ECB keeps banks afloat after downgrade

Feb. 28, 2012 at 2:46 PM
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FRANKFURT, Germany, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The European Central Bank said banks could continue to borrow under an emergency program as Greek bonds became ineligible for use as collateral temporarily.

The ECB said central banks would continue to lend to banks through an emergency liquidity program and that Greek bonds could be used as collateral again in mid-March, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

By then, the European Union will be guaranteeing Greek bonds.

The body that regulates credit-default swaps, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, meanwhile, said it would evaluate the deal Greece struck with bondholders to have them accept less than 50 percent value of their holdings.

The expected judgment is that the association will declare the so-called voluntary swap a credit event, in part because the ECB was exempted from having to accept losses, meaning the deal was punishing only to private bondholders.

Declaring a credit event would trigger insurance-like payoffs, the Times said. That alone is likely to cause consternation among those worried about the health of the European financial system.

At the same time, if enough creditors take part in the swap, credit rating agencies are likely to remove the "selective default" status assigned to Greece. That, in turn, would make Greek bonds eligible to be used as collateral again.

It is critical the links fall into place. Banks typically use government bonds as collateral against borrowing from central banks and declaring Greek bonds collateral non gratis would have acted, essentially, as a margin call if the ECB had not stepped in with the emergency liquidity facility.

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