Bank of Spain takes over management of another savings bank

22nd May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Spain's central bank took control on Saturday of a troubled regional savings bank for the second time since the start of the global financial crisis amid growing doubts over the country's ability to straighten its public finances.

The bank said in a statement it had removed the managers of CajaSur, based in the city of Cordoba and controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, after it failed to complete a planned merger with another savings bank, Unicaja.

Cajasur, which accounts for 0.6 percent of the assets of the Spanish banking industry, will now be managed by representatives of an offshoot of the Bank of Spain, the Fund for Orderly Bank Reconstruction (FROB), it added.

"This action, which we have taken as a result of the viability problems presented by Cajasur and the impossibility of closing its merger with Unicaja, will guarantee that it can continue to operate and fulfill its obligations," the Bank of Spain said in a statement.

Spanish banks got off relatively lightly from the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008 as the country's strict regulations meant they did not invest heavily in the high-risk loans that hurt financial institutions elsewhere.

But many, especially smaller unlisted saving banks like Cajasur that are usually controlled by regional politicians, were badly hit by the collapse of at the end of 2008 of the country's once-booming property market, both through loans to developers and mortgages.

Cajasur chalked up losses of 596 million euros (748.3 million dollars) en 2009 and 114 million in the first quarter of 2010. About half of its equity portfolio was concentrated in the property sector.

Spain's national radio said the central bank could inject as much as 550 million euros into Cajasur immediately to keep it afloat.

The figures was not confirmed by the Bank of Spain, which said only that the FROB had ample funds and would provide "the capital resources necessary to ensure that (Cajasur) attains the minimum level of solvability."

The FROB was set up by the government last June 2009 after the central bank was forced to take over the running of savings bank Caja Castilla de la Mancha, in Spain's first major bank rescue in 16 year.

The rescue fund, made up of public money and other existing bank support funds, was capitalised initially with nine billion euros which can be increased ten-fold if necessary to help struggling banks merge or restructure.

International ratings agency Fitch warned in March it saw "significant challenges" for some medium and small sized Spanish banks but it said the "FROB support package should be sufficient to cover the reorganisation of the system while ensuring the solvency of the Spanish banking system."

In November Bank of Spain governor Miguel Fernandez Ordonez said a third of Spain 45 regional savings banks would have to merge with stronger institutions in order to survive.

The Bank of Spain had given Unicaja and Cajasur until midnight Friday to conclude a deal, voicing exasperation at the slowness of negotiations which had begun in December.

Cajasur management, headed by a priest, Santiago Gomez Sierra, said the plan had failed, blaming union resistance to staff cuts.

The rescue of the bank comes at a time when global financial markets are increasingly concerned that Spain will face a crisis over its public deficit like Greece's.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's socialist government on Thursday approved a 15-billion-euro austerity plan aimed at reining in the huge public deficit which hit 11.2 percent last year, the third-biggest in the European Union after Greece's and Ireland's.

© 2010 AFP

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