* ECB reviewing asset valuations of important lenders
* Greece keen to avoid placing new burden on its big banks
* Greek economy slowly recovering from six-year recession (Adds more background)
By George Georgiopoulos
ATHENS, July 28 (Reuters) - Greece wants the European Central Bank’s health checks on its four biggest banks later this year to take account of their new restructuring plans rather than being based on last year’s balance sheet data alone, a Greek finance ministry official said on Monday.
Greek Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis expressed the concerns at a July 8 meeting of EU finance ministers, the official told Reuters, as Athens wants to avoid the ECB calling for new capital to be raised after the tests when restructuring plans are already in hand but have not yet been implemented.
The ECB is reviewing the asset valuations of the euro zone’s 128 most important lenders to assess their ability to withstand future crises and Greece’s top four lenders will be among them. The results will be announced in October, before the ECB takes over as the euro zone’s banking regulator on Nov. 4.
At issue for Athens is whether its big banks may face a new call to fill significant capital holes, which could crimp their ability to fund an economy on the cusp of recovery after a six-year depression, since elements of the restructuring plans are still some way off being implemented.
“The minister told his counterparts that the ECB’s check-up must not be based on a static snapshot of banks’ end-2013 balance sheets but include EU-approved restructuring plans they submitted this year,” the official said, declining to be named.
The final results of the tests will show to what extent a bank has strengthened its balance sheet since the cut-off date at the end of last year. (Click on this link for a results template: here)
In the stress tests, mandatory European Commission-approved restructuring plans, which were already in place last year, will be taken into account, the ECB has said. Banks with such restructuring plans include Italy’s Monte dei Paschi di Siena or Germany’s Commerzbank.
The restructuring plans contain actions, including the divestment of non-core assets, that can further strengthen their balance sheets.
“Another argument the minister made was that a negative picture in the ECB stress test could have repercussions beyond the banking sector and affect the broader economy as well,” the official said.
National, Piraeus, Eurobank and Alpha have already undergone recapitalisations after two successive stress tests were conducted by the Bank of Greece, the country’s central bank.
National, Piraeus and Alpha are majority-owned by Greece’s HFSF bank rescue fund, which pumped 25.5 billion euros into the four banks and spent another 14.4 billion euros to wind down others deemed non-viable, battered by the debt crisis.
Earlier this year, the four banks raised 8.3 billion euros ($11.2 billion) between them through equity issues, more than filling the capital deficiencies identified in the last Bank of Greece test which amounted to a combined shortfall of 6.4 billion euros.
The head of the HFSF rescue fund, which has a remaining cushion of 11.5 billion euros, expects any capital shortfalls in the ECB check-up to be manageable. (Additional reporting by Eva Taylor; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Gareth Jones)