Slovenia is headed toward becoming the sixth euro-area nation to seek a bailout as faltering banks strain the finances of the first post-communist nation to adopt the common currency, said economists from London to Warsaw.
The nation, which adopted the euro in 2007, is assessing the fiscal burden of covering the liabilities of its financial industry after Nova Ljubljanska Banka d.d., the largest bank, got a capital boost. Premier Janez Jansa, who said on June 27 that Slovenia risks a “Greek scenario,” told reporters two days later in Brussels the government is “doing everything to find a solution” and avoid the need for assistance.
“It’s increasingly likely that Slovenia will be the next small economy asking for a European Union bailout, which would be focused on the banking sector,” Michal Dybula, an economist at BNP Paribas SA (BNP) in Warsaw, said by phone.
Cyprus last week became the fifth euro-area country to ask for help from the 17-nation region’s firewall, while Slovenian borrowing costs soared last month to the highest level since February, with the yield on the 2021 bond reaching 6.1 percent on June 29. Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain were forced to seek financial aid after their borrowing costs surged.
Slovenia’s benchmark bond dropped today, pushing the yield on government notes maturing in 2021 to 6.003 percent at 10:12 a.m. in Ljubljana from 5.808 percent yesterday, according to mid-pricing data compiled by Bloomberg.
The convergence of the European Union’s richest nation to join the EU since 2004 has stalled, putting its per-capita output at the same level below the EU average as it was before entry. The economy may contract 2 percent this year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“The main thing is that we have completed the NLB capital increase,” Finance Minister Janez Sustersic said in a phone interview yesterday when asked to comment about economists’ statements. “I think we can solve this by domestic funding. I don’t think a bailout will happen and these economists may say what they say since they don’t have up-to-date information.”
The government in Ljubljana has adopted measures including public-sector wage and social benefit cuts this year to reduce spending by about 800 million euros ($1.01 billion) to trim the budget deficit after it reached 6.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2011.
Still, the central bank has repeatedly urged Slovenia to recapitalize its banking industry, which relies on loans from the European Central Bank for liquidity. A plea for financial assistance from Slovenia may emerge if European leaders don’t come up with a quick fix to the worsening debt and banking crisis, said Dybula.
“It would take a further escalation of the euro crisis, pushing up bond yields to prohibitively costly levels, to force a request to the International Monetary Fund and the EU,” William Jackson, an emerging-markets economist at Capital Economics in London, said in an e-mail. “It doesn’t look like we’re there yet, but they’re probably not too far off.”
NLB needed 381 million euros, with Slovenia and its agencies providing all of the money after its second-largest owner, KBC Groep NV (KBC), withdrew from the transaction because it failed to win approval from the European Commission.
KBC, Belgium’s largest bank and insurance company by market value, received 7 billion euros in state aid in 2009. The Slovenian government called the capital boost a “temporary solution” as it seeks to lower its majority holding in NLB to 25 percent plus one share.
NLB needs 500 million euros and “much more” to restart lending to boost the economy, Sustersic has said earlier. The bank borrowed 1.2 billion euros from the ECB, acting Chief Executive Officer Bozo Jasovic said.
“I think we will avoid seeking assistance,” said Sustersic yesterday, adding NLB is stable for at least a year after the government contributed a majority of the capital increase by purchasing contingent convertible bonds. “So I don’t see any further problems with our biggest bank. I don’t see a reason to seek help for banks. I don’t see this scenario happening.”
Public debt has more than doubled to 47.6 percent of economic output since euro adoption and will advance to 54.7 percent by the end of 2012, according to a May report by the European Commission.
“This generation will have to pay dearly for the stupidity of those that have delayed decisions,” Jansa said in an interview with Koper, Slovenia-based Radio Ognjisce on June 27, urging lawmakers to approve spending limits.
After the summit of European Union leaders in Brussels on June 29, Jansa said “our assessment is that Slovenia, since we adopted measures to balance budget finances, is not in danger of seeking help. There are no reasons to speculate that Slovenia may need assistance.”
Slovenia is the only eastern EU nation that didn’t get richer relative to its peers last year, according to Eurostat. Its output per capita, adjusted for purchasing power, fell for a third year to 84 percent of the bloc’s average from 85 percent a year ago. Seven other former communist nations, including Poland, which has the region’s largest economy, continued to catch up with the west.
At the heart of investors’ concerns are local banks, which rely on financing from the ECB as record losses and uncertainty in the European banking industry limits access to funding. Lenders borrowed 2 billion euros from the ECB, the Slovenian central bank said on June 14.
“Comments to seek an EU rescue when reforms aren’t approved quickly aren’t clever because markets will push Slovenia into this situation by cutting finances,” said Lutz Roehmeyer, who oversees 10 billion euros and holds Slovenian bonds at Landesbank Berlin (BEB2) Invest. The country is in better shape than Spain, Ireland, Greece and Portugal, he said.
“It’s unwise to provoke a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Roehmeyer said.
Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor (KBMR) d.d., the country’s second- biggest lender, invited companies to carry out due diligence to see how much more capital it needs. Abanka Vipa (ABKN) d.d. is seeking to raise 50 million euros in a share sale.
“By the end of the year we may have to ask for aid to recapitalize banks,” said Radivoj Pregelj, an analyst at Abanka Vipa d.d. in Nova Gorica, Slovenia. “If we look at the banks and their bad loans, they would need 3 billion euros to 3.5 billion euros, with about half of that for NLB, which represents about 10 percent of Slovenia’s economic output.”
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