The news yesterday that Bankia is going to be bailed out by the Spanish government has put the stability of the Spanish banking system back at the centre of the country's ongoing crisis. In the process the government has managed to simultaneously create a certain degree of nervousness about the safety of deposits with Bankia as well as significant outrage over the proposed bailout - which could involve as much as €7000-10000 million of public funding. We don't yet know how a government which previously claimed it would use no public money to bail out the banks is going to manage the turnaround, Friday is the bad news day. The commitment on no public bailouts is now just another of those broken promises which sees virtually nothing remaining of the few concrete commitments that Mariano Rajoy made prior to the elections.
The surprising part of the announcement was that it came coupled with the removal of Rodrigo Rato as Bankia's president. Rato, at least until yesterday, was regarded by Partido Popular supporters as an economic wizard; based on him having been economy minister at the start of Spain's economic bubble. More recently he has just cashed in nicely on running the bank which holds a huge amount of devalued construction related assets and bad loans. Thanks of course to Rajoy's decision to place him as boss of Caja Madrid, Bankia's main component. Which makes it even more significant that such a powerful figure in the PP should be removed by a government of the same party. Because he was removed, it seems. The situation is made even more ironic by the fact that the move against Rato was spurred by a critical report from the IMF, Rato having been director general of that body until he walked away from that job before the shit hit the fan.
The whole Bankia situation stinks, and exposes in the process some of the false narratives that are used to justify the less well off sectors of Spanish society paying the brunt of the economic crisis. We were told that the fusion of the regional savings banks (the cajas) and their conversion into banks was a necessary step to clean up the mess left by the end of the construction boom. The cajas were bad because they are not run by professionals, was the story. Some story, because Bankia is now a bank resulting from this fusion process and all that has been created is an even bigger and more expensive monster. By the way, if things get really bad then don't expect the fund supposedly guaranteeing deposits to help account holders. That money has already been systematically ransacked to pay for a series of pointless fusions.
What makes things worse is that Bankia has already received significant public funding, in addition to what would turn out to be very expensive state guarantees if the bank were to go under. Funny, isn't it, that when we are told no money is available for public services the situation changes so quickly when it's the financial sector that comes calling? Especially when we were repeatedly assured that the problems were being solved. Don't go asking about the regulatory role of the central bank. Spain's Banco de España has been largely absent as banks and cajas have struggled to survive. Largely because the governor of this institution, Spain's highest paid funcionario Miguel Ángel Fernández Ordóñez, has been far too busy in recent years lecturing ordinary Spaniards on how well they have been living and why they need a good labour market reform to sort that problem out.
But at least we don't need to feel too sorry for Rato, he usually manages to land on his feet. It seems fairly likely that the economic terms of his departure will not be those set in the latest labour market reform for getting rid of employees. It was his economic model that failed and led the country into this crisis, the structure of the banks makes little difference to the outcome when the dependency of the whole sector has been on building ever greater numbers of houses year after year based on the assumption of endless credit. Bankia is still stuffed full of PP appointees and the solution adopted to allow them to continue in their comfortable positions is unlikely to be favourable to public finances. In this situation it is Rato that has been left, perhaps to Rajoy's satisfaction, looking like a greedy banker.