Last updated: June 29, 2010 10:53 am

Spanish banks rage at end of ECB offer

Spanish banks have been lobbying the European Central Bank to act to ease the systemic fallout from the expiry of a €442bn ($542bn) funding programme this week, accusing the central bank of “absurd” behaviour in not renewing the scheme.

On Thursday, the clock runs out on the ECB financing programme – the largest amount ever lent in a single liquidity operation by the central bank – under the terms of the one-year special liquidity facility launched last summer

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One senior bank executive said: “Any central bank has to have the obligation to supply liquidity. But this is not the policy of the ECB. We are fighting them every day on this. It’s absurd.”

Another top director said: “The ECB’s policy is that they don’t want to provide maturity of more than three months. But they have to adapt.”

Banks across the eurozone, but in Spain in particular, have found it hard in recent weeks to secure liquid funding in the commercial markets, with inter-bank funding virtually non-existent.

The €442bn ECB facility, which charges interest at a rate of 1 per cent, is not set to be renewed, something that banks in Spain and elsewhere in Europe say ignores current commercial realities.

A special offer of six-day liquidity will tide banks over until the following week’s regular offer of seven-day funds. On Wednesday, the ECB will also be offering unlimited three month liquidity, and further offers of three-month liquidity will keep banks going until at least the end of the year.

“The system is just not working,” agrees Simon Samuels, banks analyst at Barclays Capital in London. “We’re approaching the third year of liquidity support and still the market cannot survive unaided.”

BarCap estimates that at least €150bn of the ECB funding that is maturing will not be rolled over into shorter-term three-month schemes, forcing banks to shrink their own lending.

Spain’s banks have been among the hardest hit by the faltering confidence in the eurozone economies in recent months following problems with the country’s smaller savings banks, or cajas. The bigger commercial banks, led by Santander and BBVA, feel unfairly tarred.

The euro’s monetary guardian has also come under pressure from German banks to provide one-year loans. It stopped offering such loans late last year, when it began unwinding exceptional measures taken after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

It resisted reintroducing such offers even when its “exit strategy” was thrown into reverse last month by the escalating eurozone debt crisis.

ECB policymakers worry that providing cheap loans for such a long period distort markets and could restrict the room for manoeuvre in monetary policy.

Lending by eurozone banks to businesses and households is improving only modestly, in spite of the pickup in economic activity.

Loans to the private sector grew at an annual rate of 0.2 per cent in May, up from 0.1 per cent in April, according to ECB figures released on Monday. Lending to households was strongest, although the annual rate of decline in lending to corporations also slowed.

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