Spain bailout talks 'not ruled out' for weekend

The head of private banking at Banco Populaire in Malaga, Antonio Hernandez, says measures should be taken 'the sooner the better'.

Emergency talks this weekend to discuss a bailout for Spain cannot be ruled out, the Dutch finance minister said.

Jan Kees de Jager described the situation in Spain as "urgent".

Reports that Spain will ask for help for its banks as early as Saturday have been officially played down by EU authorities.

Spain has said all week that no action would be taken until audits of its banks are complete in a few weeks' time.

Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told a news conference: "Once the estimates of the numbers are known with regard to what the financial sector might need, the government will state its position."

But the Reuters news agency said the request would come on Saturday.

It said that five senior EU and German officials said deputy finance ministers from the single currency area would hold a conference call on Saturday morning to discuss a Spanish request for aid.

Reuters said they had spoken on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

It is being reported that the Eurogroup of finance ministers would then discuss the issue on a conference call.

Analysis

All day the Spanish government has played down speculation that Spain will, this weekend, ask for financial assistance from abroad. Money which would be destined for the country's troubled banks.

Spain is under pressure from Brussels. But the government here says it wants to wait for the results of an independent audit, on the Spanish banking sector to be published within the next fortnight.

The audit will produce a figure of how much money, in total, is needed to prop-up Spain's banks.

Currently, it's still unclear whether Spain's call for help will come on Saturday.

But it is now more a question of when, not if.

With the country in the midst of a recession and the government implementing a tough programme of austerity, it looks increasingly unlikely that Spain can raise the tens of billions of euros needed to bail out the banks on its own.

Spokespeople for the Spanish government and European authorities have said they have no knowledge of such plans.

A spokeswoman for the Spanish government told the BBC that the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, was talking to "partners all the time these days, not just about Spain, but about a road map for the whole eurozone".

Stricken banks

Spain is trying to avoid the humiliation and strict economic conditions that would come with a full international bailout, like the ones given to Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Efforts are being made to find a way of helping its banks directly, rather than funds going through the central government.

A number of audits into the extent of bad loans is being carried out to determine how much Spain needs to find to shore up its stricken banks.

The first report is due on Monday from the International Monetary Fund, with the findings of two further audits expected to be published by the end of the month.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel repeated her country's position that it was up to Spain to make an application for assistance.

"We have everything we need for a stable eurozone and it is up to the individual countries to come to us. That has not happened," she said.

A European Commission spokesman said he could not confirm reports of a request for aid, but said they were ready to help.

"Should there be such a request the appropriate instruments are in place ready for use," Amadeu Altafaj added.

Meanwhile, the rating agency Moody's warned late on Friday that a Greek exit from the eurozone could lead to downgrades of the remaining 16 members of the single currency area, including Germany.

A downgrade of Spain's creditworthiness by rival rating agency Fitch earlier this week is seen by some as adding to the urgency of shoring up Spain's finances.

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