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Posts Tagged ‘bank bailouts’

Ten years on

Ten years ago (on 9 August 2007), the French bank BNP Paribas sparked international concern when it admitted that it didn’t know what many of its investments in the US sub-prime property market were worth and froze three of its hedge funds. This kicked off the financial crisis and the beginning of the credit crunch.

In September 2007 there was a run on the Northern Rock bank in the UK, forcing the Bank of England to provide emergency funding. Northern Rock was eventually nationalised in February 2008. In July 2008, the US financial authorities had to provide emergency assistance to America’s two largest mortgage lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Then in September 2008, the financial crisis really took hold. The US bank, Lehman Brothers, filed for bankruptcy, sending shock waves around the global economy. In the UK, Lloyds TSB announced that it was taking over the UK’s largest mortgage lender, Halifax Bank Of Scotland (HBOS), after a run on HBOS shares.

Later in the month, Fortis, the huge Belgian banking, finance and insurance company, was partly nationalised to prevent its bankruptcy. Also the UK government was forced to take control of mortgage-lender, Bradford & Bingley’s, mortgages and loans, with the rest of the business sold to Santander.

Early in October 2008, trading was suspended in the main Icelandic banks. Later in the month, the UK government announced a £37 billion rescue package for Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Lloyds TSB and HBOS. Then in November it partially nationalised RBS by taking a 58% share in the bank. Meanwhile various other rescue packages and emergency loans to the banking sector were taking place in other parts of the world. See here for a timeline of the financial crisis.

So, ten years on from the start of the crisis, have the lessons of the crisis been learnt. Could a similar crisis occur again?

The following articles look at this question and the answers are mixed.

On the positive side, banks are much more highly capitalised than they were ten years ago. Moves by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision in its Basel III regulatory framework have ensured that banks are much more highly capitalised and operate with higher levels of liquidity. What is more, banks are generally more cautious about investing in highly complex and risky collateralised assets.

On the negative side, increased flexibility in labour markets, although helping to keep unemployment down, has allowed a huge squeeze on real wages as austerity measures have dampened the economy. What is more, household debt is rising to possibly unsustainable levels. Over the past year, unsecured debt (e.g. personal loans and credit card debt) have risen by 10% and yet (nominal) household incomes have risen by only 1.5%. While record low interest rates make such loans relatively affordable, when interest rates do eventually start to rise, this could put a huge strain on household finances. But if households start to rein in their borrowing, this would put downward pressure on aggregate demand and jeopardise economic growth.

Articles
The crisis: 10 years in three chart BBC News, Simon Jack (9/8/17)
Darling: ‘Alarm bells ringing’ for UK economy BBC News (9/8/17)
Alistair Darling warns against ‘complacency’ 10 years on from financial crisis The Telegraph (9/8/17)
A decade after the financial crisis consumers are still worried Independent, Kate Hughes (9/8/17)
Bankers still do not understand complex reasons behind financial crash, senior politician warns Independent, Ashley Cowburn (9/8/17)
We let the 2007 financial crisis go to waste The Guardian, Torsten Bell (9/8/17)
Bank of England warns of complacency over big rise in personal debt The Guardian, Larry Elliott (24/7/17)
On the 10th anniversary of the global financial meltdown, here’s what’s changed USA Today, Kim Hjelmgaard (8/8/17)
Financial crisis: Ten years ago today the tremors started Irish Times (9/8/17)
If We Are Racing to the Pre-Crisis Bubble, Here Are 12 Charts To Watch Bloomberg, Sid Verma (9/8/17)

Videos
The financial crisis ten years ago to the day Euronews (9/8/17)
Ten years later: What really sparked the financial crisis Sky News, Adam Parsons (9/8/17)
Bank of England warns on household debt Channel 4 News, Siobhan Kennedy (25/7/17)

Questions

  1. Explain what are meant by ‘collateralised debt obligations (CDOs)’.
  2. What part did CDOs play in the financial crisis of 2007–8?
  3. In what ways is the current financial situation similar to that in 2007–8?
  4. In what ways is it different?
  5. Explain the Basel III banking regulations.
  6. To what extent has the Bank of England exceeded the minimum Basel III requirements?
  7. Explain what is meant by ‘stress testing’ the banks? Does this ensure that there can never be a repeat of the financial crisis?
  8. Why is it desirable for central banks eventually to raise interest rates to a level of around 2–3%? Why might it be difficult for central banks to do that?
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Don’t bank on Italy’s economy

The Brexit vote has caused shockwaves throughout European economies. But there is a potentially larger economic and political problem facing the EU and the eurozone more specifically. And that is the state of the Italian banking system and the Italian economy.

Italy is the third largest economy in the eurozone after Germany and France. Any serious economic weaknesses could have profound consequences for the rest of the eurozone and beyond.

At 135% of GDP, Italy’s public-sector debt is one the highest in the world; its banks are undercapitalised with a high proportion of bad debt; and it is still struggling to recover from the crisis of 2008–9. The Economist article elaborates:

The adult employment rate is lower than in any EU country bar Greece. The economy has been moribund for years, suffocated by over-regulation and feeble productivity. Amid stagnation and deflation, Italy’s banks are in deep trouble, burdened by some €360 billion of souring loans, the equivalent of a fifth of the country’s GDP. Collectively they have provisioned for only 45% of that amount. At best, Italy’s weak banks will throttle the country’s growth; at worst, some will go bust.

Since 2007, the economy has shrunk by 10%. And potential output has fallen too, as firms have closed. Unemployment is over 11%, with youth unemployment around 40%.

Things seem to be coming to a head. As confidence in the Italian banking system plummets, the Italian government would like to bail out the banks to try to restore confidence and encourage deposits and lending. But under new eurozone rules designed to protect taxpayers, it requires that the first line of support should be from bondholders. Such support is known as a ‘bail-in’.

If bondholders were large institutional investors, this might not be such a problem, but a significant proportion of bank bonds in Italy are held by small investors, encouraged to do so by tax relief. Bailing in the banks by requiring bondholders to bear significant losses in the value of their bonds could undermine the savings of many Italians and cause them severe hardship, especially those who had saved for their retirement.

So what is the solution? Italian banks need recapitalising to restore confidence and prevent a more serious crisis. However, there is limited scope for bailing in, unless small investors can be protected. And eurozone rules provide little scope for government funding for the banks. These rules should be relaxed under extreme circumstances. At the same time, policy needs to focus on making Italian banking more efficient.

Meanwhile, the IMF is forecasting that Italian economic growth will be less than 1% this year and little better in 2017. Part of the problem, claims the IMF, is the Brexit vote. This has heightened financial market volatility and increasead the risks for Italy with its fragile banking system. But the problems of the Italian economy run deeper and will require various supply-side policies to tackle low productivity, corruption, public-sector inefficiency and a financial system not fit for purpose. What the mix of these policies should be – whether market based or interventionist – is not just a question of effectiveness, but of political viability and democratic support.

Articles
The Italian Job The Economist (9/7/16)
IMF warns Italy of two-decade-long recessionThe Guardian, Larry Elliott (11/7/16)
Italy economy: IMF says country has ‘two lost decades’ of growth BBC News (12/7/16)
What’s the problem with Italian banks? BBC News, Andrew Walker (10/7/16)
Why Italy’s banking crisis will shake the eurozone to its core The Telegraph, Tim Wallace Szu Ping Chan (16/8/16)
If You Thought Brexit Was Bad Wait Until The Italian Banks All Go Bust Forbes, Tim Worstall (17/7/16)
In the euro zone’s latest crisis, Italy is torn between saving the banks or saving its people Quartz, Cassie Werber (13/7/16)
Why Italy could be the next European country to face an economic crisis Vox, Timothy B. Lee (8/7/16)
Forget Brexit, Quitaly is Europe’s next worry The Guardian, Larry Elliott (26/7/16)

Report
Italy IMF Country Report No. 16/222 (July 2016)

Data
Economic Outlook OECD (June 2016) (select ‘By country’ from the left-hand panel and then choose ‘Italy’ from the pull-down menu and choose appropriate time series)

Questions

  1. Can changes in aggregate demand have supply-side consequences? Explain.
  2. Explain why there may be a downward spiral of asset sales by banks.
  3. How might the principle of bail-ins for undercapitalised Italian banks be pursued without being at the expense of the small saver?
  4. What lessons are there from Japan’s ‘three arrows’ for Italy? Does being in the eurozone constrain Italy’s ability to adopt any or all of these three categories of policy?
  5. Why may the Brexit vote have more serious consequences for Italy than many other European economies?
  6. Find out what reforms have already been adopted or are being pursued by the Italian government. How successful are they likely to be in increasing Italian growth and productivity?
  7. What external factors are currently (a) favourable, (b) unfavourable to improving Italian growth and productivity?
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Cyprus: one crisis ends; another begins

After a week of turmoil in Cyprus (see the News item Ochi, ochi, ochi) a deal has been struck between Cyprus, the EU and the IMF over a €10bn bailout for the island’s banking system. But while the deal may bring the immediate crisis to an end, the Cypriot economy could face years of austerity and depression. And there remain questions over whether the deal sends the wrong message to depositors in banks in other eurozone countries whose banking systems are under pressure.

Unlike the original EU proposal, the deal will not impose a levy on deposits under €100,000, much to the relief of small and medium depositors. But individuals and businesses with deposits over €100,000 in the two main troubled banks (Laiki and the Bank of Cyprus) will face losses that could be as high as 40%. The precise size will become clear in the coming days.

The troubled second largest bank, Laiki (Popular) Bank, will be split into a ‘good’ and a ‘bad’ bank. The assets and liabilities of the good part will be taken over by the largest bank, the Bank of Cyprus. Thus people’s accounts under €100,000 will be moved from one to the other. The ‘bad’ part will include deposits over €100,000 and bonds. Holders of these could lose a substantial proportion of their value.

Many businesses will be hard hit and may be forced to close. This could have serious adverse multiplier effects on the economy. These effects will be aggravated by the fiscal austerity measures which are also part of the deal. The measures are also likely to discourage further inward investment, again pushing the economy further into recession.

And then there are the broader effects on the eurozone. The direct effect of a decline in the Cypriot economy would be tiny; the Cypriot economy accounts for a mere 0.2% of eurozone GDP. Also the effect on small savers in other eurozone countries is also likely to be limited, as people will probably be reassured that savings under €100,000 have remained protected, even in an economy as troubled as Cyprus.

But some commentators argue that the effect on large depositors in other troubled eurozone countries, such as Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy, could be much more serious. Would people with large balances in these countries prefer to move their money to, say, Germany, or even out of the eurozone altogether? There is clearly disagreement over this last point as you will see from the articles below.

Webcasts and Podcasts
Cyprus agrees bailout with eurozone ministers The Guardian (25/3/13)
Cyprus bailout: Deal reached in Eurogroup talks BBC News (25/3/13)
‘Disaster avoided’ as Cyprus agrees EU bailout deal Euronews (25/3/13)
Cyprus saved from bankruptcy Channel 4 News on YouTube, Faisal Islam (25/3/13)
What are the implications of the Cyprus deal? BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, Stephanie Flanders (25/3/13)
Cyprus bailout deal: Russia riled but Germany relieved BBC News, Steve Rosenberg in Moscow and Stephen Evans in Berlin (25/3/13)
Cyprus bailout deal ‘durable’ says IMF chief BBC News, Christine Lagarde (25/3/13)
Cyprus Bailout Deal Raises Questions: Lombardi Bloomberg, Domenico Lombardi (25/3/13)
Minister Michalis Sarris: Cyprus paying ‘tremendous cost’ BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, Michalis Sarris (26/3/13)

Articles
Last-minute Cyprus deal to close bank, force losses Reuters, Jan Strupczewski and Annika Breidthardt (25/3/13)
Cyprus strikes last-minute EU bailout deal The Guardian, Ian Traynor (25/3/13)
‘There is no future here in Cyprus’ The Telegraph, Nick Squires (25/3/13)
Back from the brink: EU ministers approve €10bn bailout deal at 11th-hour to save Cyprus Independent, Charlotte McDonald-Gibson and Majid Mohamed (25/3/13)
Cyprus bailout: Deal reached in Eurogroup talks BBC News (25/3/13)
Q&A: Cyprus deal BBC News (25/3/13)
The rescue of Cyprus won’t feel like one to its people BBC News, Robert Peston (25/3/13)
Lessons of Cyprus BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (25/3/13)
Cyprus bailout: Dijsselbloem remarks alarm markets BBC News (25/3/13)
Cyprus saved – but at what cost? The Guardian, Helena Smith (25/3/13)
Cyprus bail-out: savers will be raided to save euro in future crisis, says eurozone chief The Telegraph, Bruno Waterfield (25/3/13)
Cyprus’s banks have been tamed – are Malta and Luxembourg next? The Guardian, Ian Traynor (25/3/13)
Lehman lessons weigh on Cyprus talks but 1920s slump must not be ignored The Guardian, Larry Elliott (24/3/13)

Questions

  1. Explain what is meant by ‘moral hazard’. What moral hazards are implicit in the deal that has been struck with Cyprus?
  2. How does the size of the banking system in Cyprus as a proportion of GDP differ from that in other troubled eurozone countries? How does this affect the ‘contagion’ argument?
  3. Does the experience of Iceland and its troubled banks suggest that the Cypriot problem has nothing to do with its being in the eurozone?
  4. What options are open to the Cypriot government to stimulate the economy and prevent a severe recession? How realistic are these options (if any)?
  5. What are the likely implications of the deal for the economic relationships (as opposed to the political ones) between Cyprus and Russia and between the eurozone and Russia?
  6. Are there any similarities in the relationships between the weak and strong eurozone countries today and those between Germany and other countries in the 1920s and 30s?
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Ochi, ochi, ochi

Banks in Cyprus are in crisis. They have many bad debts e.g. to Greece and as mortgages in a falling property market. Private-sector debts have become unsustainable for the banks. The problem is compounded by negative economic growth and large government deficits (see chart). But, as with Icelandic banks back in 2008, this means a crisis for the whole country.

The reason is that the banking sector in Cyprus, as in Iceland and Ireland too, is large relative to the whole economy – over 8 times annual GDP (second only to Ireland in the EU). Loans to Greece alone are as much as 160% of Cyprus’ GDP and Cypriot banks were badly hit by the terms of the Greek bailout, which required creditors to take a 53% reduction (or ‘haircut’) in the value of their loans to Greece. With such a large banking sector, it is impossible for the Cypriot government alone to rescue the banks.

Cyprus thus turned to the EU for a bailout: back in June 2012. This makes Cyprus the fifth country to seek a bailout (after Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain). A bailout of €10 billion has just been agreed by the EU and IMF. The bailout comes with the ‘usual’ conditions of strong austerity measures of tax rises and cuts in government expenditure. But what makes this bailout different from those given to the other countries was a proposed levy on savers.

The proposal was that people with up €99,999 in their bank accounts (of any type) would face a one-off tax of 6.75%. The rate for those with €100,000 or more would be 9.9%, including on the first €99,999. This would raise around €5.8 billion of the €10 billion.

Not surprisingly, there was a public outcry in Cyprus. People had thought that their deposits were protected (at least up to €100,000). There was a run on cash machines, which, as a result were set to deliver just small amounts of cash to cope with the excessive demand. There was huge pressure on the Cypriot government not to introduce the measure.

But the ramifications of the proposed levy go well beyond the question of justice to savers. Questions are being raised about its incentive/disincentive effects. If people in other countries in future financial difficulties felt that they might face similar levies, how would they behave? Also, there is no haircut being proposed for holders of banks’ bonds. As Robert Peston states in his first article below:

The Cypriot deal sets back the cause of the new global rules for bringing order to banking systems when crisis hits. Apart from anything else, in other eurozone countries where banks are weak, it licenses runs on those banks, as and when a bailout looms.

But getting incentives right is not easy. As the Buttonwood column in The Economist points out:

The problem is tied up with the issue of moral hazard. This can be applied to both creditors and debtors; the former should be punished for reckless lending and the latter for living beyond their means. The collapse of Lehman Brothers is seen as an example of the faulty reasoning behind moral hazard; by letting the bank go bust, the crisis was spread throughout the financial system. But rescuing every creditor (or intervening to bail out the markets every time they falter) is the reason we are in this mess.

One alternative considered by the Cyprus parliament was to exempt people with less than €20,000 in their accounts from the levy. But this was rejected as being insufficient protection for savers. Another is to exempt people with less than €100,000, or to charge people with between €20,000 and €100,000 at a lower rate or rates.

But charging less, or nothing, on deposits of less than €100,000 would make it harder to to raise the €5.8 billion required by the EU. Without alternative measures it would mean charging a rate higher than 9.9% on larger deposits. The Cypriot government is afraid that this would discourage inward investment. Russia, in particular, has invested heavily in the Cyprus economy and Russia is campaigning vigorously to limit the size of the levy on large deposits. But there is little sympathy for Russian depositors, much of whose deposits are claimed to be ‘laundered money’. The Cypriot government has been seeking financial support from the Russian government.

An alternative proposal being considered is to issue government bonds in an “investment solidarity fund” and to transfer pension funds from semi-public companies to the state. Also Russia may be willing to invest more money in Cyprus’ offshore oil and gas fields.

Agreement
A deal was struck between Cyprus and the EU/IMF early in the morning of 25 March, just hours before the deadline. For details, see the News Item Cyprus: one crisis ends; another begins.

Webcasts and podcasts
Eurozone ministers agree 10bn euro Cyprus bailout Channel 4 News (16/3/13)
Bailout is ‘blackmail’ claims Cyprus president Euronews (17/3/13)
Cyprus’s president tries to calm fears over EU bailout The Guardian (18/3/13)
Cypriot bank customers reactions to savings levy BBC News (17/3/13)
Cyprus bailout: Parliament postpones debate amid anger BBC News (17/3/13)
Cyprus parliament delays debate on EU bailout Al Jazeera (17/3/13)
Cyprus told it can amend bailout, as key vote postponed BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (18/3/13)
Robert Peston: Cyprus bailout an ‘astonishing mess’ BBC News, Robert Peston (18/3/13)
Cyprus bailout is ‘completely unfair’ BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, Michael Fuchs and Bernadette Segol (18/3/13)
Lenders ‘doing everything you should not do’ on Cyprus BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, Alistair Darling (19/3/12)
Cyprus warned over bailout rejection BBC News (20/3/13)

Articles
Cyprus becomes fifth eurozone bailout The News International (Pakistan) (17/3/13)
Cyprus bailout deal sparks run on ATMs Irish Independent (17/3/13)
EU leaders gamble in Cyprus bank bailout BBC News, Gavin Hewitt (17/3/13)
Cyprus told it can amend bailout, as key vote postponed BBC News (18/3/13)
Q&A: Cyprus bailout BBC News (19/3/13)
Cyprus’ President Defends Bailout Deal The Motley Fool (16/3/13)
Sad Cyprus The Economist, Buttonwood’s Notebook (12/3/13)
The Cypriot bail-out: A fifth bitter lemon The Economist (30/6/12)
Analysis: Cyprus bank levy risks dangerous euro zone precedent Reuters, Mike Peacock (17/3/13)
The Cyprus precedent Reuters, Felix Salmon (17/3/13)
The Cyprus Bank Bailout Could Be A Disastrous Precedent: They’re Reneging On Government Deposit Insurance Forbes, Tim Worstall (16/3/13)
Cyprus rescue breaks all the rules BBC News, Robert Peston (18/3/13)
Cyprus and the eurozone’s survival BBC News, Robert Peston (20/3/13)
Eurogroup defends Cyprus bail-out The Telegraph (17/3/13)
Cyprus eurozone bailout prompts anger as savers hand over possible 10% levy The Guardian (16/3/13)
Cyprus’s wealth tax makes perfect sense – its rich won’t escape unscathed The Guardian, Phillip Inman (18/3/13)
The tragedy of Cyprus The Real Economy blog, Edmund Conway (16/3/13)
Damage limitation in Cyprus BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (19/3/13)
The fatal flaw in the eurozone’s not-so-cunning plan for Cyprus The Guardian, Larry Elliott (19/3/13)
Cyprus plans special fund in race to get EU-IMF bailout BBC News, (21/3/13)
Cyprus says ‘significant progress’ in debt crisis talks BBC News (23/3/13)

Background information
The Banking System in Cyprus: Time to Rethink the Business Model? Cyprus Economic Policy Review, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 123–130, Constantinos Stephanou (2011)
European sovereign-debt crisis Wikipedia

Questions

  1. What is the justification given by the Cypriot government and the EU for imposing a levy on bank deposits?
  2. What alternative measures could have been demanded by the EU? Why weren’t they?
  3. What is the significance of Russian deposits in Cypriot banks?
  4. Compare the benefits of the proposed levy rates with the alternative of imposing levies only on deposits over €100,000, but at higher rates (perhaps tiered).
  5. Explain the moral hazard issues in bailing out the Cypriot banks.
  6. How serious is the problem that imposing a tax on deposits in Cypriot banks might have adverse affects on the behaviour of depositors in other countries’ banks?
  7. How might Cypriots behave in future in regards to depositing money in banks? What impact could this have on the economy of Cyprus?
  8. Explain “the unholy trinity of options facing indebted nations (inflate, stagnate, default)”. Compare the effectiveness of each.
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The pain in Spain

With falling GDP and house prices, Spanish banks have been running the risk of failure. Indeed, the Spanish government has already had to agree to bail out Spain’s fourth biggest bank, Bankia.

On Saturday 9 June, at a crisis conference call, eurozone finance ministers agreed to lend the Spanish government up to €100 billion to provide credit to Spanish banks. The Spanish government is commissioning independent audits of the banks and, in the light of that, will specify just how much it needs to borrow.

Details of the nature of the loans will be made clear over the coming days, but they will funded either from the temporary rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), or from the new permanent fund that will replace it, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

But whilst the loans will remove the immediate pressure on Spanish banks, the underlying problems of the Spanish economy remain. Easy credit fuelled a property bubble which then burst. House prices have fallen by over 20% since the peak, and many Spanish people are in negative equity. Many construction companies have gone out of business.

What is more, the Spanish government is committed to reducing the budget deficit from 8.9% of GDP in 2011 to 5.3% in 2012 and 3% in 2013. To achieve this it has instituted tough austerity policies of government expenditure cuts and tax rises. (Click here for a link to a graph from the BBC of budget deficits in 18 EU countries.)

This has only aggravated the decline in GDP – at least in the short term. Spanish GDP is set to fall by around 2% this year and unemployment, at nearly 25% and rising, is the highest in Europe. Indeed the unemployment rate for those aged 15 to 25 is over 51%! This clearly has profound social and political consequences, with many young people seeing no prospect of gaining employment and thus feeling socially alienated. (For a PowerPoint of the above chart, click here.)

Markets on the Monday after the bailout was announced initially reacted positively. By the end of the day, however, the gains had been wiped out. Although no conditions were imposed on the Spanish government – the loan, although to the Spanish government, was to bail out the banks, not the government itself – worries remain that the Spanish economy is not set to recover for some time.

What is more, worries about other eurozone countries in difficulty have not gone away. Indeed, with the Spanish government being seen as having been dealt with more leniently than the Greek, Portuguese and Irish governments, investors are now worried that these countries may demand to renegotiate the terms of their bailout. And in the case of Greece, the Spanish bailout may make people more willing to vote in this coming Saturday’s election for parties that reject the Greek bailout terms. This may make it more likely that Greece will be forced to leave the euro, with all the chaos that is likely to ensue.

Webcasts and Podcasts
Spain: Simmering anger in Seville BBC News, Paul Mason (7/6/12)
Will Spain’s Bailout save Europe? CNBC Video, Martin Wolf (11/6/12)
Bailout boost evaporates Financial Times video, James Macintosh (11/6/12)
Spain’s bailout may not be enough Financial Times video, Nikki Tait (11/6/12)
Eurozone: ‘Italy will be next’ BBC Today Programme, Robert Peston (11/6/12)

Articles
Eurozone agrees to lend Spain up to 100 billion euros MSN Money, Jan Strupczewski and Julien Toyer (12/6/12)
Hurried Spanish banking bailout fails to calm market nerves Guardian, Giles Tremlett (11/6/12)
Fears that Spain’s bailout relief may be short-live Independent, Alasdair Fotheringham and Tom Bawden (11/6/12)
Spanish banks deal: Market concerns remain BBC News (11/6/12)
Q&A: Spanish bank deal BBC News (11/6/12)
Debt crisis: Market euphoria evaporates over Spain’s €100bn bank bailout The Telegraph, Emma Rowley and Bruno Waterfield (11/6/12)
Why bondholders are scared about Spain MarketWatch, Deborah Levine (11/6/12)
Krugman on another bank bailout Press-Telegram Paul Krugman (11/6/12)
Messy Spanish rescue BBC News, Robert Peston (10/6/12)
This latest euro fix will come apart in less than a month The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (11/6/12)
The consequences of Spain’s bank rescue Financial Times, Gavyn Davies (10/6/12)
Buy on the summit, sell on the communiqué Financial Times, Alan Beattie (11/6/12)
The vicious euro circle keeps turning BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (12/6/12)
Spanish banks need up to 62bn euros BBC News (21/6/12)
Eurozone crisis explained BBC News (19/6/12)
Spain formally requests a bailout for its banks BBC News (25/6/12)

Documents and press releases
IMF Says Spain’s Core Financial System is Resilient, but Important Vulnerabilities Remain IMF Press Release (8/6/12)
Spain and the IMF IMF links to various documents including: Spain – Financial System Stability Assessment (8/6/12)
Eurogroup statement on Spain Eurozone Portal, The Eurogroup (9/6/12)

Questions

  1. How does the Spanish bailout differ from those for Greece, Irelend and Portugal?
  2. What are the likely implications for Spanish borrowing costs of the loans coming from the ESM?
  3. To what extent does the plan to bail out Spanish banks involve a moral hazard?
  4. What is likely to be the effect of the Spanish bailout on Greece, Ireland and Portugal?
  5. How bad is Spanish public-sector debt compared with other countries? What is the likely effect of the bailout on Spanish public-sector debt?
  6. What is meant by a banking union in the eurozone and how would it work? What would be the implication of a eurozone banking union for the UK?
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Taking the gambling out of high street banking (update)

Original post (19/9/11)
The Independent Commission on Banking (ICB), led by Sir John Vickers, has just delivered its report. Central to its remit was to investigate ways of making retail banking safer and avoid another bailout by the government, as was necessary in 2007/8.

The report recommended the ‘ringfencing’ of retail banking from the more risky investment banking, often dubbed ‘casino banking’. In other words, if the investment arm of a universal bank made a loss, or even faced collapse, this would not affect the retail arm. The ringfenced operations would include banking services to households and small businesses. Wholesale and investment banking would be outside the ringfence. As far as retail banking services to big business are concerned, these could be inside the ringfence, but details would need to be worked out about precisely which banking services to big business would be inside and which would be outside the ringfence.

The ICB was keen to stress that the ringfence should be high and that the retail arm should be both operationally and legally separate from the wholesale/investment arm. The ringfenced part of the bank should have a capital adequacy ratio of up to 20% (above the Basel III recommendations), with at least 10% of liabilities in the form of equity. Capital could only be moved from the ringfenced arm to the investment arm of the bank if this did not breach the 10% ratio.

The ICB report also recommends measures to increase competition in banking, including making it easier to switch accounts, greater transparency about the terms of accounts and a referral of the banking industry for a competition investigation in 2015. The cost to the banking industry of the measures, if fully implemented, is estimated to be between £4m and £7m.

Because of the requirement in the report for banks to build up their capital and the danger that a too rapid process here would jeopardise the expansion of lending necessary to underpin the recovery, banks would be given until 2019 to complete the recommendations. Moves towards this, however, would need to start soon.

Update (19/12/11)
In December 2011, the government announced that it would accept most of the ICB report, including separating retail and investment banking. It would not, however, demand such stringent capital requirements as those recommended in the report.

The following articles examine the details of the proposals and their likely effectiveness. The later articles examine the government’s response.

Original articles (some with videos)
Vickers report: main points The Telegraph (12/9/11)
Bank reforms aim to get taxpayers off the hook Money Marketing, Natalie Holt, Steve Tolley (15/9/11)
Vickers report: key point Guardian, Jill Treanor (12/9/11)
Vickers report: banks get until 2019 to ringfence high street operation Guardian, Jill Treanor (12/9/11)
Bank reform: To rip asunder The Economist (17/9/11)
Banking reforms: Good fences The Economist (17/9/11)
Banks barred from putting depositors’ money at risk as Vickers’ reforms increases costs by up to £7 billion The Telegraph, Harry Wilson (12/9/11)
Vickers report: Q&A The Telegraph (12/9/11)
Vickers report: reaction The Telegraph (12/9/11)
ICB bank reforms could cost UK banks £7bn a year The Telegraph, Harry Wilson (12/9/11)
Money Insider: Will reforms really shake up the high street? Independent, Andrew Hagger (17/9/11)
Bank reforms bring quick improvements Financial Times, Elaine Moore (16/9/11)
Vickers’ critics are missing the point Financial Times, Diane Coyle and Jonathan Haskel (12/9/11)

Audio podcasts
The Business podcast: The Vickers report Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty, Jill Treanor and Nils Pratley (13/9/11)
Vickers: Bank reforms ‘will get taxpayers off the hook’ BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, Sir John Vickers (12/9/11)
‘Enormous dilemma’ for UK’s biggest banks BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, Robert Peston (12/9/11)

ICB report and press conference
Press Conference: Vickers: Banks ‘must be ring-fenced’ BBC News (12/9/11)
Portal to Full Report and Transcript of Opening Remarks by Sir John Vickers at Press Conference. Independent Commission on Banking

Later articles and webcasts
Chancellor George Osborne to announce banking split BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (19/12/11)
Osborne to address MPs on Vickers’ report into banking BBC News (19/12/11)
Bank break-up law by 2015 BBC News. Robert Peston (18/12/11)
Osborne to Pledge U.K. Bank Legislation by 2015 Bloomberg, Gonzalo Vina and Jennifer Ryan (19/12/11)
In bank reform, ‘in full’ must mean exactly that Independent (19/12/11)
How far and how fast is key to the reforms Independent, Ben Chu (19/12/11)
George Osborne poised to bring in full banking reforms The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead and Harry Wilson (18/12/11)
EU will not impede Vickers reforms Financial Times, George Parker and Sharlene Goff (18/12/11)

Questions

  1. Explain the difference between a capital adequacy ratio and a liquidity ratio. Will the Vickers proposals help to increase the liquidity of the retail banking arm of universal banks?
  2. Does it matter if equity capital in excess of the 10% requirement for retail banking is transferred to a bank’s investment arm?
  3. What risks are there for a bank in retail banking?
  4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of bringing in the measures gradually over an 8-year period?
  5. Does it matter that the capital adequacy requirements are higher than under the internationally accepted standards in Basel III?
  6. Assume that there is another global financial crisis. Will the proposals in the report mean that the UK taxpayer will not have to provide a bailout?
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Saving the eurozone? Saving the world? (Part B)

At its meeting on 26 October, the eurozone countries agreed on a deal to tackle the three problems identified in Part A of this blog:

1. Making the Greek debt burden sustainable
2. Increasing the size of the eurozone bailout fund to persuade markets that there would be sufficient funding to support other eurozone countries which were having difficulties in servicing their debt.
3. Recapitalising various European banks to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults.

The following were agreed:

1. Banks would be required to take a loss of 50% in converting existing Greek bonds into new ones. This swap will take place in January 2012. Note that Greek debt to other countries and the ECB would be unaffected and thus total Greek debt would be cut by considerably less than 50%.

2. The bailout fund (EFSF) would increase to between €1 trillion and €1.4 trillion, although this would be achieved not by direct contributions by Member States or the ECB, but by encouraging non-eurozone countries (such as China, Russia, India and Brazil) to buy eurozone debt in return for risk insurance. These purchases would the form the base on which the size of the fund could be multiplied (leveraged). There would also be backing from the IMF. Details would be firmed up in November.

3. Recapitalising various European banks to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults. About 70 banks will be required to raise an additional €106.4 billion by increasing their Tier 1 capital ratio by 9% by June 2012 (this compares with the Basel III requirement of 6% Tier 1 by 2015).

On the longer-term issue of closer fiscal union, the agreement was in favour of achieving this, along with tight constraints on the levels of government deficits and debt – a return to something akin to the Stability and Growth Pact.

On the issue of economic growth, whilst constraining sovereign debt may be an important element of a long-term growth strategy, the agreement has not got to grips with the short-term problem of a lack of aggregate demand – unless, of course, the relief in markets at seeing a solution to the debt problem may boost business and consumer confidence. This, in turn, may provide the boost to aggregate demand that has been sadly lacking over the past few months.

Certainly if the reaction of stock markets around the world are anything to go by, the recovery in confidence may be under way. The day following the agreement, the German stock market index, the Dax, rose by 6.3% and the French Cac index rose by 5.4%.

Eurozone crisis explained BBC News (27/10/11)
Leaders agree eurozone debt plan in Brussels BBC News, Matthew Price (27/10/11)
Eurozone agreement – the detail BBC News, Hugh Pym (27/10/11)
10 key questions on the eurozone bailout Citywire Money, Caelainn Barr (27/10/11)
European debt crisis: ‘Europe is going to have a very tough winter’ – video analysis Guardian, Larry Elliott (27/10/11)
Eurozone crisis: banks agree 50% reduction on Greece’s debt Guardian, David Gow (27/10/11)
The euro deal: No big bazooka The Economist (29/10/11)
Europe’s rescue plan The Economist (29/10/11)
European banks given just eight months to raise €106bn The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (26/10/11)
EU reaches agreement on Greek bonds Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Stanley Pignal and Alex Barker (27/10/11)
Unlike politicians, the markets are seeing sense Independent, Hamish McRae (27/10/11)
Market view: Eurozone rescue deal buys time FT Adviser, Michael Trudeau (27/10/11)
Greece vows to build on EU deal, people sceptical Reuters, Renee Maltezou and Daniel Flynn (27/10/11)
Markets boosted by eurozone deal Independent, Peter Cripps, Jamie Grierson (27/10/11)
Has Germany been prudent or short-sighted? BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (27/10/11)
Germany’s Fiscal union with a capital F BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (27/10/11)

Questions

  1. What are the key features of the deal reached in Brussels on 26 October?
  2. What details still need to be worked out?
  3. How will the EFSF be boosted some 4 or 5 times without extra contributions fron eurozone governments?
  4. Why, if banks are to take a 50% haircut on their holdings of Greek debt, will Greek debt fall only to 120% per cent by 2020 from just over 160% currently?
  5. On balance, is this a good deal?
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Saving the eurozone? Saving the world? (Part A)

As European leaders gather for an emergency summit in Brussels to tackle the eurozone debt crisis, we consider the issues and possible solutions. In Part B we’ll consider the actual agreement.

There are three key short-term issues that the leaders are addressing.

1. The problem of Greek debt
With fears that the Greek debt crisis could spread to other eurozone countries, such as Italy and Spain, it is vital to have a solution to the unsustainability of Greek debt. Either banks must be willing to write off a proportion of Greek debt owed to them or governments must give a fiscal transfer to Greece to allow it to continue servicing the debt. Simply lending Greece even more provides no long-term solution as this will simply make the debt even harder to service. Writing off a given percentage of debt is known as a ‘haircut’. The haircut on offer before the summit was 21%. Leaders are reportedly considering increasing this to around 60%

2. The size of the eurozone bailout fund
The bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), stood at €440 billion. This is considered totally inadequate to provide loans to Italy and Spain, should they need a bailout. France and other countries want the ECB to provide extra loans to the EFSF, to increase its funds to somewhere between €2 trillion and €3 trillion. Germany before the meeting was strongly against this, seeing it as undermining the rectitude of the ECB. A compromise would be for the EFSF to provide partial guarantees to investors and banks which are willing to lend more to countries in debt crisis.

3. Recapitalising various European banks
Several European banks are heavily exposed to sovereign debt in countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain. It is estimated that they would need to raise an extra €100 billion to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults.

But there is the key longer-term issue as well.

Achieving long-term economic growth
Without economic growth, debt servicing becomes much more difficult. The austerity measures imposed on highly indebted countries amount to strongly contractionary fiscal policies, as government expenditure is cut and taxes are increased. But as the economies contract, so automatic fiscal stabilisers come into play. As incomes and expenditure decline, so people pay less income tax and less VAT and other expenditure taxes; as incomes decline and unemployment rises, so government welfare payments and payments of unemployment benefits increase. These compound public-sector deficits and bring the possibility of even stronger austerity measures. A downward spiral of decline and rising debt can occur.

The answer is more rapid growth. But how is that to be achieved when governments are trying to reduce debt? That is the hardest and ultimately the most important question.

Brussels summit: the main issues to be resolved The Telegraph (25/10/11)
EU crisis talks in limbo after crucial summit is cancelled The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (25/10/11)
Euro zone summit likely to give few numbers on crisis response Reuters, Jan Strupczewski (25/10/11)
Factbox: What EU leaders must decide at crisis summit Reuters (24/10/11)
Hopes low ahead of EU summit Euronews on YouTube (25/10/11)
Euro crisis: EU leaders hope to reach debt plan BBC News (26/10/11)
The deadline Europe cannot afford to miss BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (26/10/11)
Why EU summit is crunch day for the eurozone BBC News, Paul Mason (26/10/11)
Southern European banks need most capital BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (23/10/11)
Will Germany insure Italy against default? BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (26/10/11)
Plan B for the eurozone? BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (26/10/11)
‘No such thing as Europe’ BBC Today Programme, Stephanie Flanders and Martin Wolf (26/10/11)
Markets to eurozone: It’s the growth, stupid BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (24/10/11)
Fears euro summit could miss final deal Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Gerrit Wiesmann and Matt Steinglass (26/10/11)
Time to unleash financial firepower or face euro breakup Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/10/11)
The Business podcast: eurozone crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott, David Gow and Jill Treanor (25/10/11)
Why is Germany refusing to budge on the eurozone debt crisis? Guardian blogs, Phillip Inman (26/10/11)

Questions

  1. In terms of the three short-term problems identified above, compare alternative measures for dealing with each one.
  2. To what extent would the ECB creating enough money to recapitalise European banks be inflationary? On what factors does this depend?
  3. Does bailing out countries create a moral hazard? Explain.
  4. What possible ways are there of achieving economic growth while reducing countries sovereign debt?
  5. Would you agree that the problem facing eurozone countries at the moment is more of a political one than an economic one? Explain.
  6. What are the arguments for and against greater fiscal integration in the eurozone?
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Payback time (updated)

The International Monetary Fund published a report on banking, ahead of the G20 meeting of ministers on 23 April. The IMF states that banks should now pay for the bailout they received from governments during the credit crunch of 2008/9. As the first Guardian article states:

It is payback time for the banks. Widely blamed for causing the worst recession in the global economy since the 1930s, castigated for using taxpayer bailouts to fund big bonuses, and accused of starving businesses and households of credit, the message from the International Monetary Fund is clear: the day of reckoning is at hand.

The Washington-based fund puts the direct cost of saving the banking sector from collapse at a staggering $862bn (£559bn) – a bill that has put the public finances of many of the world’s biggest economies, including Britain and the United States, in a parlous state. Charged with coming up with a way of ensuring taxpayers will not have to dig deep a second time, the top economists at the IMF have drawn up an even more draconian blueprint than the banks had been expecting.

The IMF proposes two new taxes. The first had been expected. This would be a levy on banks’ liabilities and would provide a fund that governments could use to finance any future bailouts. It would be worth around $1500bn: some 2.5% of world GDP, and a higher percentage than that for countries, such as the UK, with a large banking sector.

The second was more surprising to commentators. This would be a financial activities tax (FAT). This would essentially be a tax on the value added by banks, and hence would be a way of taxing profits and pay. Currently, for technical reasons, many of banks’ activities are exempt from VAT (or the equivalent tax in countries outside the EU). The IMF thus regards them as under-taxed relative to other sectors. If such a tax were levied at a rate of 17.5% (the current rate of VAT in the UK), this could raise over 1% of GDP. In the UK this could be as much as £20bn – which would make a substantial contribution to reducing the government’s structural deficit of around £100bn

Meanwhile, in the USA, President Obama has been seeking to push legislation through Congress that would tighten up the regulation of banks. On 20 May, the Senate passed the bill, which now has to be merged with a version in the House of Representatives to become law. A key part of the measures involve splitting off the trading activities of banks in derivatives and other instruments from banks’ regular retail lending and deposit-taking activities with the public and firms. At the same time, there would be much closer regulation of the derivatives market. These complex financial instruments, whose value is ‘derived’ from the value of other assets, would have to be traded in an open market, not in private deals. A new financial regulatory agency will be created with the Federal Reserve having regulatory oversight of the whole of the financial markets

The measures would also give the government the power to break up financial institutions that were failing and rescue solvent parts without having to resort to a full-scale bailout. There is also a proposal to set up a nine-member Council of Regulators to keep a close watch on banking activities and to identify excessive risks. Banks would also be more closely supervised.

So is this payback time for banks? Or will higher taxes simply be passed on to customers, with pay and bonuses remaining at staggering levels? And will tougher regulation simply see ingenious methods being invented of getting round the regulation? Will the measures reduce moral hazard, or is the genie out of the bottle, with banks knowing that they will always be seen as too important to fail?

IMF Webcast
Press Briefing by IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn IMF Webcasts (22/4/10)
Transcript of the above Press Briefing

Articles
The IMF tax proposals
IMF proposes two taxes for world’s banks Guardian, Jill Treanor and Larry Elliott (21/4/10)
IMF gets tough on banks with ‘FAT’ levy Guardian, Linda Yueh (21/4/10)
Q&A: IMF proposals to shape G20 thinking Financial Times, Brooke Masters (21/4/10)
The challenge of halting the financial doomsday machine Financial Times, Martin Wolf (20/4/10)
IMF’s ‘punishment tax’ draws fire from banking industry Financial Times, Sharlene Goff, Brooke Masters and Scheherazade Daneshkhu (21/4/10)
Squeezing the piggy-banks Economist (21/4/10)
IMF, part two Economist, ‘Buttonwood’ (21/4/10)
IMF proposes tax on financial industry as economic safeguard Washington Post, Howard Schneider (20/4/10)
IMF wants two big new taxes on banks BBC News blogs, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (20/4/10)

Obama’s proposals
Obama pleas for Wall Street support on reforms Channel 4 News, Job Rabkin (22/4/10)
Q&A: Obama’s bank regulation aims BBC News (22/4/10)
US banks may not bend to Barack Obama’s demands Guardian, Nils Pratley (22/4/10)
President Obama attacks critics of bank reform bill BBC News (23/4/10)
US Senate passes biggest overhaul of big banks since Depression Telegraph (21/5/10)
Finance-Overhaul Bill Would Reshape Wall Street, Washington Bloomberg Businessweek (21/5/10)
US Senate approves sweeping reforms of Wall Street (including video) BBC News (21/5/10)
Obama gets his big bank reforms BBC News blogs: Pestons’s Picks, Robert Peston (21/5/10)

Questions

  1. What would be the incentive effects on bank behaviour of the two taxes proposed by the IMF?
  2. What is meant by ‘moral hazard’ in the context of bank bailouts? Would (a) the IMF proposals and (b) President Obama’s proposals increase or decrease moral hazard?
  3. Why may the proposed FAT tax simply generate revenue rather than deter excessive risk-taking behaviour?
  4. What market conditions (a) encourage and (b) discourage large pay and bonuses of bankers? Will any of the proposals change these market conditions?
  5. What do you understand by the meaning of ‘excess profits’ in the context of the banks and what are the sources of such excess profits?
  6. Criticise the proposed IMF and US measures from the perspective of the banks.
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“We want our money back and we’re going to get it” (President Obama)

With banks around the world revealing massive profits and huge bonuses, governments are getting increasingly uneasy that their bailouts have lined the pockets of bank executives. Not surprisingly voters are demanding that bankers should not be rewarded for their reckless behaviour. After all, it was taxpayers’ money that prevented many banks going bankrupt during the credit crunch.

Banks, of course, seek to justify the bonuses. If you don’t pay large bonuses, they maintain, then senior staff will leave and profits will suffer. It’s nothing to do with ‘morality’, they claim. It’s the market. ‘If you don’t pay the market rate, then executives will leave and take higher-paid jobs elsewhere.’

So are governments calling this bluff? In his pre-Budget report in December, the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, announced a 50% tax on bank bonuses over £25,000. This was followed by an announcement by Nicholas Sarkozy that the French government would impose a similar 50% tax on bonuses over €27,500.

Then in mid January, President Obama proposed a tax on financial institutions with balance sheets above $50 billion. This would be levied at a rate of 0.15 percent of certain assets. But this was not a tax on bank bonuses, as favoured by the British and French governments, nor a tax on financial transactions – a type of Tobin tax – as favoured by Angela Merkel (see Tobin or not Tobin: the tax proposal that keeps reappearing). Nevertheless, it was another way of recouping for the taxpayer some of the money used to rescue banks and prevent a banking collapse.

So is this payback time for bankers, or will it simply be bank shareholders that suffer? And why can banks pay such large bonuses in the face of so much public hostility? The following articles explore the issues.

To leave or not to leave: the supertax question Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins and Kate Burgess (9/1/10)
French tax to raise €360m Financial Times, Scheherazade Daneshkhu and Ben Hall (13/1/10)
Oversized bank bonuses: classic case of overcharging The Business Times (Singapore), Anthony Rowley (15/1/10)
Obama vows to recoup ‘every dime’ taxpayers lent banks Belfast Telegraph (15/1/10)
Obama outlines $117bn bank levy (including video) BBC News (14/1/10)
Obama lays out his proposal to tax big US banks Sydney Morning Herald, Jackie Calmes (16/1/10)
Obama’s bank tax will only work if there’s a master plan in place Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan (14/1/10)
Turning the tables The Economist (14/1/10)
Obama’s bigger rod for banks BBC News, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (14/1/10)
Will Obama’s tax go global? BBC News, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (15/1/10)
Darling: I won’t do an Obama and tax the banks Scotsman, Eddie Barnes (16/1/10)
Obama tax is only the beginning of the banking Blitz Telegraph, Edmund Conway (15/1/10)
Bank taxes edge closer to the real target Guardian, Dan Roberts (15/1/10)

Questions

  1. Compare the incentive effects on bankers of the British, French and US measures discussed in the articles.
  2. Why does the ‘market’ result in high bank bonuses? Where does economic power lie in the market?
  3. Assume that you hold shares in Bank A. Would you welcome (a) high bonuses for executives of Bank A; (b) a tax on bank bonuses; (c) a ceiling on bank bonuses; (d) a tax on certain bank assets? Explain.
  4. What insights can game theory provide for the likely success in clawing back bank bonuses without doing damage to the economy?
  5. Consider whether Obama’s tax will “go global”.
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