ECB ‘can only do so much to help SMEs’

ECB policymaker Benoit Coeur says bank is exploring options, but must act within mandate

The ECB is concerned that banks are not lending to smaller businesses in the euro zone periphery. Photograph: Bloomberg

The ECB is concerned that banks are not lending to smaller businesses in the euro zone periphery. Photograph: Bloomberg

Fri, May 17, 2013, 12:26

The European Central Bank can only do so much to bolster lending to small- and medium-sized firms, ECB policymaker Benoit Coeure said today as the bank tries to secure the help of other EU institutions to tackle the problem.

The ECB is concerned that banks, worried about taking on risk, are not lending to smaller businesses in the euro zone periphery and that this is starving such companies of funds they need to invest and help their economies to grow.

ECB president Mario Draghi said earlier this month the central bank had set up a taskforce with the European Investment Bank to address the issue, adding “we view this institution as the best suited to handle matters in this field. We do not have a precise position on what we will do”.

Mr Coeure highlighted the ECB’s resistance to doing too much, saying that while the ECB is exploring options to strengthen lending to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), “the ECB can only act within its mandate”.

“Assuming non-profitable assets today present in the balance sheets of banks, or seeking to artificially eliminate differences in financing costs arising from different risk environment or from insufficient capital, would amount to substituting actions not taken by other actors,” he added, in the text of a speech for delivery at a conference in Orleans.