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The Great Financial Plague

The European debt crisis is looking more and more like the financial version of the Great Plague -- spreading at will and lacking a genuine cure. Greece is teetering on the edge of a financial meltdown, Ireland's banking system is in shambles, Portugal has asked for billions in assistance, and now Spain is showing signs that its financial system may be infected.

Zombies beware
One particularly disturbing bit of news out of Greece the other day involved the country's lack of payment to medical suppliers. Since the beginning of last year, only 30% of all debt owed to medical suppliers has been paid. And it's only getting worse -- a miserable 1% of debt accrued since the start of this year has been paid. Roche (OTC BB: RHHBY.PK) has responded with large staffing cuts while Becton Dickinson (NYSE: BDX  ) and Covidien (NYSE: COV  ) have responded by shutting down operations in Greece altogether. It's one thing when the people of a country are forced to pare their spending; it's a completely different ballgame when the prospect of medical care could be denied because of nonpayment on debts.

Greece continues to sink closer to bankruptcy and the country's bond rates indicate this. Its 10-year bond skyrocketed to record levels today at 17%, while two-year bonds continue to hover above 25%. There are credit card companies out there charging consumers less than what Greece must pay if it wants to borrow money!

The rain in Spain lies mainly in its debt
Then we have today's news out of Spain that voters there have put a serious dent into the Socialist Party's proposed austerity plans. With numerous members of the Socialist Party -- the current majority party -- losing in today's local and regional elections, Spain's future remains in doubt. This is reflected in the country's rapidly rising bond rates. Ten-year rates ballooned to 5.5% and now sit more than 200 basis points higher than the key German 10-year bond, a benchmark of the European Union. The governor of the Bank of Spain bluntly admitted that Spain will not survive spreads in excess of 200 basis points for a long period of time.

Shares of banking giant Banco Santander (NYSE: STD  ) are now yielding in excess of 9%, but does anyone have the gall to touch it with the financial plague spreading?

Adding insult to an already fragile region, Italy had its debt outlook reduced by Standard & Poor's from stable to negative citing concerns over the country's debt restructuring efforts amidst a weak growth environment. Fitch also lowered its debt outlook on Belgium to negative and threatened a possible rating cut from AA+ in the near future. Belgium, a country not often brought into the debt crisis discussion, bears the EU's third-highest debt load at 96.8% of 2010 GDP.

European contagion
As of right now there appears to be no escaping this situation -- yet there also appears to be no miracle cure. Throwing money at the issue hasn't exactly worked so far, but neither have the austerity plans of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. The question that really needs to be answered: Is Spain next?

Will Spain succumb to this spreading debt crisis? Take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended Becton Dickinson and Covidien. Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy that's free of sovereign debt.

Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (2)

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  • Report this Comment On May 25, 2011, at 9:40 PM, hondamikesd wrote:

    I don't think STD will be hit too badly if Spain does default. While they hold a sizable sum of Spanish debt it's not enough to sink the ship, especially if it's just restructured.

    At least that's what helps me sleep at night ;)

  • Report this Comment On May 26, 2011, at 2:30 AM, whyaduck1128 wrote:

    I have 100 shares of STD (nice ticker symbol), and I'm not going to worry about it. It's a spec pick, and if it bottoms out I'm not out any critical money.

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