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Deutsche Bank's CEO: Greece Impact on Eurozone

Vladimir Rys Photography | Getty Images

The talk of the second bailout of Greece is getting louder and louder.

Greek Prime Minister Papandreou reshuffled his cabinet today appointed Evangelos Venizelos as finance minister, replacing George Papaconstantinou.

Deutsche Bank’s CEO Josef Ackermann has been a leadership voice in the Eurozone on this issue. Maria Bartiromo spoke to Ackermann in a CNBC Exclusive about the implications of this bailout.

ACKERMANN: I think it's very important that we check the necessary funds to help Greece. But there are two major issues. One, of course, is that accepted within Greece, all this additional austerity program measures, which are necessary in order to get the funds.

Second, how do you explain that to your own people in different countries in Europe? That's why a lot of people say, especially the German government, but also Dutch government, the Finnish government, are saying, "We should have some sort of private sector involvement." That's a big question.

The European Central Bank, so far, has been opposed to that idea, because we really don't know what the unintended consequences of all that are. So I think we should, and we are starting it, whether we can voluntarily contribute somehow in order to support get this political support. But on the other hand, I think there's no other option than doing check the necessary funds.

BARTIROMO: This is a subject that actually France and Germany had disagreed on in terms of having private investors shoulder some of the burden here. What do you envision? How would you like to see private investors take on some of the debt?

ACKERMANN: Our first approach, in this French discussion is they at least decided today that we should act fast. That's very important. Because some people wanted to delay it, which would, in my view, be a disaster. And the risk of further contagion would have been increased.

BARTIROMO: Take us back and go through the severity of this problem. First of all, the banking sector. How much of an impact are you seeing on the banks to the exposure to Greece?

ACKERMANN: If you are exclusively talking about Greece, we can take absolutely certainty that there is no contagion to any other of the debt countries, then I think the impact will somewhat small. Much of that is in the Greek bank system, which of course would have to be recapitalized. And then part of it is in the public sector banks.

The private banks, I think, could manage that pretty well. Deutsche Bank has relatively small exposure. Having said that, the risk of what is going to happen in other markets, what is going to happen in other countries, that's an open question. No one has a clear answer. That's why I think we have to be very, very careful of how we structure it going forward.

BARTIROMO: What kind of impact, in terms of Deutsche Bank, what happens to Deutsche Bank if Greece does default?

ACKERMANN: The direct impact would be in a relatively small number. You're not talking about big numbers. But what I cannot say, what it means for financial markets in general, and whether it would have similar dislocations as we had after Lehman collapsed. That is an unknown. Of course things could get worse. But I think we are well positioned. So for Deutsche Bank, on a stand alone basis, I'm not overly concerned there.

BARTIROMO: Where are the other vulnerabilities? Are we talking about Portugal? Are we talking about Spain? Italy?

ACKERMANN: No, I think we really have to say one thing. It is Portugal, Ireland right now. Although the reasons are different, I mean we have in Portugal and in Greece is more a debt problem of sovereign risk of the state, whereas an Ireland has been more a banking problem. So they had to solve the bank problem.

Ireland was a role model in terms of a very low debt to GDP in sovereign risk terms. Now Spain, in my view, is absolutely safe. And we have to do everything to keep it there. Because if the wave would hit Spain or any other larger countries, we would talk about much bigger problems.

I'm very confident that Spain is doing the right things. They are recapitalizing their savings banks. They are having reduced the fiscal deficit. Their debt to GDP is not very high. They started 35 percent, which was a tremendously attractive starting point. They will end up maybe with 70 to 80 percent, which is still manageable. Completely different from what you're seeing in Greece and of course Portugal.

BARTIROMO: You said we have to make sure that this is the case, protect it. How do you protect it? What kind of structure would you like to see in terms of this bailout or restructuring of debt to insure that we don't see sort of a catastrophic ripple effect throughout the Eurozone?

ACKERMANN: That's why we have to gain time. It is impossible, because we have created these kind of imbalances. And I have to be very self critical. Financial markets have not put enough discipline on Greece and other countries. How was it possible to raise almost $300 billion Euros, or even slightly more than that, at very attractive rates? Although we knew that-- Greece was, from an economic point of view, a much weaker country than, let's say, Germany or France.

How to move from this imbalance today to a new, sustainable, equilibrium? I think you cannot do that overnight. We have built up this imbalance over many, many years. It will take longer to bring it down to a sustainable level. That's why we should not only focus and reduce in fiscal deficits, we should also talk about strengthening the economy in Greece, so they, going forward, not only creating jobs, but also, having a stronger business environment in order to be able to service the debt, and export and create jobs and be a stronger economy.

BARTIROMO: What is your timeframe on this?

ACKERMANN: We will have clarity in the coming days. There's no doubt about that. In the coming days, you have to know whether the IMF and Europe is willing to inject more funds. And I really do hope that it's going to happen. If we delay it until September, who knows what's going to happen over the summer break in terms of discussions around other countries, as well.

But of course the longer term, the economic strength program, which, you know, I once said mi-- might be something like a Marshall Plan. That will take much longer. That's a five to ten year time horizon.

BARTIROMO: Josef, in terms of taking a leadership role, you clearly have been leading in terms of the talks in the Eurozone. Tell me what has been the biggest sticking point.

ACKERMANN: The most important one, and the most difficult one, is of course you have to convince people that they are willing to transfer funds to some of these countries on the periphery. If you are hardworking and you are losing your job, and then you are paying high taxes, and then you're saying, "Why do I have to transfer some of my revenues, tax revenues, to other countries?" So that is a very, very complicated concept.

I think it's important that political leaders and business leaders the same parallel, try to explain why this is important. It's not only the Euro as a currency, it's also, of course, the European idea, which is finally at stake. Another point is that we are all beneficiaries of the Euro concept.

If we had to compete with deutschemark in on a global level, or if we had to compete as a individual country against China, against India, against Brazil and United States, I don't think we would have the voice we need as Europeans. And so we have to have a coordinated voice. That necessitates some sort of coordination and think we have to do more in terms of political and economic coordination.

That was the big problem when the euro started. It was the idea of starting with a currency, which then leads to some sort of a political, or at least fiscal, union. We have done many, many things right. But we have maybe not achieved that goal fast enough.

When the financial crisis came, and people started to focus and to scrutinize the levels ofthe competitiveness in different countries, they have realized that some have a too-high indebtedness. I think that, then, led to this kind of dissipation.

BARTIROMO: Because of course this whole upset and debt issue for Greece, and the ripple effects throughout the Eurozone, has brought up the new skepticism about the euro. Do you believe that the policy makers will protect the Euro?

ACKERMANN: No, that's absolutely clear that it is not a euro crisis, it is a debt crisis on the periphery. And the fact that Europe is so much part of or the Euro is so much part of the European idea, is absolutely clear. For a while, the Euro was so much weaker when the crisis started, but then has strengthened again. Since then, has actually been the relatively stable.

But you should not forget, we started against a dollar at 1.18, and then the dollar got very strong, the euro got very weak for some years. Then we came back and we had a very strong Euro. Now we are somewhat in the middle, but still substantially above the starting point.

BARTIROMO: Now of course Germany has been really the locomotive of the Eurozone, really the strongest region. What is behind this straight in the midst of all of this upset elsewhere?

ACKERMANN: That's a very, very interesting question. You have several reasons for that. Now of course to be fair and honest, I have to say that Germany suffered very much during the financial crisis in the first year. We had a negative growth of 4.6 percent, but then recovered very quickly at over 3.5 percent, and continues to grow at a very high level.

So we are now ahead of the crisis, which is very good. I think you have many reasons. One is the fact that German companies, very early, maybe after Second World War, started to increase the presence in emerging economies. In Latin America, in China, in India, you find Middle East, and Africa, you find a lot of German companies being present then for a long time.

Second, I think the proximity to Eastern Europe helps. Thirdly, we kept investments in R&D during the crisis. Fourth, we kept the people, we trained them, so we could (come back) after the crisis. So we didn't have to hire and fire people. Lastly, I would say what has been done in terms of social systems, tax system and so on, has been very important. The changes which have happened over the last ten years. And the last point, which is a little bit a controversial one, but you know we were allowed to sell our industrial holdings tax free. I think that opened up German companies to the corporate controls, or the control and discipline which is set by financial markets. That changed the management and changed the focus of many of these companies. That was a fantastic thing in hindsight.

BARTIROMO: Turning to the monetary policy and the job Ben Bernanke has been doing. Many people in the emerging markets will say all of this free money has created an inflation problem. What is your take on the Fed's policy in the United States, the impact on your business? And what happens when the QE2 program goes away?

BARTIROMO: Turning to the monetary policy and the job Ben Bernanke has been doing. Many people in the emerging markets will say all of this free money has created an inflation problem. What is your take on the Fed's policy in the United States, the impact on your business? And what happens when the QE2 program goes away?

ACKERMANN: The fiscal exit strategies, be it monetary exit strategy, that's a very big thing which no one, I think, has a clear answer. In terms of the monetary policy of the Fed, and in specifically about the quantitative easing I'm a strong supporter of that.

I know that some of the money has gone to strong, maybe less open, economies. That’s led to appreciation of the countries. And of course we have also seen that it added, to some extent, some inflationary pressure in certain regions.

Knowing how important the U.S. market is, I think to keep the U.S. economy strong and alive, and we have a lot of chance in the United States, was much more important for the global economy than this ripple effect which we are just is discussing. So I'm a strong supporter of quantitative easing.

BARTIROMO: The regulatory environment. We've got Basel Three rules coming on. What's your take on how the regulatory environment has changed? How does that impact Deutsche Bank?

ACKERMANN: I'm very much in agreement with what we have seen so far. The capital requirements, liquidity requirements. I think we should stop now, and we should take stock before we move on with the next steps. Now I know there's already the deficit discussion going on.

The problem is several folds. One is the financial markets are less patient than regulators. Regulators are giving us time to phase it in. But financial markets actually would like to see it implemented almost today. The second one is, with all this new demand for capital, long term funding, where does the supply come from? If you talk to the insurance companies, they are saying, "We already full with bank risk, so why should we be willing and capable of injecting even more funds into the banking system?" And the same you will hear from any others, especially given the low valuation of many bank stocks in the industrialized world.

Thirdly, I think we have the risk of some going further than what was agreed in general, which leads somewhat to a race to the top, and of course creates a playing field which is no longer leveled. I think that is something which is very negative.

We have a global production system in the world. We have a global trading system. I'm a strong believer that we also need a global financial system. And if we have a fragmented financial system, we pay a price for that. The last point is, with all these measures, we have got levees, more capital, more liquidity resolution funds, and many other things winding down, or facets no one fully understands the cumulative impact of all of that on the world economy.

In such a fragile environment as we have now, with imbalance in the United States, with the debt crisis in Europe, with the political tensions in Northern Africa and Middle East, and of course is part of asset inflation in China, I think we have to be very mindful of what that could lead to in terms of our most noble tasks when we finance the economy.

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