By Andy Dabilis
Stung by big losses imposed by the government as part of a deal to write down the country’s debt, and with depositors anxious over political uncertainty ahead of new elections, the country’s four biggest banks have gotten an 18 billion-euro injection, but may need a lot more.
The monies were channelled from the European Financial Stability Facility rescue fund through the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund (HFSF) to boost the nearly depleted capital base of the National Bank (6.9 billion euros); Alpha Bank (1.9 billion euros); Eurobank (4.2 billion euros); and Piraeus Bank, (5 billion euros) — allowing them to regain access to European Central Bank (ECB) funding.
The ECB, the EU and the IMF make up the Troika that provided Greece with a rescue loan package of 109 billion euros, and a pending second bailout of 130 billion euros.
After the May 6th elections failed to put a government in place, Greece is in the hands of a temporary caretaker cabinet ahead of a June 17th ballot that has New Democracy in a dead-heat with the second-place finisher, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) that wants to renegotiate the terms or renege on the payments.
On May 7th, the banks saw withdrawals of 700m euros, sparking fears of a run on the banks that didn’t materialise.
Unsettled Greeks withdrew more than 5 billion euros in May, fearful the country could go back to the drachma, draining the banks.
Grigoris Papagrigoris, head of investor relations for the National Bank of Greece, told SETimes that the bank is steady. “There was considerable movement the weeks following the elections but it was contained. We have been seeing similar bouts of volatility the past couple of years.”
The bank — which has operations in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Macedonia and Turkey — reported a loss of 537m euros in the first quarter of the year, mitigated by a 125m-euro profit generated by its Turkish subsidiary, Finansbank.
But the banks’ worries aren’t over yet, as there are estimates they could need up to 50 billion euros.
“No bank can survive after a run,” Aggelos Tsakanikas, head of research at the Foundation of Economic and Industrial Research in Athens, told SETimes.
“The recap of the banks is really important. This 18 billion euros is only half of the planned help,” he added. “But the major issue is the fact that it is not planned to be used in increasing credit to the economy,” he said.
The country’s essentially bankrupt economy is buried under 350 billion euros of debt and a 9.7% deficit.
The finance ministry said the infusion has steadied the sector for now.
“This capital injection restores the capital adequacy level of these banks and ensures their access to the provision of liquidity funding from the ECB and the Eurosystem. The banks have now sufficient financial resources in support of the real economy.”
Yiannis Stournaras, who was named the caretaker development minister, said the recapitalisation is important, but “not enough.” But he said he’s confident it could keep the sector solvent.
“We don’t have a classical bank run; people are keeping their cool,” he told SETimes.
The so-called Private Sector Involvement (PSI) deal that imposed losses on the banks and investors has effectively locked Greece out of borrowing markets. Greek banks had been borrowing from the ECB against collateral, and from the Greek central bank’s more expensive emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) facility.
Professor Nickolaos Travlos, dean of the Kitty Kyriacopoulos Chair in Finance at the ALBA Graduate Business School in Athens, said that the PSI deal effectively wiped out the savings of even small bond holders, and weakened confidence.
“Investing in government bonds has always been considered as risk-free investment,” he told SETimes. “The recapitalisation … is the least action the Greek government should do to rescue the banking system.”
While politicians and bankers are working together, working-class Greeks have lost trust in both institutions.
“They’re coming after me for a small amount of money I’ve borrowed and pester me every day,” Vassiliki Petropoulou, 53, a civil servant whose pay has been cut nearly 30%, told SETimes. “Bankers and politicians are putting us on a plate to eat us alive.”