WRAPUP 7-Ireland in aid talks with EU, rescue likely-sources

By Jan Strupczewski and Padraic Halpin BRUSSELS/DUBLIN, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Ireland is in talks to receive emergency funding from the European Union and is likely to become the second euro zone country, after Greece, to obtain an international rescue, official sources said on Friday. Irish borrowing costs have shot to record highs this week because of concern about the country's ability to reduce a public debt burden swollen by bank bailouts, and worries that private bond holders could be forced to shoulder part of the costs of any bailout by taking "haircuts" on their holdings. Government officials in Dublin have denied repeatedly that they plan to tap EU funds, and an Irish finance ministry spokesman said after the Reuters story was published, "There are no talks on an application for emergency funding from the European Union." Euro zone sources told Reuters that aid discussions were underway, however. One official said it was "very likely" that Ireland would get financial assistance from the EU facility set up after Greece obtained its 110 billion euro bailout in May. "Talks are ongoing and European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) money will be used; there will be no haircuts or restructuring or anything of the kind," one euro zone source said. A second source confirmed the talks. Under the EFSF, the 16 states in the euro zone can provide up to 440 billion euros in emergency loans to crisis-hit members of the zone. The EU's rescue mechanism also allows for the provision of 60 billion euros from all 27 EU members and 250 billion euros or more from the International Monetary Fund. The sources did not specify how large any bailout of Ireland might be but analysts polled by Reuters on Thursday estimated it might be around 48 billion euros ($66 billion). Irish bond yields fell slightly after the Reuters report but the euro barely moved. Analysts said market reaction was modest because of uncertainty over whether Ireland would get a bailout, and since an infusion of funds would not by itself solve the country's long-term problems. "It may put to rest some of the immediate concerns. Longer-term, the question of whether Ireland in the end will have to restructure some of its debt won't go away. Secondly, the focus may shift to other potential bailout candidates, in particular Portugal," said Sarah Hewin, senior economist at Standard Chartered Bank. Philip Poole, global head of macroeconomic and investment strategy at HSBC Global Asset Management, said a quick bailout would be taken very positively by markets, but the experience of the Greek bailout suggested talks could take a long time to reach any agreement on conditions of the emergency loans. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ For a description of the EU safety net, click Bank exposure to Irish debt http://r.reuters.com/fez84q Euro zone struggles with debt http://r.reuters.com/hyb65p Ireland's bailout challenge http://r.reuters.com/wuv48p ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^> SPREADS Pressure on Irish bonds eased earlier on Friday after France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain, seeking to calm the markets, issued a statement confirming that holders of existing euro debt would not take a hit if the EU proceeded with plans to introduce a mechanism letting countries restructure their debt. The spread between the Irish 10-year bond yield and the German benchmark, which rocketed to a high of nearly 7 percentage points on Thursday, narrowed to around 5.8 percentage points on Friday. But borrowing costs for Ireland remain sky-high and pressure on Ireland's fragile banks may have forced the government to enter aid talks, even though it is fully funded until mid-2011 and does not face the same liquidity crisis that confronted Greece earlier this year. The EU may want to calm investors with an Irish bailout to prevent the collapse of market confidence from extending to other indebted countries such as Portugal and Spain. Going to the EU for aid would represent a humiliating setback for Ireland, which posted some of the best growth rates in the euro zone during the bloc's first decade of existence. The global financial crisis, weak regulation of the banking sector and a property bubble fuelled by rock-bottom interest rates eventually caught up with Ireland. This year its budget deficit is projected to total 32 percent of gross domestic product, by far the highest in Europe. Jean-Claude Juncker, chairman of the group of euro zone finance ministers, said on Friday that the EU was following the situation in Ireland very closely but that it was up to Dublin to decide whether to seek support. He said there was no immediate reason to think Ireland would ask for aid. Earlier on Friday, Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen blamed Germany for aggravating Ireland's woes by pushing the idea of asset value reductions for private bondholders in a future rescue mechanism that Berlin wants in place by 2013, when the EFSF facility expires. "It hasn't been helpful," Cowen said of Germany's plan, speaking to the Irish Independent newspaper, "The consequence that the market has taken from it is to question the commitment to the repayment of debt." Germany may discuss its proposals for the new mechanism next week at meetings of EU finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday. Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said on Friday that the country did not need to ask for EU help because of its substantial cash reserves. "The state is well funded into June of next year, we have substantial reserves, so this country is not in a situation or position where it is required in any way to apply for the facility," he said in an interview with RTE television. "Why apply in those circumstances? It doesn't seem to me to make any sense. It would send a signal to the markets that we are not in a position to manage our affairs ourselves." (Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Seoul, Carmel Crimmins, Jodie Ginsberg and Lorraine Turner in Dublin, and Jeremy Gaunt and Sebastian Tong in London; Writing by Noah Barkin; Editing by Ruth Pitchford and Andrew Torchia) Keywords: G20/IRELAND COPYRIGHT Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. 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