June 2020


Spain Weighs Major Boost to $113 Billion Loan Guarantee Plan

(Bloomberg) —
Spain is weighing plans to significantly increase the size of its 100 billion-euro ($113 billion) loan guarantee fund after the program attracted huge demand from businesses struggling to weather the pandemic, according to people familiar with the matter.Officials are considering pledging as much as 50 billion euros in additional guarantees, one person said. Others said the ultimate size depends on how the negotiations unfold. They all spoke on condition of anonymity because the details aren’t public.

A spokesman for the Economy Ministry, which oversees the program, declined to comment.

The state-backed loan guarantees are a key feature in the global response to the economic fallout from the pandemic. Spain and other European governments have pledged trillions of euros to help keep businesses afloat.

Europe’s fourth-largest economy had one of the continent’s strictest lockdowns in response to a deadly outbreak of the virus. The economy is also greatly dependent on the floundering tourism industry and its long-troubled labor market means the jobless rate could spike as high as 24% this year, according to central bank forecasts. In a worst-case-scenario, the Bank of Spain expects the economy to contract by as much as 15% in 2020.

Since Spain launched its program on March 17, banks have financed around 70 billion euros worth of loans –- about 54 billion of which are state-backed. That’s a much greater deployment of loan guarantees than in other European countries.

The loans are funneled through Spain’s Instituto de Credito Official, known as ICO, a state finance agency. Most of the guarantees have been deployed to help finance small and medium-sized companies. Some large businesses have also tapped the program. British Airways owner IAG SA borrowed around 1 billion euros through ICO to help its Spanish units Iberia and Vueling weather the collapse in travel demand.

In the event of a default, the Spanish government has pledged to back 80% of a loan to an SME and 70% for a large company.

When Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez first rolled out the program, some companies complained that banks were requiring them to purchase other products in order to secure financing, something known as cross-selling.

Other business people said banks required them to personally guarantee the loans, pledging their own homes, for instance. And some executives said the interest rates that banks were charging on the loans was unnecessarily high and not in line with the government’s guidelines.

Those complaints from borrowers have, for the most part, quieted down. One reason, according to officials, is that the government has rolled out the program in increments of around 20 billion euros each. That has allowed them to make tweaks along the way, detecting initial problems and then admonishing some banks to avoid cross-selling, for instance, in the following tranche.

Spain rolled out the final increment of the 100 billion euro program last week, accelerating the conversations to bolster the size of one of the country’s most significant responses to the coronavirus crisis.



Italy Urged by EU Leaders to Use Recovery Plan for Reforms

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen are among leaders urging Italy to take advantage of the region’s proposed 750 billion-euro ($844 billion) recovery plan to speed up structural reforms.

The so-called Next Generation EU plan is a “unique opportunity for Italy,” Von der Leyen said in a video message to a closed-door forum in Rome hosted by Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, posted on the prime ministry’s website.

Lagarde encouraged leaders “not to let this crisis go to waste,” while the central bank will do its part. EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs Paolo Gentiloni said that while the spending plan is designed to avoid counter-cyclical recessions, it must ultimately bring Italy’s 2.43 trillion-euro debt into a “credible downward path.”

Conte on Saturday kicked off the nine-day marathon session of closed-door talks between ministers and leaders from the business, finance, labor and other sectors. The Italian premier is facing internal opposition, even in the governing coalition, on stimulus measures tied to the EU recovery plan as the economy struggles to emerge from a national lockdown to counter the coronavirus.

Italy’s Canceled Crisis Risks Moral Hazard for Euro Laggard

Conte welcomed participants by mapping out Italy’s plan for the recovery, which will include investments to digitize the economy and the public administration, green spending and ways to boost social inclusion, according to the premier’s office.

“We know our public finance limits, the need to keep our finances in check,” Conte told the forum held in Villa Pamphili. “That’s why we can’t miss the chance to revamp productivity in our country.”

Not Easy

European Council President Charles Michel warned that talks over the EU recovery plan won’t be easy as there are “significant divergences,” adding that Italy’s effort to produce a plan of investments and reforms is fundamental for Europe.

Conte, at a press conference later, also said more time is needed to reach a consensus and he invited Italian opposition parties to work with their European counterparts for the common goal.

Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco asked Italian leaders to “make the most of the opportunities offered by the new European programs,” according to the text of his speech.

“The sustainability of the public debt is not in doubt, but its high ratio to GDP is being maintained by the low growth potential of the country and is, at the same time, an obstacle to economic growth,” he said.

— With assistance by John Follain

(Adds comment from Premier Conte in seventh paragraph.)
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