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Thursday, August 18, 2011 10:16 PM

"Lehman-Like" Credit Crunch Hits EU; ECB Will Not Disclose Affected Banks; Euro-Style Anxiety Spreads to U.S.

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Signs of a Lehman-like borrowing crunch have hit the EU. Banks are distrustful of lending to each other in overnight operations. Interest rates are low, but not for every bank. Systemic stress reverberates.

Please consider European bank stocks hurt by borrowing crunch

European bank stocks tanked Thursday as fears mounted about their exposure to the region's debt crisis and weakening economy.

The stock prices of Britain's Barclays and France's Societe Generale led the way down, falling 11.5 percent and 12 percent, respectively. Germany's Commerzbank fell 10 percent.

Analysts said the plunge was partly a reaction to evidence that European banks are being forced to pay more for the short-term loans they need to finance day-to-day operations.

Some European banks with heavy exposure to the debts of Greece and other weak countries are relying on loans from the European Central Bank because other private banks are reluctant to do business with them. The ECB said one bank, which it didn't identify, had paid above-market rates to borrow $500 million a day for seven days.

No bank had requested such a loan for nearly six months. Analysts said fears about one bank's troubles are enough to spark concerns about the entire industry.

"These are worrying signs," said Neil MacKinnon, an economist at VTB Capital in London. "You could think of it as a mini-Lehman moment: There is the risk that a major eurozone bank might be a casualty."
Euro-Style Anxiety Spreads to US

The New York Times reports Euro-Style Anxiety Spreads
European banks are continuing to show signs of strain, making investors increasingly skittish about American financial institutions.

Regulators, bank executives and others continued to play down the risks on Thursday, emphasizing that this would not be a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. In Europe, political leaders have vowed to prevent a Lehman-like collapse of a major bank, while American firms are better insulated from potential shocks than they were three years ago.

But on Thursday, shares of some big Wall Street banks sank to levels nearly as low as that in the months after the downfall of Lehman Brothers. Among investors, anxiety has been intensifying over the soundness of European banks despite repeated efforts to contain the sovereign debt crisis. The latest fears flared up after an unspecified lender tapped an emergency borrowing program set up by the European Central Bank to ensure that firms had ample funds in dollars.

On Wednesday the bank, which officials would not identify, borrowed $500 million, considered a relatively modest sum in global finance. But the move was widely viewed as a sign that Europe’s financial problems were deepening, given that it was the first time a European bank had used the dollar pipeline since February.

In Europe, temporary bans on short-selling of financial stocks, imposed last week by regulators in France and several other European countries, provided only a bit of relief. Traders say the measures have caused them to place some negative bets on bank stocks in countries that did not impose such measures, like the United States and Britain.

European banks have amassed vast holdings of government and corporate bonds from Italy and Spain, two countries whose debts have worried investors. Doubts about the stability of these European institutions, in turn, are generating concerns about American banks, which are among their biggest lenders and trading partners. That is prompting investors on both sides of the Atlantic to unload their shares while also ratcheting up bank borrowing costs.

The short-term credit markets, where European banks turn for billions of dollars in financing, have been under serious strain, although nowhere near the levels of three years ago. Most European banks can borrow dollars only overnight or as long as a week; banks elsewhere can take out loans for as long as several months or more.

“A lot of this concern around the European banks is overstated,” said Alex Roever, a short-term fixed income analyst at JPMorgan. “We are not looking at another 2009, although investors are obviously being cautious.”
Overly Cautious?

The global financial system is bankrupt. There is no way loans that have been made can be paid back. That statement applies to the Eurozone, the US, the UK, China, Australia, Canada, and for that matter nearly everywhere one looks.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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