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EU rings in stock listing of 'social bond' with resounding success

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By Joanna Gill
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EU rings in stock listing of 'social bond' with resounding success
Copyright  Francisco Seco/Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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The European Union's historic stock market debut to finance the bloc's economic recovery from the wounds inflicted by COVID-19 was met with record demand.

The European Commission issued its first social bonds worth € 17 billion on October 20 at the Luxembourg stock market (LuxSE) but demand from investors reached €233 billion.

The listing was seen as a key test in the EU's project to borrow money on the markets to fund its ambitious coronavirus recovery package.

Robert Scharfe, CEO of LuxSE, said the response from the markets amounted to "resounding applause".

"As a market professional I am used to big numbers but this left me flabbergasted," he added.

Deep recession

The EU is being hit hard by the pandemic with more than 210,000 lives lost to COVID-19 since the outbreak began.

Measures to curb the spread of the virus, including the months-long national lockdowns most member states took earlier this year, have seriously hit the economy.

The commission forecasts that the EU will experience "a deep recession" this year due to the pandemic with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — a key indicator of economic health — expected to contract by 8.3 per cent this year and by 5.8 per cent in 2021.

The euro area is to be even more badly impacted with GDP forecast to shrink by 8.7 per cent his year and 6.1 per cent next year.

Social bonds

EU leaders agreed on a €750 billion coronavirus recovery package in July following one of their longest summits in two decades.

Among the points of contention between the different member states was how much money should be dolled out as grants or as loans and whether they should pool their debt. So-called "frugal" countries, with healthier balance sheets, recoiled at the notion of doing so.

In the end, leaders agreed to raise €100 billion through the markets in what was hailed as a watershed moment in EU politics as the first time the bloc moved towards debt mutualisation. Leaders of EU institutions were banking on the bloc's triple-A credit rating to create investor confidence.

The bonds are issued as part of the bloc's SURE (Support to mitigate Unemployment Risk in an Emergency) programme to help safeguard jobs and fight rising unemployment across the EU due the pandemic.

So far 17 EU countries have signed up to the SURE scheme receiving almost €88 billion euros to shore up their economies.

The first issue consisted of two tranches with €10 billion due for repayment in October 2030 and €7 billion due for repayment in 2040. Another EU bond issuance is expected before the end of the year.

Members states and EU institutions are however still tussling over the bloc's trillion-euro seven-year budget for the 2021-2028 period.

A stalemate remains between the European parliament which wants to add €39 billion to the pot, and have strict rule of law conditions attached to accessing the fund and the European Council which wants a lower overall amount, and looser wording over rule of law.