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European debt crisis rages on as rescue of Spanish banks fails to address deeper issues
LONDON (AP) ' The weekend plan to rescue Spain's ailing banks was supposed to boost confidence in Spain and the other 16 countries that use the euro. The skeptics said it would only provide temporary relief for the markets. In the end, it barely even did that.
Stocks and bonds surged in the first hour of trading on Monday, a knee-jerk reaction to the weekend news that Spain would funnel to banks up to '100 billion ($124.7 billion) in loans from its euro partners. But hours later, stock prices were back down, government borrowing costs up and bad economic news piled up across Europe.
Financial markets temporarily showed signs of relief that Spain's banks, which have been dragged down by bad real estate loans, would receive an infusion of money. The country's main stock market index initially jumped nearly 6 percent and the government's borrowing rates fell sharply.
But investors were soon overcome by a more familiar emotion: anxiety. They worried about whether Spanish banks would be able to repay the loans. If they can't, the government is on the hook. It's already having difficulty borrowing money at affordable rates in international bond markets, and this would worsen the situation.
Spain is in its second recession in three years, a quarter of its work force is unemployed and home prices keep falling, making banks even weaker.
By the end of the day, Spain's Ibex stock index finished with a 0.5 percent loss. The interest rate on the country's 10-year bonds rose to 6.47 percent, up from about 6 percent ' a sign of investor nervousness about lending to Spain.
"We doubt that (the '100 billion bailout) is the only support that the country will need," said Jonathan Loynes, chief European economist at Capital Economics in London. "The poor economic outlook will also maintain concerns that Spain will at some point require a government bailout, too."
Once it became clear that the rescue money for Spain's banks would not solve that country's problems, investors began worrying about one of its euro partners ' Italy.
Italy's economy is larger than Spain's. It didn't suffer through a real estate bust, so its banks are in better shape. But like nearly half of the countries in the euro, its economy is shrinking, making it difficult for the government to chip away at a mountain of debt.
Italy released data Monday that confirmed the country is in recession and has little likelihood of making a big recovery this year.
The government of Premier Mario Monti is trying to push through reforms to make the economy more competitive, but it's facing opposition from unions and losing support from some key political parties.
Investors fear that Monti may be forced to call early elections without having pushed through his economic reforms. The interest rate on the country's 10-year bonds rose to 5.84 percent Monday, up from around 5.50 percent.
Cyprus, which has the 15th smallest economy in the eurozone, acknowledged Monday it was considering applying for an emergency loan package for its banks similar to the one Spain sought.
The Cypriot government needs '1.8 billion by June 30 to give to Cyprus Popular Bank, the island nation's second-largest lender. It has for the past year relied on a Russian loan to pay its bills, but will need more money in coming weeks to help the banks.
If it did ask for a European loan, Cyprus would become the fifth country in the currency union to seek outside financial help.
The government's finances are in decent shape and the economy is not in recession. Its problem, like Spain, is the banks. Cypriot banks were heavily exposed to Greek government debt. They took huge losses on those investments when Greece wrote off about three quarters of the value of its bonds in March as part of an international rescue package.
The country's finance minister, Vassos Shiarly, is hoping the country would ' like Spain ' not be forced to slash government spending or take other so-called austerity measures in exchange for a bank rescue. The main Cypriot stock index jumped 5 percent as the bank shares rose on hopes they would get a financial lifeline.
The greatest uncertainty hanging over Europe this week is Greece, which holds a national election Sunday.
A political party that has a real chance of winning, the radical left-wing Syriza, has campaigned on a plan to refuse to live up to the terms of the country's $170 billion international aid package. If it were to do so, Greece could lose access to the money that is keeping the government solvent and be forced to leave the euro.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras aims to upstage the two main political parties that have agreed to the country's bailouts.
"The rotten and reliant establishment is making its last stand. Their dominance is ending after they looted the country and saddled it with debt," Tsipras said at a recent campaign appearance.
He says Greece can afford to reject its bailout terms because European countries would never risk letting the country go bankrupt, as that would cause havoc in financial markets.
But the high-stakes gamble has global markets on edge.
If Greece were forced out of the euro, its debts would go from being denominated in sturdy euros to being denominated in Greek drachmas of dubious value.
Worse, a Greek exit from the euro would raise fears that another European country such as Portugal or Italy might be next.