2012

ECB, EU officials warn euro's survival at risk

The European Central Bank stepped up pressure on Thursday for a joint guarantee on bank deposits across the euro zone, saying Europe needed new tools to fight bank runs as the bloc's debt crisis drives investors to flee risk.

The European Commission's top economic official, Olli Rehn, warned that the single currency area could disintegrate without stronger crisis-fighting mechanisms and tough fiscal discipline.

The twin warnings came as worries about Spain's banks and Greece's survival in the euro area pushed the euro to a two-year low against the dollar and hastened a rush into safe-haven assets such as Austrian and French bonds, whose 10-year yields hit a euro-era low. [MKTS/GLOB]

Spaniards alarmed by the dire state of their banks moved money abroad in March at a faster rate than at any time since records began in 1990, official figures showed.

The 66.2 billion euros ($82.0 billion) net capital flight occurred before the nationalisation of Spain's fourth biggest lender, Bankia , in May due to massive losses from a burst property bubble. [ID:nL5E8GV1TO]

The head of the International Monetary Fund met Spain's deputy prime minister on Thursday and later denied a media report that the IMF was considering contingency plans for a Spanish bailout.

"There is no such plan. We have not received any request to that effect and we are not doing any work in relation to any financial support," IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a statement after the talks.

Irish voters seemed set to approve in a referendum a European budget discipline treaty vital to continue receiving EU aid. But the outcome of a second Greek general election on June 17, seen as crucial for Athens' future in the currency zone, is too close to call. [ID:nL5E8GV1IS] [ID:nA8E8GD01]

Surveys published on Friday showed Greece's pro-bailout New Democracy party with a lead of more than two points over the SYRIZA leftists. [ID:nL5E8GVHBO]

ECB President Mario Draghi urged Europe's leaders to clarify their vision for the single currency quickly, warning the European Parliament that the central bank could not fill the policy vacuum. [ID:nL5E8GV4J7]

"We will avoid bank runs from solvent banks. Depositors' money will be protected if we build this European guaranteed deposit fund. This will assure that depositors will be protected," Draghi said, calling for an EU-wide banking supervision and resolution system.

EU paymaster Germany, reluctant to risk more of its own taxpayers' money in support of euro zone partners, has so far rejected any such joint deposit guarantee.

Chancellor Angela Merkel refrained from comment on calls for a banking union but said Europe should be ready to consider all options to stem its sovereign debt crisis.

"There are integration steps which will require treaty changes. We are not at that stage today but nevertheless there are no taboos," she told a news conference in the Baltic town of Stralsund.

Another top ECB official, executive board member Joerg Asmussen, said in Frankfurt that the 25 or so most important banks in the euro area should be supervised by a supranational watchdog rather than just national authorities. [ID:nL5E8GVCZ7]

Draghi, testifying before EU lawmakers, said the financial crisis had "heightened risk aversion in a dramatic way.

"I urge all governments to keep this in mind, because it is better to err by too much in the very beginning rather than by too little," he said, citing the repeated failure of national regulators to correctly assess the needs of failed Franco-Belgian bank Dexia and Spain's Bankia.

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