Like the Greek trireme with 170 rowers that was to have borne the Olympic torch along the Thames to start the games – until health and safety fears killed the plan – Greece’s banks have been left up the proverbial river. They were swept upstream by their own government’s mismanagement as Greece went under. But last week, they started the long row back.

First they had to shed the heavy load of Greek sovereign debt that almost sank them. That meant huge writedowns to reflect last month’s sovereign bond swap, part of the European Union and IMF-led bailout. The swap imposed haircuts of about 75 per cent on bondholders, wiping out much of the banks’ capital. They took all the impairments into their 2011 figures. Then, synchronising their results on Friday, the lenders, including Alpha Bank, Eurobank EFG, National Bank of Greece and Piraeus Bank, revealed the grim scale of their losses. Alpha’s net loss of €3.8bn, for example (following a €3.2bn after-tax impairment), slashed its core tier one ratio to just 3 per cent – far short of September’s 9 per cent Bank of Greece target. But NBG’s loss of €12.3bn, after almost €11bn of impairments meant it required an immediate €6.9bn capital injection.

But the expected recapitalisation, using the almost €50bn earmarked by the European Financial Stability Facility did not follow. Instead, the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, the EFSF’s local counterpart, disbursed less than half as much – enough, with guarantees, to cover losses and keep banks ticking. The HFSF safety net buys time while banks have one last go at their own capital raising – from asset sales, debt buybacks or even private investors. But little is likely to happen before Greece’s May 6 election.

Investors watching the EFSF’s faltering first outing should not lose heart, however. Greek banks have clarity about the capital they require – and HFSF cash is there if needed.

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