By Niklas Magnusson, Elena Logutenkova and Aaron Kirchfeld

June 11 (Bloomberg) — European banking shares indicate a Greek debt default may be just a matter of time.

Investors have already pushed down financial stocks enough to imply the “erosion” in book value that may result from losses tied to a sovereign debt restructuring, said Dirk Hoffmann-Becking, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein in London. A Bloomberg index of European financial firms dropped as much as 22 percent since April 15 to the lowest level since July.

A $1 trillion aid package from the European Union and International Monetary Fund may delay a Greek default and give Spain, Italy and possibly Portugal time to get their finances in shape, averting a wider contagion, analysts said. Greece’s debt burden is likely to prove unsustainable, said Thomas Mayer, Deutsche Bank AG’s London-based chief economist.

“Deficit reduction alone doesn’t solve the debt issue,” Mayer said in a telephone interview. He estimates Greece’s debt will rise to 150 percent of gross domestic product following the country’s austerity program, from 120 percent. “Hardly anyone I know believes they can carry it out and still not restructure. This is basically the expectation across all asset classes.”

Writedowns stemming from a Greek default would total almost $200 billion, estimates Jon Peace, an analyst at Nomura Holdings Inc. in London. Banks globally could lose as much as $900 billion in a worst-case scenario where Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain all have to restructure their debt, Nomura estimates.

‘Prisoner’s Dilemma’

Banks holding sovereign debt are faced with a “prisoner’s dilemma,” said Hoffmann-Becking, referring to a mathematical theory that seeks to explain the behavior of two parties that can choose to either cooperate or pursue their own interests.

“From an individual bank’s perspective, it would be great to get rid of the sovereign debt,” Hoffmann-Becking said by telephone. “However, if everybody did it you’d have a rapid collapse of the government bond market and then you’d have the default. And in the default, the fact that you have no sovereign debt actually doesn’t help you at all.”

German financial companies including Deutsche Bank agreed in May to refinance maturing Greek debt and maintain existing credit lines to Greece and its lenders for the next three years. French banks made a similar pledge.

A majority of European banks haven’t tendered their Greek sovereign debt to the European Central Bank, according to an informal survey by Morgan Stanley analysts. One reason may be that some banks bought their Greek bonds when they were trading at 20 percent above par, meaning a sale to the ECB would prompt a loss, Morgan Stanley’s London-based analyst Huw van Steenis said in a note to clients on June 9.

Most See Default

Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Officer Josef Ackermann said May 14 that Greece may not be able to repay its debt in full, adding that Spain and Italy are “strong enough” to service their debt following the EU aid plan, while this may be “slightly more difficult” for Portugal.

Global investors have little confidence in Greece’s ability to solve its debt crisis, with 73 percent calling a default by the country likely, according to a quarterly poll of investors and analysts who are Bloomberg subscribers. Some 35 percent of those surveyed said a default by Portugal was likely, while more than a quarter said the same about Spain.

A Spanish or Italian cancellation of payments would dwarf a potential Greek default. European banks’ claims on Spain totaled $832 billion at the end of 2009, while those on Italy stood at $1.02 trillion, according to figures from the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. That compares with claims on Greece and Portugal of $193 billion and $240 billion, respectively.

No Capital Needed

EU banks could absorb losses on government and private debt in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland without having to raise funds, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report today, after surveying more than 30 lenders in 10 nations. The value of private loans such as mortgages and business credit is greater than that tied to government debt, Moody’s said, adding that any losses on private loans would be absorbed over several years….MORE HERE

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