This Wasn’t the First European Bank Bailout

If you’re like me, you probably bought into the meme that the $1 trillion that was more or less committed yesterday by European nations to forestall inevitable debt restructurings amounts to their version of TARP. While TARP was originally a program to rescue the US financial system (we’ll ignore the slush fund that it degenerated into at this time), the European plan is being advertised as a solution to sovereign debt issues, a defense of the Euro and a bit of help for the financial system.

In fact, it’s probably mostly about rescuing Europe’s banks which were on the verge of another liquidity crisis. I suspect that the specter that prompted the radical decisions reached over the weekend was not a Greek default or the knock-on effects it might have, rather it was the very real possibility that if they didn’t do something their banks might not have survived today.

But, the point that seems to have been missed is that this isn’t TARP l for Europe. The WSJ Deal Journal points out that they’ve already doled out a boat load of money to their banks.

Remember it was only two years ago that many of these very same European banks that are rallying today were the recipients of an earlier round of government largesse.

Today’s trillion dollar rescue comes on top of the $64 billion that the UK injected into its banks in October 2008, the $94 billion that German injected in its own troubled banks that Fall, the $54 billion that France spent and the $9 billion that Spain spent. The Netherland spent $14 billion propping up and Switzerland spent $5.3 billion bailing out UBS.

And those are just direct capital injections. Germany also spent $513 million in government guarantees to support bank lending in 2008.

We can’t forget the controversial bail out of AIG, either. Sure, it was a U.S. company, but there were nearly two dozen European banks, including Deutsche Bank, Banco Santander, RBS and Lloyds that received $50 billion of U.S rescue funds to cover their trades with AIG.

Add those bailout measures together and it comes out to roughly to $900 billion.

We know we are probably leaving out few billion here or there. But like we said, it is hard to keep track.

The question that occurs to me is how the European banks could have been so monumentally dumb as to amass the amounts of sovereign debt which they purportedly carry. It’s not like Greece or the other PIGGS are half way around the globe. They’re next door neighbors and many of the biggest banks maintain extensive operations in the countries. You would guess that somewhere along the line any competent country manager would have had someone whisper in his ear that things weren’t all they seemed to be.

This is pretty much fundamental banking. No exotic financial products were really involved. So how did the banks get themselves so buried in bad country risk? Was it incompetence or were they doing the EU’s bidding? Perhaps more to the point, where do they go from here?

Eventually there will be a price to be paid for their serial bailouts. Never that far from being agents of the state, European banks might well emerge from all of this as private financial enterprises in name only and that would be one more sea anchor that the EU doesn’t need to drag around.

About Tom Lindmark 401 Articles

I’m not sure that credentials mean much when it comes to writing about things but people seem to want to see them, so briefly here are mine. I have an undergraduate degree in economics from an undistinguished Midwestern university and masters in international business from an equally undistinguished Southwestern University. I spent a number of years working for large banks lending to lots of different industries. For the past few years, I’ve been engaged in real estate finance – primarily for commercial projects. Like a lot of other finance guys, I’m looking for a job at this point in time.

Given all of that, I suggest that you take what I write with the appropriate grain of salt. I try and figure out what’s behind the news but suspect that I’m often delusional. Nevertheless, I keep throwing things out there and occasionally it sticks. I do read the comments that readers leave and to the extent I can reply to them. I also reply to all emails so feel free to contact me if you want to discuss something at more length. Oh, I also have a very thick skin, so if you disagree feel free to say so.

Enjoy what I write and let me know when I’m off base – I probably won’t agree with you but don’t be shy.

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