Banks clamored for emergency funds from the European Central Bank on Tuesday, borrowing the most since early 2009 in a clear sign that the euro region’s financial institutions are having trouble obtaining credit at reasonable rates on the open market.
Indebted governments among the 17 members of the European Union that use the euro are also finding it harder to borrow at affordable rates as investors lose confidence in their creditworthiness....
Together, the commercial banks’ heavy reliance on the central bank to finance their everyday business needs, along with the growing borrowing burden for Spain and Italy, raise the risk of failure for some banks within the countries that use the euro and the danger that nations much larger than Greece could eventually seek a bailout or be forced to leave the euro currency union....
The European debt crisis has crimped the flow of funds to banks by raising doubts about the solvency of institutions with a large exposure to European government debt. In particular, American money market funds have severely cut back their lending to European banks in recent months, leading many institutions to turn to Europe’s central bank.
Compounding the problem, many banks using the euro have also had trouble selling bonds to raise money that they can lend to customers. That raises the specter of a credit squeeze that could amplify an impending economic slowdown. In addition, some banks may fail if they are unable to raise short-term cash.
The central bank said Tuesday that commercial banks had taken out 247 billion euros, ($333 billion), in one-week loans, the largest amount since April 2009. And the 178 banks borrowing from the central bank on Tuesday compared with the 161 banks that borrowed 230 billion euros ($310 billion) last week.
Since 2008, the central bank has been allowing lenders to borrow as much as they want at the benchmark interest rate, which is now 1.25 percent. Banks must provide collateral. But the central bank is not supposed to prop up banks that are insolvent, only those that have a temporary liquidity problem.