BRUSSELS Portugal has teamed up with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to facilitate funding for the country's small companies, the country's finance minister said on Thursday.
Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in some euro zone countries are struggling to get funding from banks, which are reluctant to take on further credit risk as they try to adapt to new regulatory standards for capital and liquidity levels.
Vitor Gaspar told an audience during a panel discussion at a European Union event that bank credit was extremely adverse in Portugal and that the country was cooperating with European institutions to change this as fast as possible.
"The EIB is looking at setting up full-fledged financing schemes, including the possibility of granting counter-guarantees," Gaspar said. "For the purpose of freeing risk capital of financial institutions, the EIF (European Investment Fund) may play a role through risk-protection schemes."
Setting up an equity fund was another option to tackle the undercapitalisation of SMEs, which could copied by other countries seeing bank stress, he said.
"We are also exploring the proposal for a first-loss guarantee scheme," Gaspar added.
He said that some of these ideas were already at the later stages of preparation and could be implemented "fairly soon".
The European Central Bank is increasingly concerned about weakening lending to SMEs, because it sees these companies as a key part to get the currency bloc back to growth. It has called for more support from supranational institutions like the EIB.
(Reporting by John O'Donnell, writing by Eva Kuehnen and Sakari Suoninen; editing by Ron Askew)