March 21, 2020 / 2:11 PM / 20 days ago

Germany prepares 150 billion euro emergency budget in coronavirus package

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany is readying an emergency budget worth more than 150 billion euros ($160 billion) to shore up jobs and businesses at risk from the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the finance minister said on Saturday.

Government sources told Reuters hundreds of billions in additional backing for the private sector would be raised, as Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said a ceiling on new government debt enshrined in the country’s constitution would be suspended due to the exceptional circumstances.

“A hundred and fifty billion is a large amount, but it gives us the flexibility that we now need,” Scholz said.

“In addition we are laying the ground for various other institutions of our nation to take the steps necessary to stabilise our companies ... it’s important to send a clear and strong signal right at the beginning,” he told a news briefing.

According to senior officials and a draft law seen by Reuters, the package will include a supplementary government budget of 156 billion euros, 100 billion euros for an economic stability fund that can take direct equity stakes in companies, and 100 billion euros in credit to public-sector development bank KfW for loans to struggling businesses.

On top of that, the stability fund will offer 400 billion euros in loan guarantees to secure corporate debt at risk of defaulting, taking the volume of the overall package to more than 750 billion euros.

Under Germany’s so-called debt brake rule, Berlin is allowed to take on new debt of no more than 0.35% of economic output, unless the country is hit by a natural disaster or other emergencies.

Scholz said on Saturday the government would invoke such an exception, confirming a Reuters report on Thursday.

“We will take out more debt than what is normally allowed under the constitution,” Scholz said, adding that austerity in previous years had prepared the ground for such a move and that a debt-repayment schedule would be part of the draft law.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has vowed to do “whatever it takes” to counter the epidemic’s economic impact, and her cabinet is set to back the package of fiscal measures on Monday.

A government source had told Reuters on Friday that a 150 billion euro supplementary budget was underway.

Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Ludwig Burger; Editing by Alexander Smith and Helen Popper

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