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The European Central Bank, As Seen From A Bar On The Coast Of Spain

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"I have a little bar. A drinks bar," says Chadd Ritenbaugh. His bar is called El Catalonia. It's in the port of Marbella, on the Spanish coast.

"Just sun, sand, and sea," he says. "It's just kind of empty at the moment."

Ritenbaugh bought the bar in 2009. Since then, business has gone downhill. He tried, and failed, to sell.

"Nobody's out buying bars right now," he says. "Banks in Spain are not lending a cent — a euro cent."

Chad himself tried and failed to get a bank loan. "Absolutely nothing," he says.

This was happening all over Europe last year. As the European debt crisis gre worse and worse, banks looked nervously at what were supposed to be their safest loans: loans to European governments. If those governments couldn't make good on the loans, the banks would go under.

Governments didn't have money to bail out the banks. Banks didn't have money to bail out the governments. The only place the money could come from was the European Central Bank. But for months, as things got worse and worse, the ECB said no. Specifically, the ECB said:

A. It's not our job to prop up banks.

B. Pumping all this new money into the banks to solve a debt problem is a recipe for inflation.

The European governments got pretty uptight, waiting for help from their central bank. They made some big promises about how they were going to get out of debt.

Finally, right around Christmas eve, the European Central Bank turned on the money faucet. They just told the banks, Hey, if you need a cheap loan, we'll give it to you.

European banks drank that money in. And last week, the ECB doubled down and made a whole second round of loans available to the thirsty European banks. The ECB has loaned $1.7 trillion to the banks through its new lending program.

The money hasn't yet made its way to the little tiny bar on the coast of Spain. The banks have loaned some to European governments, and kept some for themselves.

"I keep hearing the same stories: that nobody can borrow any money," says Rittenbaugh.

But the lending program is still new. The new loans from the ECB money may make their way out into the real economy soon.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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