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Thousands of layoffs in Spanish banks shakeup

The European Commission on Wednesday approved a payment of $48 billion from the eurozone bailout fund to four Spanish banks on the condition that they lay off thousands of employees and close offices in their restructuring.

Some of the biggest job cuts were expected to be made by Bankia, the giant lender whose collapse and request for $23.88 billion of additional capital last May forced Madrid a month later to negotiate a banking bailout of up to $125 billion.

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The funds approved Wednesday are part of that negotiated amount and will be disbursed from the European Stability Mechanism, the bailout fund for the eurozone.

Joaquin Almunia, the EU antitrust commissioner, said the approval of the restructuring plans of the four banks — BFA/Bankia, NCG, Catalunya Banc, and Banco de Valencia — was ‘‘a milestone.’’

Although Madrid could tap into more of the funding to help other troubled banks stay afloat, the government has insisted that it would in any case not need the full amount.

Presenting its restructuring plan on Wednesday, Bankia said it would lay off 6,000 employees, or 28 percent of its workforce, as well as cut its branch network by 39 percent. The bank predicted it would return to profit next year and reach earnings of nearly $2 billion by 2015.

Still, the Madrid government has yet to draw a line under its banking crisis. The next step is expected in December with the creation of a so-called bad bank, in which the government is trying to partner as equity holders with private investors. But the valuation of the bad bank’s assets has in itself proved a thorny issue because of the impact such valuations could have on other real estate assets.

Although the future of the rescued banks is now clearer, ‘‘our banking sector is still in the middle of a road to nowhere,’’ said Juan Ignacio Sanz, a banking professor at Esade business school in Barcelona. He noted that banks had not resumed lending, ‘‘as nobody trusts that Spain’s economy will recover in the near future.’’

“Everybody is just waiting to see how the bad bank can operate, whether it will have any private investors and how it will affect the Spanish real estate market,’’ he said.

The government wants to limit the assets in the bad bank to $116.6 billion. Bankia said Wednesday that it was hoping to transfer bad property loans.

The International Monetary Fund also highlighted the difficulties in setting up the bad bank amid an ongoing correction in the housing market. In a report issued Wednesday about the finance sector in Spain, the fund said future transactions by the bad bank could ‘‘become reference prices for the market, given low turnover in the housing market.’’ After a prolonged recession, the IMF predicted, Spain’s economy would grow 1 percent in 2014.

Meanwhile, Caixabank, one of Spain’s largest institutions, is set to acquire Banco de Valencia, one of the four rescued banks, for a symbolic euro.

Of the four rescued banks, Banco de Valencia was the only one for which the conclusion reached in Brussels was that ‘‘the bank’s viability could not be restored on a stand-alone basis.’’ On the other hand, the commission, which is the executive arm of the European Union, said the other three banks had the potential to rebound once their balance sheets were cleaned. By 2017, the balance sheet of each bank will be reduced by more than 60 percent compared with 2010, the commission forecast.

The conditions set by Brussels are designed to ensure that the bailout does not distort competition in banking sector.

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