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EU Crafts $962 Billion Show of Force to Halt Crisis

European policy makers unveiled an unprecedented loan package worth almost $1 trillion and a program of bond purchases as they spearheaded a global drive to stop a sovereign-debt crisis that threatened to shatter confidence in the euro.

Jolted by last week’s slide in the currency and soaring bond yields in Portugal and Spain, European Union finance chiefs met in a 14-hour session in Brussels overnight. The 16 euro nations agreed in a statement to offer as much as 750 billion euros ($962 billion), including International Monetary Fund backing, to countries facing instability and the European Central Bank said it will buy government and private debt.

The rescue package for Europe’s sovereign debtors comes little more than a year after the waning of the last crisis, caused by the U.S. mortgage-market collapse, which wreaked $1.8 trillion of global credit losses and writedowns. Under U.S. and Asian pressure to stabilize markets, Europe’s governments bet their show of force would prevent a sovereign-debt collapse and muffle speculation the 11-year-old euro might break apart.

“Europe wants to give the impression that they are not dealing with the crisis on a piecemeal basis and are addressing it in a comprehensive fashion,” Venkatraman Anantha-Nageswaran, who helps manage about $140 billion in assets as global chief investment officer at Bank Julius Baer & Co. in Singapore, said.

How to Pay

“It might temporarily calm nerves but questions will come back later on how they will pay for this package when all of them need fiscal consolidation,” Anantha-Nageswaran also said.

The euro headed for its biggest two-day rally since March last year, climbing 1.4 percent to $1.2930 as of 2:46 p.m. in Tokyo after advancing on May 7 on forecasts an agreement would be reached over the weekend.

Asian stocks also rallied, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average rising 1.5 percent and the MSCI Asia Pacific Index up 1.3 percent. Futures contracts on the U.S. Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 243 points to 10,578.

“The message has gotten through: the euro zone will defend its money,” French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde told reporters in Brussels early today after markets punished inaction last week.

ECB policy makers said they will counter “severe tensions” in “certain” markets by purchasing government and private debt, and the bank restarted a dollar-swap line with the Federal Reserve.

‘Prevent Panic’

“This truly is overwhelming force, and should be more than sufficient to stabilize markets in the near term, prevent panic and contain the risk of contagion,” Marco Annunziata, chief economist at UniCredit Group in London, said in an e-mailed note. “This is Shock and Awe, Part II and in 3-D.”

Treasuries tumbled on investors’ increased appetite for risk, with yields on benchmark 10-year U.S. notes rising to 3.57 percent from 3.43 percent at last week’s close. German bunds opened lower, sending 10-year yields up about 12 basis points.

The steps came after failure to contain Greece’s fiscal crisis triggered a 4.1 percent drop in the euro last week, the biggest weekly decline since the aftermath of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s collapse. European stocks sank the most in 18 months, with the Stoxx Europe 600 Index tumbling 8.8 percent to 237.18.

The ripple effect in the U.S., including a brief 1,000- point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average on May 6, prompted President Barack Obama to call German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to urge “resolute steps” to prevent the crisis from cascading around the world.

IMF Role

Under the loan package, euro-area governments pledged 440 billion euros in loans or guarantees, with 60 billion euros more in loans from the EU’s budget and as much as 250 billion euros from the International Monetary Fund.

“They will have bought themselves a significant amount of time to do the right thing,” said Barry Eichengreen, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Markets worldwide are reeling from Europe’s debt saga. Gold rose to a near-record of $1,214.90 an ounce in New York last week, and the MSCI World Index of equities dropped to a three- month low. Investors fleeing European markets parked money in U.S. Treasuries, pushing the 10-year note yield down 23 basis points to 3.43 percent.

In a step that skirts EU rules barring direct central bank lending to governments, the ECB said it will conduct “interventions” to ensure “depth and liquidity” in markets. The purchases will be sterilized, meaning they won’t increase the overall money supply in the financial system.

ECB Precedent

“This sets a precedent for the rest of the life of the Central Bank and will have likely surprised even the most seasoned observers,” said Jacques Cailloux, chief European economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London. “While the ECB’s intervention might attract bad press regarding its mandate and independence, we believe that this was necessary to short circuit the negative feedback loop which was getting more and more threatening for the global economy. ”

The ECB also reactivated unlimited fixed-rate offerings of three month loans, a key tool in the ECB’s efforts to fight the credit crisis.

In Brussels, finance ministers from the 16-nation euro region — joined by ministers from the 11 EU countries outside the euro — raced against time to weld the contingency lending arrangements before markets opened in Asia.

‘Wolfpack Behavior’

Inability to craft a convincing package in time would have left deficit-plagued countries at the mercy of the “wolfpack behavior” of speculators, Finance Minister Anders Borg of Sweden, a non-euro member, said as the meeting began.

The new war chest would be used for countries like Portugal or Spain in case their finances buckle. Deficits are set to reach 8.5 percent of gross domestic product in Portugal and 9.8 percent in Spain this year, above the euro region’s 3 percent limit. Both countries pledged “significant” additional budget cuts in 2010 and 2011, which will be outlined in May, an EU statement said.

The extra yield that investors demand to hold Greek, Portuguese and Spanish debt instead of benchmark German bonds rose to euro-era highs last week. The premium on 10-year government bonds jumped as high as 973 basis points for Greece, 354 basis points for Portugal and 173 basis points for Spain.

Greece, the epicenter of the debt crisis, has already won a 110 billion-euro aid package after agreeing to unprecedented austerity measures. The cuts sparked riots in Athens last week, leading to three deaths and stoking concerns that the government won’t be able to implement all the steps.

Greek Package

European governments endorsed their 80 billion-euro share last week, and the IMF cleared the way to pay its 30 billion- euro share yesterday.

Europe’s financial leaders sought to master the euro’s stiffest test since its debut in 1999 without wheelchair-bound Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of Germany, Europe’s largest economy, who was rushed to a hospital soon after the meeting started due to an adverse reaction to new medication. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere got on a last-minute flight to Brussels to take his place.

As Merkel’s cabinet held a late-night meeting in Berlin on the euro rescue, her party unexpectedly lost control of Germany’s most populous state in a regional election, potentially costing her a majority in the upper house of the federal parliament.

German Prodding

Goaded by Germany, the ministers made a fresh commitment to closer monitoring of government finances and more rigorous enforcement of the deficit-limitation rules.

The vow to push budget shortfalls below the euro’s 3 percent limit echoes promises that have been regularly broken ever since governments in 1999 set a three-year deadline for achieving balanced budgets. The euro region’s overall deficit is forecast at 6.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2010 and 6.1 percent in 2011.

Britain, the EU’s third-largest economy, won’t contribute to a euro rescue fund, though it backs efforts to restore stability, Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling said.

“When it comes to supporting the euro, that is for the eurogroup countries,” Darling told Sky News.