The rumor mill is running this weekend, however Belgium and France still have not come to an agreement on exactly how to split the Dexia problem. The latest rumor is the Mideast country of Qatar is interested in buying Dexia.

It’s certainly possible Qatar invests in some small piece of Dexia. However, neither Qatar nor China, nor any other country is going to save the insolvent European banking system.

Dexia is a symptom of a much larger problem. Moreover, on top of Belgium-France Dexia bickering, Germany and France are still bickering about how to use the EFSF.

It takes all 17 Eurozone nations all to agree on major changes, yet countries are still bickering over relatively minor issues.

Complex Problem Leads to Complex Bickering

Let’s start this roundup with a look at Dexia Board Meets as France, Belgium Tussle Over Troubled Assets

Dexia SA (DEXB)’s board meets today to study options to dismantle the French-Belgian bank that has brought Europe’s sovereign debt crisis to the heart of the region’s financial system.

While France and Belgium have rushed to protect their local units, hurdles to an agreement remain as they wrestle over responsibility for assets hit by the crisis that has caused the bank’s short-term funding to evaporate. Dexia’s troubled assets are being folded into a “bad bank” and could amount to as much as 190 billion euros ($254 billion).

Dexia’s balance sheet, with total assets of about 518 billion euros at the end of June, is about the size of the entire banking system in Greece and larger than the combined assets of financial institutions bailed out in Ireland in the last 2 1/2 years.

The board meeting, scheduled to start at 3 p.m. in Brussels, will be the third in less than a month, after those on Sept. 27 and Oct. 3. Among sticking points for Belgium and France may be which assets to put in the bad bank and what share of the lender’s borrowings each government should guarantee.

“The situation is more complex than one where you have one bank, one country, one regulator,” said Cor Kluis, an Utrecht, Netherlands-based analyst at Rabobank International with a “reduce” recommendation on Dexia. “The process will probably take longer than expected and I don’t know if they’ll be able to reach a solution this weekend.”

Dexia said on Oct. 6 that an investor is interested in its profitable retail and private banking unit in Luxembourg. Belgian daily L’Echo reported that a Qatari sovereign wealth fund was in discussions to buy the unit, Dexia Banque Internationale a Luxembourg, for 900 million euros, without saying where it got the information.

That announcement set off concern that Dexia’s most valuable assets will be sold at fire-sale prices to international buyers in response to a temporary funding squeeze.

Groep Arco, Dexia’s second-biggest Belgian shareholder, said on Oct. 6 that it “opposes a forced sale of good units of the group at very low prices to foreign entities.”

Qatar No White Knight Savior

Reuters reports Qatar unlikely to be white knight for Europe banks

Hopes may be disappointed for an influx of money from Qatar and other rich Gulf states into battered European banks, since Gulf investors are likely to see many of the banks as too risky and out of line with their investment strategies.

As Europe’s banking system has weakened over the last several months, financial markets have been abuzz with rumors and media reports about possible investments from the Gulf — particularly from cash-rich Qatar, which has been on an international acquisitions spree.

In June, Spanish bank Santander (SAN.MC) denied a report that it was in talks on Qatar buying a stake in it. Last month, France’s BNP Paribas (BNPP.PA) denied a similar report. The latest speculation centers on assets of financial group Dexia (DEXI.BR); the prime ministers of France and Belgium were meeting on Sunday to discuss breaking up the group.

Analysts and bankers said it was possible that Qatar would make relatively small investments, perhaps of several hundred million euros, in European financial firms. Some European media reports last week said Qatar was part of an international consortium discussing a purchase of Dexia’s Luxembourg arm, valued at some 900 million euros ($1.2 billion).

But analysts said Qatar and other Gulf states were unlikely to invest aggressively enough to make much difference to big European financial institutions.

“Not even Qatar’s pockets are deep enough to really throw meaningful capital at the European financial system. They could participate in some of the capital raising that banks are doing, but ultimately, public multilateral support is needed,” said Rachel Ziemba, director at Roubini Global Economics in London.

Sovereign wealth funds in the Mideast were burnt badly investing in Citigroup and other US banks at the height of the global financial crisis. I doubt they do much here except show signs of support.

Merkel, Sarkozy tackle differences over euro crisis

Please consider Merkel, Sarkozy tackle differences over euro crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will thrash out differences with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday over how to use the euro zone’s financial firepower to counter a sovereign debt crisis threatening the global economy.

Sarkozy is due to arrive in Berlin late on Sunday afternoon and hold a meeting with Merkel followed by a working dinner. A news conference will take place at 1530 GMT.

Talks are continuing over a vital aid tranche for Greece, which could run out of cash as soon as mid-November. European finance ministers are considering making banks take bigger losses on Greek debt — an issue that could be discussed at the Merkel-Sarkozy meeting.

“It is possible that we assumed in July a level of debt reduction that was too low,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was cited as saying by a newspaper on Sunday.

Germany and France have so far been split over how to recapitalize Europe’s banks, which Ireland estimated on Saturday may need more than 100 billion euros ($135 billion) to withstand the sovereign debt crisis, while the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said the banks need 200 billion in additional funds.

Paris wants to tap the euro zone’s 440 billion European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) to recapitalize its own banks, while Berlin is insisting the fund should be used as a last resort.

Another key dispute is how to use the EFSF to buy sovereign debt to prevent contagion of the crisis, particularly crucial if Greece fails to secure its next aid tranche.

France does not want to set guidelines for the EFSF on the matter, whereas Germany wants to limit the sum used for each member state and set a time limit for bond purchasing.

“Given that the EFSF is limited overall, it makes sense also to limit the purchases on the secondary market for each country,” Michael Meister, deputy parliamentary leader of Merkel’s conservatives, told Reuters.

There was a danger, otherwise, the funds could be quickly used up, he said.

Picture Says 1000 Words

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel gesture as they address a news conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, June 17, 2011. Credit: Reuters/Fabrizio Bensch/Files

Does that look like “pleased cooperation” or does it look like “my foreign counterpart is clueless”?

Danger EFSF Used Up Too Quickly

France wants to use the EFSF right away to bail out the banks. Note that this would be throwing more taxpayer dollars right at undeserving bondholders who should be punished for making poor investment decisions.

Moreover, the EFSF is limited to 440 billion euros, and for Sarkozy to get his way, on top of more loans for Greece, Spain, and Portugal (or simply Spain and Portugal after Greece defaults), would quickly drain the fund.

How long the EFSF lasts depends on who wins the Merkel-Sarkozy Feud and to what extent taxpayers bail out bondholders yet again. Of course treasury secretary Tim Geithner wants to come out with guns blazing and use the whole thing with leverage to recapitalize banks.

In that scenario, the money will be gone in a month and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble would then start begging for more.

Breakup Talks Underway?

It is difficult to know for certain what talk is happening in closed circles behind the scenes, but if Germany is not discussing how to break away from the Eurozone (perhaps with Austria, the Netherlands, Finland, and a consortium of Northern Europe), they are making a huge mistake.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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