Cyprus Mail

EU banks watchdog says Greek contagion limited so far, remains vigilant

A woman is seen by a broken bank sign in Athens

By Huw Jones

Markets are coping well with uncertainty over Greece’s future in the euro zone, with little sign so far of contagion that would undermine wider European Union financial stability, the bloc’s banking regulator said on Wednesday.

Euro zone members have given Greece until the end of the week to come up with a proposal for sweeping reforms in return for loans that will keep the country from crashing out of the euro.

“What we are seeing is a rather ordered reaction among investors and the pressure on equity of banks is rather limited but cautious monitoring and vigilance remain key,” a European Banking Authority (EBA) spokesman said in response to questions from Reuters.

“The focus of our work now is to make sure we have full coordination of actions between all the authorities, to share information,” the spokesman added.

The watchdog, which coordinates supervision of banks across the EU, said direct contagion from the Greek crisis is minimal, with little sign of indirect contagion, such as large investor withdrawals from funds.

Bulgaria is seen as potentially vulnerable as more than a fifth of its banking assets are Greek-owned and the central bank has stepped up checks of local lenders.

The EBA spokesman backed comments from the Bulgarian authorities that “firewalls” were in place to protect banks from Greek contagion.

The prospect of “Grexit” has raised concerns that many EU states have not learned the lessons of Lehman Bank’s crash seven years ago by putting in place the tools needed to deal quickly with a failing lender to avoid destabilising markets.

The EU has passed into law its banks recovery and resolution directive (BRRD), giving national supervisors tools for dealing with failing banks, particularly on a cross-border basis.

It has been EU law since January but 13 of the bloc’s 28 countries have yet to put it on their statute books, meaning some of the legal powers may not be immediately available.

The EU’s executive European Commission has launched legal proceedings against laggards.

The euro zone’s new Single Resolution Board (SRB) won’t have full powers to wind down a euro zone bank until next January. Greece has only partially implemented the BRRD but it does have a national bank resolution authority.

Many countries lacked such tools during the 2007-09 financial crisis, making it harder for supervisors to intervene quickly to limit fallout from bank failures.

Despite nearly half of EU states not having implemented it into national law, the EBA said the BRRD is now the manual for coordinating action on bank failures.

The watchdog is making this clear to all EU states during regular conference calls with national supervisors as the Greek crisis unfolds, it said.

“There is concern that countries should have moved faster to implement BRRD but our reading is that you can and should go a long way to using it,” the EBA spokesman said.

“Ensuring full cooperation according the rules set out in the BRRD has been the most important focus of the EBA efforts so far, and the authority reported a good reaction to its pressure in that direction,” the spokesman added.

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