Perhaps more importantly, and at the risk of repeating myself, the downgrades increase the dependence of the big banks on finance from the European Central Bank – and for the economic recovery of the eurozone, that’s a very bad thing.
The less that banks are able to raise funds in a normal commercial way, the more they’re dependent on a central bank, the more reluctant they are to lend to the wider economy – and given the massive dependence of the eurozone economy on finance provided by banks, that leads to a reduction of economic activity, a reinforcement of recessionary conditions…
..the downgraded Italian and French governments would be seen to be less financially capable of bailing out Italian and French banks in a crisis, so other creditors would be shouldering more risk…
So even if the downgrades don’t lead to default by a nation or a bank, they make it much harder for the banks – and in a way the whole eurozone – to get off life support.
…That creates a damaging negative feedback loop (less lending means asset price falls, more bankruptcies, bigger losses for banks, and even less lending by capital-constrained banks) which makes it all the harder for the eurozone to break free of its cycle of decline.
And, as I said in my earlier note, the downgrades also make it harder for the eurozone to establish a proper circuit breaker – in the form of a giant bailout fund – to protect other sovereign creditors in the event that today’s impasse in Greek debt talks lead to a Greek default.
Here is a useful and only slightly overstated summary of where things stand:
The entire eurozone banking system can be seen to have been nationalised – or at least the funding of banks has been nationalised, even if their ownership hasn’t been transferred to taxpayers.
Addendum: Here are some comments from RBS.