ECB risks blocking debt restructurings, expert warns


The European Central Bank could scupper future eurozone debt restructurings if it increases the amount of a country’s bonds it can buy under its economic stimulus program, a top debt lawyer warned.

The problem, on the radar of European authorities suffering a hangover from the 2012 crisis, has been pushed to the fore by expectations the ECB will need to raise limits on its bond purchases to keep its quantitative easing scheme on track.

Kai Schaffelhuber, a partner at law firm Allen & Overy, said that if the ECB permitted itself to buy more than a third of a country’s debt it would make a restructuring of privately-held bonds more difficult, a move that could increase the likelihood of taxpayer rescues.

In a debt restructuring, a quorum of investors has to agree the terms of a deal. The ECB cannot participate because it is forbidden from directly financing governments.

“They (the ECB) should avoid a situation where they are holding so much (of a) debt that a restructuring becomes virtually impossible,” said Schaffelhuber, whose firm worked on Greece’s 2012 debt restructuring.