Spain is home to some of Europe’s most vulnerable banks

The word corralito does not need translating to Spaniards. They know it means the partial freezing of bank accounts that afflicted Argentina as money fled the country a decade ago. That is what makes it so frightening.

It should not happen in a solvent country like Spain. But as the spectre of a Greek euro exit is haunting Europe, Spanish banks have become a big concern. Ministers have had to deny the corralito risk.

Nerves are fraying. Shares in Bankia, a part-nationalised bank, yo-yoed wildly after reports, later denied, that clients were taking their money out of Spain’s fourth-largest lender. “I’ve been working since I was 13, and if they take it away I’ll kill someone,” said a Bankia client who collared Cristóbal Montoro, the budget minister, on the street.

Soraya Sáenz de Santamaria, the deputy prime minister, appealed for “responsibility”. Many cursed Paul Krugman, a Nobel-prize-winning economist—though all he did was point out that a euro-zone meltdown might involve Spain imposing corralito-style controls.

In spite of all the anxiety, deposits across the banking system grew in March. It is Bankia’s shareholders, rather than its account-holders, who should be upset. Those who believed the 2010 merger of seven savings banks, or cajas, laden with toxic property would transmute into a solid new bank were wrong. It was an unhappy marriage: on May 23rd Luis de Guindos, Spain’s finance minister, told parliament that the government would inject at least €9 billion ($11 billion) into the ailing lender.

The worries about banks go deeper. They have played for time by refinancing loans to struggling property developers ever since the 2008 housing bust. Two rounds of provisioning ordered this year, totalling €82 billion, may not be enough, though the government is expected to provide €15 billion of the necessary funds. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on May 26, 2012.


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