After Sunday’s landslide “no” result in Greece, the survival of the country’s banks — closed for the past week and with a daily ATM withdrawal limit of €60 per customer — hangs in the balance as the European Central Bank considers its next move.
The ECB’s governing council was due to meet Monday in Frankfurt, Germany, to discuss whether to continue propping up the Mediterranean country’s struggling lenders after Greeks voted 61.3% to 38.7% to reject the terms of a European Union-led bailout to replace the one that expired on June 30.
With the prospect of a Greek exit from the eurozone now very real, that puts the already fragile banking system in even more of a capital crunch, observers warned.
“Bad blood, closed banks and no more bailout,” tweeted ING-DiBa Economist Carsten Brzeski, while Berenberg Bank Chief Economist Holger Schmieding blogged that the absence of an immediate bailout deal makes it “very hard” for the ECB to authorize continuing emergency support for Greek lenders.
The Greek banks most at risk are the country’s largest: National Bank of Greece, Piraeus Bank, Alpha Bank and Eurobank Ergasias. They account for more than 90% of Greek banking assets.
All four had their long- and short-term issuer default ratings, along with their viability ratings, downgraded last week by Fitch Ratings, which warned that they would have defaulted had capital controls not been imposed at the start of the week.
However, shares in the banks rose sharply on Monday, with Alpha Bank closing up almost 13%.
As for how to plug the capital holes, Credit Suisse Group analysts Neville Hill and William Porter suggested three possible courses in a Monday research note: bankruptcy; a recapitalization from the European stability mechanism that would put Greek banks under EU ownership; or, in the case of a ‘Grexit,’ or Greek exit from the eurozone, capitalization by the Bank of Greece. The latter would entail converting all euro contracts into a new currency, meaning that a Greek banking system as such would cease to exist.
For now, the ECB is staying mum on whether to lift its €88.6 billion ($97.7 billion) ceiling on emergency liquidity assistance for Greek lenders, two weeks before another crucial deadline when Greece has to repay €3.5 billion to the ECB.
“Regarding Greece, we currently have no communication planned for today,” an ECB representative said.
Besides the ECB meeting, Sunday’s referendum outcome left politicians scrambling to prevent a major Greek financial meltdown and unprecedented eurozone exit.
EU Council President Donald Tusk spoke by phone earlier in the day with ECB President Mario Draghi and Eurogroup chief Jeroen Djisselbloem, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande are due to compare notes over dinner in Paris. Euro-area finance ministers will gather in Brussels on Tuesday afternoon, followed by an evening summit of EU leaders likely to drag on for most of the night.
In a short statement Monday, Djisselbloem called the referendum outcome “very regrettable for the future of Greece,” warning that difficult measures and reforms are inevitable for the economy to recover.
As politicians and monetary policy makers try to figure out what happens next and await a revised bailout proposal from Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, observers weighed in on the consequences of a Grexit.
“A Greek exit from the common currency would be a financial, economic, social and potentially also political catastrophe for Greece, aggravated by the chaotic way a new currency would have to be introduced,” analysts at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre wrote on Monday.
They added: “Greece would be cut off from international financial markets, with disastrous repercussions for Greek banks and companies, while capital flight and emigration would become endemic … The political system might well be undermined, with potential dire consequences for stability and democracy in Greece, which is already under strain because of the deep split in society.”
Written by Renee Cordes of The Street