Europe's summit no cure for bank crisis
PARIS (Reuters) - Pledges made by European leaders to tackle the global financial crisis at their Paris summit on Saturday are insufficient to stop the rot banks are fighting hour by hour, analysts say.
"It's like standing on the rails and watching a train coming at you," said Daniel Gros, director of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels.
For Gros and other economists, the leaders of Europe's four largest economies missed an obligation to meet the challenge of the world's worst financial crisis since the 1930s, primarily because they did not propose a system-wide solution.
The leaders of Germany, France, Britain and Italy pledged in Paris to take all steps needed to ensure the stability of the financial system, and to coordinate as necessary.
They asked the European Commission to propose legislation on bank deposit protection and said the exceptional circumstances of the moment meant European limits on state aid to businesses and public deficits should be applied flexibly.
One thing they did not propose was the creation of some kind of pan-European rescue fund, an idea that had circulated in the days before their meeting, but opposed by Germany and Britain.
Nor did they suggest other systemic responses, such as the blanket guarantee Ireland's government is now offering on all retail and wholesale bank deposits, a measure Dublin said was the only way to stop the credit crunch killing banks there.
For full Paris summit statement, click on
The Paris declaration reflected a will to restore confidence but nothing of a fast-acting, hard-hitting or systemic kind to achieve that objective, and certainly not at the speed needed, according to Gros and other economists who work for banks.
"There is once again a wide gap between lofty political aspirations and concrete action," Marco Annunziata, chief economist at Italian bank UniCredit, said.
HOUR BY HOUR
If a reminder of urgency was needed, it came at the weekend, when a bank rescue orchestrated by the German government just days earlier came abruptly unstuck.
German property financing company Hypo Real Estate announced on Saturday that it was "fighting for survival" after other banks in a bailout consortium led by the government withdrew their support, forcing the government to get involved again on Sunday in more emergency meetings.
"Given the concomitant collapse of the Hypo Re rescue plan, I think we need to brace ourselves for a new wave of turmoil in European markets next week," UniCredit's Annunziata said.
The board of UniCredit itself, whose shares have been hard hit amid concern over its exposure to the credit crisis, met on Sunday to decide ways of boosting the bank's capital.
And further north, Belgium and Luxembourg were scrambling to find buyers for the Belgian and Luxembourg parts of beleaguered financial services firm Fortis after the Netherlands nationalised most of its Dutch businesses on Friday.
FOLLOW THE IRISH
Thomas Mayer, chief European economist at Germany's Deutsche Bank, said the strategy of dealing with the troubles of the bank sector on a case-by-case basis was simply no longer enough.
Stronger medicine, applied system-wide, was what was needed now to prevent further bank crisis, said Mayer.
The Irish decision to offer a blanket guarantee on all bank deposits was perhaps something to extend across Europe, even if Dublin's decision had in fact drawn fire from other capitals for being too beggar-thy-neighbour.
Berlin seemed to go some way down that road itself on Sunday when a government spokesman said the country planned unlimited protection for private bank deposits.
Mayer said the collapse of Wall Street investment banking giant Lehman Brothers in September had marked a turning point. Wholesale money markets, only barely operational then, were now close to full paralysis.
Those markets are essential to bank financing, which is why the central banks of Europe, Asia and the United States have been stepping in to provide emergency liquidity.
The boss of Mayer's bank, Deutsche chief executive Josef Ackermann, said before Saturday's Paris summit that European leaders should be prepared to go for heavy-hitting solutions in the way that the U.S. administration was doing.
For Mayer, the summit merely perpetuated the case-by-case rescue strategy.
That, he said, was doomed to fail "just like Sisyphus", the king who in Greek mythology spent his life pushing a boulder up a hill only to watch it fall back down once he got there.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)
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