UPDATE 1-ECB Greek bond profits promise funds for Athens

Thu Feb 21, 2013 11:11am EST

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FRANKFURT Feb 21 (Reuters) - The European Central Bank said it made 555 million euros last year from Greek sovereign bonds acquired under its first bond-buy plan, a sum that suggests billions in profits from the programme that could be passed on to Athens.

The ECB's profit implies that the whole Eurosystem - the ECB and the 17 national central banks in the euro zone - could altogether have made billions from the Greek sovereign bonds.

Euro zone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund agreed in November to pass on the profits from the Eurosystem's Greek bond portfolio to Athens from the budget year 2013 onwards to help with debt servicing.

The ECB's share of the Eurosystem is 8 percent, which if scaled up to the whole Eurosystem would imply a profit of about 6 billion euros ($8 billion) from the Greek bonds. However, the holdings are not evenly divided and the total profits could be smaller.

Under the EU/IMF plan to distribute profits from the ECB's Securities Markets Programme (SMP), the ECB would pay its portion of the profits to national central banks (NCBs).

The national banks would then add in their own profits from Greek government bonds they held themselves and pass the gains to national governments, which would then send the money to Athens.

Greece, the epicentre of the euro zone debt crisis, has received tens of billions of euros in emergency loans from its euro zone partners and the IMF since mid-2010 to stave off bankruptcy. Its economy is likely to shrink for the sixth consecutive year in 2013.

Detailing its 2012 accounts, the ECB said on Thursday it made a total of 1.108 billion euros ($1.48 billion)from the SMP last year and its net profit rose to 998 million euros from 728 million.

The ECB said it would distribute 423 million euros of its net profit to national central banks, in addition to the 575 million which was already given to them in January.

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