Greek contagion risk minimized by officials as talks stall

European bankers and officials sought to minimize the wider risk from a possible Greek default as talks about the country’s fiscal future remain deadlocked, with both sides waiting for the other to blink first.

Intesa Sanpaolo SpA Chief Executive Officer Carlo Messina said Tuesday in Rome that he’s not concerned about contagion from Greece because of quantitative easing from the European Central Bank, while Bank of France Governor Christian Noyer said he doesn’t see “any particular” risk for banks and insurers related to a departure of Greece from the euro zone.

The comments undermine one of the key arguments used by Greek officials since Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras came to power in January that a Greek financial collapse would present a greater risk for the entire region. In the years since Greece first received bailout funding, a financial backstop for the euro region and other safeguards have been put in place to prevent a wider contamination, and — thus far — any greater impact resulting from the crisis has been limited.

“There is no doubt that tensions can create problems but they have set up an important safety net which is quantitative easing,” said Messina, who heads Italy’s second-largest bank. “So there is no doubt there might be problems but there is also no doubt that the tools to manage them are available.”

Sticking Points

Greek officials are meeting Tuesday in Brussels with the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund to try and resolve the standoff. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande last week set a soft target of reaching a deal by the end of May, a goal that Tsipras’s spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis said Monday can still be reached. Key sticking points remain in areas such as budget targets, sales-tax rates, pension and labor market rules, Sakellaridis said.

After falling the most in almost three weeks on Monday, Greek shares rebounded Tuesday, with the benchmark Athens Stock Exchange gaining 1.3 percent at 3:09 p.m local. The gauge has fallen about 31 percent in the past 12 months, making it one of the worst performing major equity indexes tracked by Bloomberg.

Greek bonds have delivered the worst returns of all sovereign securities tracked by Bloomberg’s World Bond Indexes in the last year. Yields on two-year notes rose 265 basis points, to 25.67 percent Tuesday. In Germany, government bonds rose the most in two weeks, with the yield on 10-year bonds dropping eight basis points to 0.53 percent.

G-7 Meeting

Greece’s standoff with lenders is likely to be a major topic on the sidelines of a Group of Seven gathering starting Wednesday in Dresden, Germany, for finance ministers and central bank governors. Greece has seen liquidity evaporate, pushing the economy back into recession. Record deposit withdrawals and the state’s increasing difficulty in meeting debt payments have renewed doubts about the country’s ability to stay in the euro.

“Unfortunately, a lot of time has been lost,” European Central Bank Governing Council member Ardo Hansson said in Tallinn, Estonia. “An agreement where underlying principles aren’t undermined would be in everyone’s interest, but so far it has been progressing very arduously.”

The ECB is scheduled to hold a weekly conference call Wednesday to review the liquidity situation of Greek banks, as well as the discount it applies to the collateral the lenders pledge in exchange for emergency cash. The banks have lost access to capital markets, forcing them to rely on 80 billion euros of emergency assistance to stay afloat. The ECB can restrict those funds, if it judges that beneficiary lenders are not solvent or don’t have enough eligible collateral.

Seizing Cash

Even though no aid disbursements have been made to Greece since last summer, the country has managed to meet external payments by slowing down spending, building up arrears to suppliers and vendors, encouraging citizens to pay overdue taxes, and seizing the cash reserves of regional governments, hospitals, universities, and other public entities.

Those buffers are being depleted though, and Sakellaridis declined to say Monday whether Greece can meet payments to the International Monetary Fund in June totaling almost 1.6 billion euros.

Greece expects to finalize a deal with creditors by June 5 — when the first IMF payment is due — and is discussing with them imposing a levy on bank transactions, such as cash withdrawals, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told reporters in Athens on Tuesday. In a sign of the country’s efforts to find ways to boost income, Varoufakis said the government is also preparing legislation proposing a 15 percent tax to legalize undeclared deposits held abroad.


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