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Emerging European banking: No time for delay

Emerging Europe needs a coordinated bank bailout – and fast.

The crisis in central and eastern Europe threatens to spiral out of control. Some doomsayers think that it could even lead to a breakdown of the eurozone as concerns mount over western Europe’s banks’ liabilities to the region.

These banks’ exposure to financial institutions in emerging Europe exceeds $1 trillion, according to the Bank for International Settlements, with more than $400 billion of short-term debt due this year – an amount unlikely to be met. Austrian banks have the biggest exposure by assets, followed by the Germans and Italians. Combined they total more than $700 billion.

Last month, Moody’s announced that these western European banks were at risk of a downgrade – a statement that further roiled the stock and credit markets.

Europe’s shares tanked in the statement’s aftermath, with bank stocks leading the way, especially those with big CEE exposures. Société Générale fell to a 10-year low, UniCredit’s shares plunged 32%, and Swedbank was down 14%. The grim outlook weighed on the banks’ CDS spreads too, with Erste Group’s moving out to 309 basis points from 261bp and Raiffeisen Zentralbank’s to 375bp from 329bp in the space of a week.

Moody’s statement did little for financial markets in emerging Europe itself either.

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