Spain Asks European Help to Recapitalize Banks

Finance minister admits that Spain can’t afford to prop up its banking sector on its own.

Spain’s finance minister, Cristóbal Montoro Romero, admitted on Tuesday that his country needs outside help to prop up its banking sector. “What we need is for the European institutions to get going and seek that bank recapitalization through those procedures that mean more Europe,” he told Onda Cero radio.

Montoro also said that Spain is effectively shut out of capital markets because of the high interest rates it pays on its bonds. “The risk premium says that as a state we have a problem in accessing markets when we need to refinance our debt.”

Spain will have to refinance some €82 billion of debt this year while helping its regions to repay maturing debts of about €16 billion in the second half of 2012.

Just last week, government officials insisted that Spain would not need a bailout but Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has called on the European Central Bank to revive its bond buying program or inject more liquidity into the financial system to help his country’s ailing banks.

Spain has pressed for a direct European rescue for its banks through the European Financial Stability Facility without the government having to go through he humiliation of asking for help. Germany and other strong eurozone countries have ruled out such a rescue operation. The EFSF and its successor agency, the European Stability Mechanism, which are slated to be merged this summer, can only borrow to states, not companies.

Spanish banks were weakened by the bursting of a property bubble in 2008. The subsequent European debt crisis, combined with growing uncertainty about Greece’s survival in the eurozone, have put further pressure on the country’s financial institutions.

Madrid injected €19 billion into lender Bankia last week. Santander bank chairman Emilio Botin told the Bloomberg news agency on Monday that his industry would need €40 billion more to survive.

“We’re not talking about astronomical sums,” according to Montoro. “The figures are perfectly accessible.”

The EFSF would have the capacity to make the loans. The fund was authorized to borrow up to €440 billion. There is some €250 billion remaining after Ireland and Portugal had to request bailouts in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

Central bank chiefs and finance ministers from the G7 of industrialized nations held emergency talks on Tuesday to discuss the Spanish banking crisis.