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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Euro zone hit by Greek debt fears, aid backlash

(Reuters) - Spain attracted solid demand in a bond sale on Wednesday, easing concerns it could be swept up by euro zone contagion, but worries about Greek debt continued to haunt the bloc, slamming bank stocks in Athens.

A Reuters poll showed an overwhelming majority of economists believe Greece will eventually have to restructure its 325 billion euro (285 billion pound) debt mountain, although most said it would not happen for at least a year.

In a reminder of the rising political hurdles to solving the euro zone's debt crisis, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party said he would try to block plans for a new financial safety net for the 17-nation currency area.

That threat came days after the anti-euro True Finns party scored strong gains in a Finnish election, stoking fears about a veto of Portugal's pending bailout.

The leader of the Finnish party Timo Soini said on Wednesday that finance ministers could discuss an "entirely different" solution to the crisis at a meeting in mid-May where the Portuguese rescue is expected to be approved.

Rising expectations that Greece will have to restructure a debt load that is one-and-a-half times its annual output -- similar to that of Zimbabwe -- have shaken the nervous calm that had descended on euro markets in early 2011 and raised doubts about whether leaders can restore confidence in their bold 12-year-old currency experiment.

Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou reiterated on Wednesday that Athens had no plans to restructure, saying such a step would bring "extreme dangers for the Greek economy, the banking system, businesses and households."

Athanasios Orphanides, a Cypriot who sits on the governing council of the European Central Bank, told Reuters that a restructuring would be damaging to Greece and the broader euro area.

His colleagues at the ECB have warned such a step could have the same devastating effects as the 2008 decision to let U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers go bankrupt, but German officials have made clear they believe some form of restructuring is unavoidable.

Greek bank stocks .FTATBNK fell more than 4 percent on Wednesday on rumours that a restructuring could come soon and the cost of insuring Greek five-year government debt shot up to a record high on worries Athens could end up forcing "haircuts", or losses, on the holders of its debt to reduce its burden.


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