Shock Waves Spread from Spain’s New Banking Crisis

Has the time finally come to test the EU’s bail-in law?

The shares of Spain’s sixth biggest bank, Banco Popular, plunged 36% this week to €0.43, reducing the bank’s market capitalization to €1.7 billion. Just three weeks ago, when there was still a glimmer of hope that things could be turned around, it was worth almost double that. Its shares traded at €15 ten years ago, before the collapse of Spain’s mind-boggling housing bubble that left Popular holding billions of euros of real estate assets.

Popular may not be a systemically important institution, but it’s nonetheless an institution of great import. It has the largest portfolio of small business customers in Spain and enjoys the patronage of one of Spain’s most influential institutions, Opus Dei. Its well-heeled members are among the bank’s most important shareholders and investors, and they stand to lose a lot of money if a last-minute buyer is not found soon.

This is an outcome that can no longer be discounted, especially after reports emerged on Thursday that senior officials of the ECB’s regulatory arm, the Single Supervisory Mechanism, had warned the bank could be wound down if it fails to find a buyer. But the EU agency charged with overseeing bank failures later issued a statement saying it “never issues warnings about banks.”

But the damage has already been done. And it’s not just Opus Dei, or Popular’s thousands of long-suffering retail investors, that could end up paying a heavy price

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