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Fitch eyes EIB

News Business 13.06.2012 Aaron Grunwald
Photo: Olivier Minaire (archives)

Sovereign debt: One of the main credit ratings agencies has said it could downgrade the Kirchberg-based European Investment Bank, due to its heavy exposure to Greece, while the bank has launched a new public engagement campaign.

Fitch Ratings will continue its review of the EIB’s top-notch AAA credit rating--begun last December--and announce the results within three months, the agency said Tuesday evening. It also will continue its review of the Council of Europe Development Bank, a smaller organisation which is based in Paris.

Citing the country’s elections this weekend, Fitch said “the risk of a Greek exit from the euro zone is material and rising and could have rating implication for other euro zone countries.”

Both development banks “have significant loan exposures to eurozone sovereigns, public institutions, banks and corporates and their loan portfolios could therefore suffer from such a scenario,” Fitch said. “EIB’s loan portfolio to Greek counterparts accounted for 35% of its equity at end-2011,” according to the ratings agency.

But a spokeswoman for the EIB told Delano that lending to Greece only represented 1.6% of the bank’s lending in 2011 and only 2.4% of lending over the past five years.

Fitch also noted that the EIB--the world’s largest development bank--is backed by the 27 EU members, many of whom have seen their own credit ratings downgraded and are likely to see additional downgrades if the euro crisis remains unresolved.

At the same time, the agency recognised that EU countries could inject additional capital into the EIB, a proposal currently being debated by European leaders.

The bank’s spokeswoman stressed to Delano that Fitch had only issued a press release stating an extension of its existing review and had not taken any new actions.

The EIB is the EU’s development bank, financing projects in line with Brussels’ economic and environmental objectives. It is not involved in the bailouts of euro zone governments or banks.

Although guaranteed by member states, the EIB raises all of its investment funds on the global capital markets. A lower credit rating would increase its cost of borrowing.

It employs about 2,000 staff and issues between 40 and 60 billion euro in loans annually.

Bank’s new outreach programmes

Separately, the EIB officially launched the EIB Institute on Monday. The institute--which began operations earlier this year--supports social, cultural, educational and research activities within the EU. The bank’s spokeswoman said the EIB Institute--with an annual budget of more than one million euro--brings together various public engagement projects within the bank into a more organised and rational programme.

The institute also signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Luxembourg on Wednesday morning. The bank’s president, Werner Hoyer (photo, left), and the university’s president, Rolf Tarrach, extended the organisations’ collaboration in educational and research projects.