The European Union has finally stepped up to the plate with a bailout package for member states - after months and months of hemming and hawing - and it only took the potential bottoming out of the euro and fears of another global panic to light a fire. Never mind troubles in Greece since last November, never mind Ireland, or the UK, or Portugal or Spain.
The bailout package agreed by EU finance ministers early this morning will supply countries in the region with up to $560 billion in newly-minted loans and $76 billion available through a current lending program. The IMF will also front up to $321 billion – making a total of $957 billion in loans available to help shore up ailing European economies.
Right after the announcement of the bailout, the ECB announced it would start buying eurozone bonds – both sovereign and corporate – to add liquidity to the market and keep the cost of borrowing down for debt-loaded countries. In addition, various global central banks announced plans to make more liquidity available for interbank lending.
These are clearly positive signals for corporates in the region facing the fear of once-again straightened liquidity, the potential for shrinking or non-existent bank lending, and other fallout from possible sovereign delinquencies and downgrades.
The good news is that finance ministers from across the EU agreed on a plan of action and went forward with it in record time. This is a big step for the EU on an ideological level. It is the first real eurozone-wide crisis and if the lumbering, many-headed giant can bring itself together and make snap decisions when absolutely necessary, then perhaps it can weather the current storm and come out okay.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done to reverse the downward spiral of EU member states’ balance sheet strength. The debt load of troubled countries – including Greece, Spain and Portugal – must be lightened, and it will take serious belt tightening to accomplish that.