7th Jul 2022

ECB to change rules to buy Greek, Cypriot debt

  • The ECB is set to ease its rules to allow it to buy junk rated securities from Greek and Cypriot banks. (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The European Central Bank (ECB) is set to change its rules to allow it to buy asset-backed securities with junk ratings issued by Greek and Cypriot banks.

The ECB’s executive board, meeting Thursday (2 October), is to propose that its requirements on the quality of assets that can be bought by the bank are relaxed to buy the safer ABS issued by the two Mediterranean countries, the Financial Times reports.

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It will also launch an asset purchase programme to buy debt products from banks at the meeting in Naples.

Under its current rules, the ECB only accepts ABS as collateral for its loans if they hold a credit rating of at least triple B. The ratings for Greece and Cyprus from the three main credit rating agencies range between single B and C.

Greece and Cyprus government debt securities have had a junk rating by major ratings agencies ever since they received their respective bailouts from the EU and the IMF, both of which involved bond-holders taking losses on their investments.

The move is unlikely to be popular in Germany where finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said last week that he was "not happy about the debate on the purchase of asset-backed securities".

Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann has publicly opposed the plan on the grounds that it would involve a large transfer of risk from private banks to taxpayers.

The Frankfurt-based bank has launched a series of measures in recent weeks to ease credit conditions in the eurozone in its latest bid to stave off a spiral of economic stagnation, high unemployment and very low inflation across the currency bloc.

However, the bank has so far fallen short of printing money and buying up government debt - known as quantitative easing.

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