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French central banker pushes back against warnings of bankruptcy wave

05/04/2021 | 04:45am EDT
FILE PHOTO: The G7 Finance ministers and central bank governors meeting in Chantilly

PARIS (Reuters) - Bank of France Governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau said on Tuesday there was no evidence business bankruptcies would go beyond catching up from exceptionally low levels seen last year, warning against exaggerating the likelihood of insolvencies.

Many European countries saw corporate bankruptcies fall to historic lows last year as governments put in place a range of measures to help them survive the coronavirus crisis and the lockdowns that left many businesses shuttered for months.

However, fears are rising that there will be a surge in insolvencies once the measures are rolled back and the European Systemic Risk Board, the EU's top economic watchdog, even warned of a "tsunami" of business bankruptcies.

"Is there a risk of going beyond catching-up with an increase beyond the 2020 bankruptcy 'deficit'? Nothing can be excluded, but nothing allows it to be anticipated today," Villeroy said.

Though bankruptcies in France were rising this year from 2020's lows, they remained significantly lower than in 2019, Villeroy told an online European Investment Bank conference.

He said the central bank's monthly business climate survey showed cash levels were above long term averages in industry and heading that way in services, with the exception of sectors hardest hit by COVID restrictions like hotels and restaurants.

Meanwhile, public authorities that mediate between overstretched borrowers and their lenders were not seeing particularly high activity, Villeroy said.

With firms concerned state support could be withdrawn too quickly, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday that the government would ease access in June to state grants to help them get back on their feet as they gradually emerge from coronavirus restrictions.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Alison Williams and Philippa Fletcher)

© Reuters 2021
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