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Spain's Ailing Banks Threaten Country's Finances

ALAN CLENDENNING

MADRID (AP) â¿¿ Spain is under increasing pressure to find a lifeline for its deeply troubled banks.

Politicians across Europe and investors around the world are worried that the recession-hit country can't come up with the money needed to save its banks without bankrupting the government. Expectations are rising that Spain's leaders will decide in the coming weeks to seek an international bailout for banks crumbling under the weight of bad real estate loans.

As Spain's leaders struggle for a solution to their banking crisis, the country's borrowing costs have soared close to the level that forced the governments of Greece, Portugal and Ireland to seek financial rescues.

The government has yet to put a price-tag on the bank rescue but estimates range from ⿬40 billion ($49.87 billion) to as much as ⿬100 billion ($126 billion).

Here are some questions and answers about Spain's banking crisis:

WHY DO SPANISH BANKS NEED A BAILOUT?

Spain's financial problems are not due to Greek-style government over-spending. The country's banks got caught up in the collapse of a real estate bubble.

Spain's banks, particularly its savings banks or "cajas," have enormous amounts of bad loans. And as the second recession in three years hits Spain, the number of bad loans is expected to surge. Spain's unemployment has risen to nearly 25 percent, making it increasingly difficult for many Spaniards to pay their mortgages.

The country's central bank, the Bank of Spain, says banks are still burdened with about ⿬184 billion ($231 billion) in "problematic" real estate holdings, including loans and repossessed homes.

Spain's government debt stood at a relatively low 68.5 percent of its gross domestic product at the end of 2011. It is predicted to hit 78 percent by the end of the year. But even that higher figure would still be below the 2011 debt-to-GDP ratios of countries like Italy, Belgium, France and even Germany.

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