Spain’s banking crisis worsened Friday as the board of Bankia, the country’s biggest mortgage lender, warned that it would need an additional 19 billion euros ($23.88 billion), far beyond what the government estimated when it seized the bank and its portfolio of delinquent real estate loans.
The government is trying to head off a collapse of the bank, which could threaten the Spanish banking industry and reverberate through the financial centers of Europe and beyond. The fear is that it will not have the money to save its banks, and their 1 trillion euros, or $1.25 trillion, in deposits, and will need a rescue by the rest of Europe — even as Brussels and Frankfurt are struggling to resolve Greece’s debt debacle.
Bankia’s announcement came as Standard & Poor’s, the credit ratings agency, downgraded Bankia and two other banks, Banco Popular and Bankinter, to “junk” status and lowered the ratings of two other Spanish banks also staggered by mounting bad loans. A junk rating could make it even harder for Bankia to borrow its way out of trouble.
The rising fear now is that the recent steady trickle of deposits from Spain’s banks, which are suffering from the bursting of Spain’s real estate bubble, to institutions outside the country could eventually turn into the sort of bank run that almost brought the financial world to its knees after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.
Spain’s debt crisis is also playing out on another front. As its banks shudder, heavily indebted regional governments are also running out of money. On Friday, the government of the Catalonia region warned that it might no longer be able to finance its debts and called on the central government for help. While other regions have also sounded budget alarms, Catalonia is the biggest so far; it represents nearly one-fifth of Spain’s economy.
The central government, facing its own mounting debt, may soon be in no position to provide help to either the banks or the regions. And with an economy in recession and unemployment at the highest level in the euro zone, Madrid is falling further behind in meeting the deficit-reduction targets it has agreed to with the European Union.