Money flies out of Spain, regions pressured

By Sonya Dowsett

Spaniards alarmed by the dire state of their banks are squirreling money abroad at the fastest rate since records began, figures showed on Thursday, and the credit ratings of eight regions were cut.

Spain is the next country in the firing line of the euro zone’s debt crisis, with spendthrift regions and shaky banks threatening to blow a hole in state finances and pushing funding costs towards levels that signal the need for a bailout.

The European Commission gave new help on Wednesday, offering direct aid from a euro zone rescue fund to recapitalize Spanish banks and more time for Madrid to reduce its budget deficit.

That helped lower the risk premium investors demand to hold Spanish 10-year debt rather than the German benchmark on Thursday, but it remained close to the euro-era record, at 520 basis points.

Bank of Spain data showed a net 66.2 billion euros ($82.0 billion) was sent abroad last month, the most since records began in 1990. The figure compares to a 5.4 billion net entry of funds during the same month one year ago.

Spaniards are worried about the health of their banks, hit by their exposure to a 2008 property crash, and have been sending money to deposit accounts in stronger economies of northern Europe.

The capital flight data predates the nationalization of Spain’s fourth biggest lender Bankia (BKIA.MC) in May when it became clear the bank could not handle losses from bad real estate investments, compounded by a recession.

Spain’s centre-right government has contracted independent auditors to assess the health of its financial system in an effort to restore faith in its banks.

Spain must lay out its restructuring plans for Bankia to the European Commission (EC), a spokesman for the EU executive arm said on Thursday. He added that a domestic solution to the country’s bank crisis would be better than a European rescue.

The government said on Wednesday it would finance a 23.5 billion euro rescue of the bank through the bank fund, FROB but senior debt bankers said that the syndicated bond market is currently closed for Spanish agencies.

The prospect that Spain might not be able to handle losses at its banks has pummeled shares and the euro, although both regained some stability on Thursday.

“What we need first of all is for the Spanish government to tell us its restructuring plans for Bankia, what options it is considering,” said European Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj in a radio interview.

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