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Ireland Faces `Outsized’ Problem, Seeks EU, IMF Bailout

Ireland sought international aid, becoming the second euro country to need a rescue as the cost of saving its banks threatened a rerun of the Greek debt crisis that destabilized the currency.

Ireland will channel some of the money from the European Union and International Monetary Fund to lenders through a “contingent” capital fund, Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan told reporters late yesterday. The rest of the package, which Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimates may total 95 billion euros ($130 billion), would help Ireland avoid selling bonds.

“The banks were too big a problem for the country,” Lenihan said in Dublin. “The key issue all the time for the government is to ensure that we do not have a collapse of the banking sector.”

The aid, which Irish officials said as recently as Nov. 15 they didn’t need, marks the latest blow to an economy that more than doubled in the decade ending in 2006. The bursting of the real-estate bubble in 2008 plunged the country into a recession and brought its banks close to collapse. With Irish bond yields near a record, policy makers are trying to keep the crisis from engulfing Portugal and Spain, the fourth-largest euro economy.

“Ireland had no choice,” said Nicholas Stamenkovic, a fixed-income strategist in Edinburgh at RIA Capital Markets Ltd., a broker for money managers. “The market will still be waiting for the details of the assistance and the conditionality, but there should be a relief rally.”

The euro rose to $1.3740 as of 5:57 a.m. in Tokyo from $1.3673 in New York on Nov. 19, when it climbed 0.2 percent. The single currency gained 0.4 percent to 114.65 yen.

Funding Needs

The U.K. and Sweden may contribute bilateral loans, the EU said in a statement. Lenihan declined to say how big the package will be, saying that it will be less than 100 billion euros. Goldman Sachs Chief European Economist Erik Nielsen said yesterday the government needs 65 billion euros to fund itself for the next three years and 30 billion euros for the banks.

Nielsen said investors will be looking to the final agreement for details on how creditors will be treated in any burden sharing among bank stakeholders.

Talks will focus on the government’s deficit cutting plans and restructuring the banking system, the EU said in a statement. Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen, who spoke at the same press briefing as Lenihan, said the banks will be stress tested. Ireland nationalized Anglo Irish Bank Corp. in 2009 and is preparing to take a majority stake in Allied Irish Banks Plc, the second-largest bank.

Lenihan and Cowen appeared minutes after finance chiefs issued their statement endorsing an aid request to calm markets. Allied Irish emphasized the fragility of the system on Nov. 19, reporting a 17 percent decline in deposits this year.

No Doubt

“In the short term, it will stabilize the situation, there’s no doubt about that,” said Jacques Cailloux, chief European economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London, who estimates a package of between 80 billion euros and 100 billion euros. “But as we’ve seen in the case of Greece, uncertainty will remain.”

Cowen plans to announce the government’s four-year budget plan this week and said an agreement with the EU and the IMF will come “in the next few weeks.” Cowen also faces an election in Donegal in northwest Ireland on Nov. 25 to fill a vacant parliamentary seat. The vote threatens to erode Cowen’s majority. He has the support of 82 lawmakers, including independents, compared with 79 for the combined opposition.

The bailout follows two years of budget cuts that failed to restore market confidence as the cost of shoring up the financial industry soared. The head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development urging officials to agree as large a bailout fund as possible.

Bullet Proof

“If you bullet proof the process, if you do some armor plating, you’re probably not going to need the money,” Angel Gurria, secretary general of the OECD, said in an interview yesterday. “Don’t give the impression that you are saving on these amounts and therefore not giving the necessary assurance to the market.”

Lenihan cancelled bond auctions for October and November and announced 6 billion euros of austerity measures for 2011 on Nov. 4 in a bid to restore investor confidence. Those efforts failed after German Chancellor Angela Merkel triggered an investor exodus by saying bondholders should foot some of the bill in any future bailout.

The risk premium on Ireland’s 10-year debt over German bunds, Europe’s benchmark, widened to a record 652 basis points on Nov. 11, with the yield reaching a record 9.1 percent. In 2007, it cost Ireland less than Germany to borrow. Its 10-year spread then fell to as low as 77 basis points less than bunds. The ISEQ stock index has plunged 70 percent from its record in 2007.

Undermining the Euro

Ireland will draw on the 750-billion-euro fund set up by the EU and IMF in May as part of the Greek bailout to prevent euro members woes from undermining the currency shared by 16 countries.

Europe’s sovereign debt crisis erupted after Greek Premier George Papandreou said the budget deficit was twice as big as the prior administration had disclosed. The EU and IMF approved a 110 billion-euro aid package on May 2 in exchange for cuts in public-sector wages and pensions and increased taxes on fuel, alcohol and cigarettes.

Irish officials initially resisted pressure from the EU to take any aid, saying they were fully funded until the middle of 2011. European leaders sought to head off contagion from Ireland and reduce pressure on the European Central Bank to prop up the country’s lenders by providing them with unlimited liquidity.

Yields on bonds of Spain and Portugal have jumped amid concern that fallout from Ireland would spread. The extra yield that investors demand to hold Portuguese 10-year bonds instead of German bunds climbed to a record 484 basis points on Nov. 11.

“It probably won’t halt contagion. The sovereign crisis isn’t yet over,” said Sylvain Broyer, chief euro-region economist at Natixis in Frankfurt. “Ireland is in the middle of a difficult crisis.”