Berlin: Spain appeared to be on the verge of seeking a bailout from the European Union this weekend to avert a meltdown of its troubled banking sector.
Government officials in various European capitals and EU authorities in Brussels said on Friday evening that they are standing by to act immediately if the Spanish government finally makes a request for EU aid.

However, no conference calls of euro zone finance ministers or other meetings are planned for Saturday as reported by some agencies earlier, the officials said.

Various estimates suggested that Spain, euro-zone's fourth largest economy, might need between 60 billion euro and 100 billion euro to prop up the country's banking sector, crippled by its massive involvement in the real estate bubble in 2008.

The euro zone bailout fund, the European Financial stability Facility (EFSF), has sufficient capital to meet Spain's immediate requirements to capitalise the distressed banks, the officials said.

So far, Spain has been resisting pressure from its EU partners and the European Commission to accept a bailout and  insisted that it will manage the crisis in the banking sector with its own resources.

 But the pressure increased after the rating agency Fitch downgraded the country's credit worthiness by three notches to BBB on Thursday, citing Spanish bank's exposure to the collapsed property market and the risk of a contagion from Greece's  debt crisis as the reasons.

EU officials are reported to be working on a plan to give Spain a bailout restricted to the banking sector, which will spare the country a requirement to implement unpopular austerity measures and structural reforms that were imposed on Greece,  Ireland and Portugal when they were bailed out.

It may involve the EFSF issuing bonds for Spanish banks, whose liquidity problems can be overcome by using the bonds as collateral to tap the resources of the European Central Bank (ECB), media reports said.

The Spanish government had earlier said that it would wait for an audit by the International Monetary Fund and a separate report by two independent assessors on how much extra capital the banks needed before taking a decision to ask for EU aid.

Spain’s banking crisis, which has been lingering for nearly two years, worsened after the fourth largest bank Bankia, which lost billions of euros through its exposure to the collapsed property market, had asked the government at the end of last month 19 billion euros to avert bankruptcy.

 Bankia had already received from the Spanish government a financial support of 4.5 billion euros when it was partly nationalised last month and the total costs of rescuing the bank will go up to 23.5 billion euros.


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