Euro Finance Chiefs Weighing Greek Debt Relief

Posted June 21st, 2012 at 7:45 pm (UTC-5)
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Eurozone finance officials discussed ways of easing financial woes in Greece and Spain at a meeting in Luxembourg Thursday.

Athens is asking for easing the terms of its $168-billion international rescue package it secured earlier this year on the promise to adopt strict austerity measures to reduce its debt. Greece's second bailout in two years has failed to reduce its economic crisis, which is threatening to undermine Europe's common currency and is causing turmoil in international markets.

The ministers said modification may be possible, but a decision will be made after the international creditors — the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank — review the bookkeeping in Athens.

Moody's Investors Service lowered the credit ratings of 15 of the world's largest banks late Thursday, including Europe's Barklays, Deutsche Bank and HSBC. Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs were also downgraded. The agency says the long-term prospects for profitability and growth of those banks are shrinking and is especially grim for the banks with significant financial market businesses because those markets have become volatile.

Major U.S. stock indexes plunged two percent or more Thursday after a string of bad economic moves.

Spain is due to receive up to $125 billion from the European Union to shore up its biggest banks, hurt by bad loans. The Spanish government is expected to make a formal request for financial assistance early next week.

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, warned that the euro is under acute stress and called for a forceful move to strengthen Europe's monetary union.

Finance ministers from Germany, the Netherlands and Finland have indicated they would reject easing austerity measures designed to slash Greece's debt.

Dutch finance minister Jan Kees de Jager was adamant that Greece must stick to its obligations, echoing repeated messages by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“There is no alternative for reforms or austerity and there can also be no question of flexibility or watering down or whatever.''

Some European officials acknowledge Greece will need more leeway to advance its economy, now in the fifth year of a recession. The topic will be discussed by the eurozone heads of state next week in Brussels.

The new coalition government in Athens says its goal is to boost the country's economic growth and revise the bailout terms, but not so much as to jeopardize Greek membership in the 17-nation eurozone.

Spain's borrowing costs are spiraling. Financial analysts say the country's banks will need close to $80 billion in extra capital survive.

Madrid again sold bonds to investors on Thursday, but its borrowing costs more than doubled from a comparable sale in March.

Italy also is experiencing difficulties.

Meanwhile, a new survey showed European manufacturing is continuing to contract, down to its lowest point in three years.