Eurozone’s ‘big bazooka’ bail-Out fund is left in tatters by S&P downgrade
Plans for a €1 trillion “big bazooka” to stem the debt crisis were crushed on Monday night as Standard & Poor’s stripped the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) of its AAA credit rating.
10:37PM GMT 16 Jan 2012
As the standoff with Greece’s creditors continued and Italy pleaded for help to reduce the cost of borrowing, S&P said the EFSF’s rating would be cut again if member states’ creditworthiness eroded further.
Leaders appeared to abandon hopes for the EFSF and turned their focus on the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) instead. Herman van Rompuy, co-president of the European Union, said he would assess the size of the ESM “without delay” and ensure it is operational by July.
Klaus Regling, chief executive of the EFSF, said the fund would have “sufficient means to fulfil its commitments under current and potential future adjustment programmes until the ESM becomes operational in July 2012”.
S&P was severely criticised across the eurozone, even before the EFSF decision was announced. Olli Rehn, an EU Commissioner, said ratings agencies are the tools of “American financial capitalism”.
Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister, said rating agencies’ influence should be curbed and insisted German guarantees for the EFSF were sufficient. The governor of the Bank of France, Christian Noyer, said S&P’s mass downgrades “constitutes an additional challenge”.
A bigger hurdle was emerging as Greece’s international creditors warned that crucial talks would not resume without “progress” from Athens and the troika, made up of the nternational Monetary Fund (IMF), European Central Bank (ECB) and EU.
Private holders of Greek bonds are thought to have urged Germany and France to use their weight to persuade troika officials to relax their demands.
Charles Dallara, director of the Institute of International Finance (IIF) who is negotiating on behalf of creditors, has argued that bondholders will accept 50pc losses on their debt but not artificially low coupons on new Greek paper. Efforts to reach a deal, which Greece must do to avert default in March, were suspended on Friday.
Frank Vogl, a spokesman for Mr Dallara, said: “Charles has a plan to go back to Athens but that depends on further progress from official parties that can lead to an agreement.”
The euro fell to an 11-year low against the yen and a 17-month low against the dollar. Stockmarkets rose marginally after a successful sale of French Treasury bills but the Paris faces a bigger test at a bond auction on Thursday.
A summit between Germany, France and Italy, scheduled for Friday in Rome, has been postponed until February.
Stresses in the European banking sector were shown by a record €493bn of deposits being parked with the ECB on Friday night. Latest figures showed that the central bank also bought €3.766bn of eurozone bonds last week, up from €1.104bn the previous week.