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Spain says banks healthy while Berlin warns its laggards

Source: Reuters - Mon 11th Apr 2011

Spain's finance minister said on Saturday that the results of stress tests on Spanish banks would reassure investors, contrasting with Germany which said any failing lenders would get no help from Berlin.

Elena Salgado said Spain's savings banks, or cajas, would have double the minimum capital level required to pass European Union stress tests, while the German finance minister threatened he could close lenders that failed checks.

"We are going to do the exercise of the stress tests to ... the whole of our financial system, and I think that with the measures that we have been taking of recapitalizing, they will pass the stress tests," Salgado told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of European Union finance ministers in Hungary.

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She also reiterated comments earlier this week that Spain was not at risk of seeking an international bailout after neighboring Portugal was this week forced to ask for EU and IMF aid.

"Now I do not see any risk of contagion. I think we are totally out of this," she said.

Salgado's comments on successful bank stress tests were in contrast with those of her German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble, who signaled he would rather see failing German banks close than call on Berlin for more financial aid.

Two German lenders, Helaba and NordLB, could fail Europe-wide testing after the bar was raised, demanding more better-quality capital to prove that lenders are robust. The stress test results are due to be published in June.

"If the results of the tests show a need for fresh capital, the owners are there to cover these needs," Schaeuble said. "It is not the case that one can appeal to the state.

"The funds of Soffin (German's bank rescue fund) ... are not available for any new requests," said Schaeuble. "It is no longer like in 2008 that there are no alternatives ... we have an insolvency law."

Schaeuble wants German savings banks and regional states that partly own the two lenders to prop up the banks so that they do not have to turn to the German government fund for help.

Spain has closed and merged many of its savings banks since last year while Germany remains locked in dispute with regional governments over how to tackle problems at provincial state-backed lenders.

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