Tuesday, February 24, 2009

European Union Financial System Might Be Even Worse Off

The media tend to focus on the credit crisis too much on just the US and maybe the UK. Even the secondary focus was largely on how China would figure in being a catalyst for recovery. There are pockets of the world that are facing the crisis with more devastation, and urgency for help. In a sense for them, its should be called a debt crisis rather than a credit crisis. We are talking of Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Russia and Ukraine... hey, basically the EU. Most of what's written below was taken from The Telegraph, UK.

In much of Western Europe, things are nearing boiling point. Austria's finance minister Josef Pröll made frantic efforts last week to put together a €150bn rescue for the ex-Soviet bloc. Well he might. His banks have lent €230bn to the region, equal to 70pc of Austria's GDP.

"A failure rate of 10pc would lead to the collapse of the Austrian financial sector," reported Der Standard in Vienna. Unfortunately, that is about to happen.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) says bad debts will top 10pc and may reach 20pc. The Vienna press said Bank Austria and its Italian owner Unicredit face a "monetary Stalingrad" in the East. Mr Pröll tried to drum up support for his rescue package from EU finance ministers in Brussels last week. The idea was scotched by Germany's Peer Steinbrück. Not our problem, he said. We'll see about that.

Eastern Europe has borrowed $1.7 trillion abroad, much on short-term maturities. It must repay – or roll over – $400bn this year, equal to a third of the region's GDP. Good luck. The credit window has slammed shut.

Not even Russia can easily cover the $500bn dollar debts of its oligarchs while oil remains near $33 a barrel. The budget is based on Urals crude at $95. Russia has bled 36pc of its foreign reserves since August defending the rouble.

In Poland, 60pc of mortgages are in Swiss francs. The zloty has just halved against the franc. Hungary, the Balkans, the Baltics, and Ukraine are all suffering variants of this story. As an act of collective folly – by lenders and borrowers – it matches America's sub-prime debacle. There is a crucial difference, however. European banks are on the hook for both. US banks are not.

Almost all Eastern bloc debts are owed to West Europe, especially Austrian, Swedish, Greek, Italian, and Belgian banks. En plus, Europeans account for an astonishing 74pc of the entire $4.9 trillion portfolio of loans to emerging markets. They are five times more exposed to this latest bust than American or Japanese banks, and they are 50pc more leveraged (IMF data).

Spain is up to its neck in Latin America, which has belatedly joined the slump (Mexico's car output fell 51pc in January, and Brazil lost 650,000 jobs in one month). Britain and Switzerland are up to their necks in Asia.

Whether it takes months, or just weeks, the world is going to discover that Europe's financial system is sunk, and that there is no EU Federal Reserve yet ready to act as a lender of last resort or to flood the markets with emergency stimulus. The European Central Bank already needs to cut rates to zero and then purchase bonds and Pfandbriefe on a huge scale. It is constrained by geopolitics – a German-Dutch veto – and the Maastricht Treaty.

It is East Europe that is blowing up right now. Erik Berglof, EBRD's chief economist, said that the region may need €400bn in help to cover loans and prop up the credit system. Europe's governments are making matters worse. Some are pressuring their banks to pull back, undercutting subsidiaries in East Europe. Athens has ordered Greek banks to pull out of the Balkans.

The sums needed are beyond the limits of the IMF, which has already bailed out Hungary, Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Iceland, and Pakistan – and Turkey next – and is fast exhausting its own $200bn (€155bn) reserve. We are nearing the point where the IMF may have to print money for the world, using arcane powers to issue Special Drawing Rights. Its $16bn rescue of Ukraine has unravelled. The country – facing a 12pc contraction in GDP after the collapse of steel prices – is hurtling towards default, leaving Unicredit, Raffeisen and ING in the lurch. Pakistan wants another $7.6bn. Latvia's central bank governor has declared his economy "clinically dead" after it shrank 10.5pc in the fourth quarter. Protesters have smashed the treasury and stormed parliament.

In almost every way, this is much worse than the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, as indicated by the table below. There are accidents waiting to happen across the region, but the EU institutions don't have any framework for dealing with this. The day they decide not to save one of these one countries will be the trigger for a massive crisis with contagion spreading into the EU. The governments and ECB cannot risk NOT saving any one country or banking institution, but that strategy is drawing almost all the reserves and ammunition these institutions have.

[eastern europe economy]

Europe is already in deeper trouble than the ECB or EU leaders ever expected. Germany contracted at an annual rate of 8.4pc in the fourth quarter. Germany will have shrunk by nearly 9pc before the end of this year. This is the sort of level that stokes popular revolt. The implications are obvious. Berlin is not going to rescue Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal as the collapse of their credit bubbles leads to rising defaults, or rescue Italy by accepting plans for EU "union bonds" should the debt markets take fright at the rocketing trajectory of Italy's public debt (hitting 112pc of GDP next year, just revised up from 101pc – big change), or rescue Austria from its Habsburg adventurism.

Hungary’s forint fell to an all-time low in recent days, and Poland’s zloty slumped to the lowest in five years on plunging industrial output. Half of all loans to the private sector in Poland are in foreign currencies so borrowers face a severe debt shock after the 40pc fall of the zloty against the euro since August.

There are contagion worries for Western banks that have lent $1.74 trillion (£1.22bn) to the ex-Soviet bloc -- split between $1 trillion in foreign loans and $700bn in local currency debt through subsidiaries. Austria’s banks are the most exposed with the share of risk-weighted assets tied to the region reaching 54pc for Raffeisen and 38pc for Erste Bank. The exposure of Germany’s Bayern Bank is 48pc, Italy’s UniCredit is 45pc, and Swedbank is 29pc.

The region needs to roll over $400bn in foreign debts this year, equivalent to a third of total GDP, raising concerns that it may need a massive rescue programme from the International Monetary Fund and the European institutions.

p/s photos: Elva Hsiao


Jasonred79 said...


China is approaching Social Unrest due to unemployment.

US is in turmoil.

EU is on the brink of collapse.

Japan is in a deep recession, and it's the exports which are killing their businesses, not credit crunch.

What "pockets" of problems?

It's more like pockets of countries which are holding out well. SE Asia is still going strong, and so is India, but I'm not sure how long these export driven economies can handle a collapse of the world's 3-4 largest economies...

see said...

This crisis continuing to roil is beginning to look hilarious. Sorry, black humour here, European countries going bankrupt? they make latin american banana republics look respectable. Germany may not want to hand a helping hand but it will come back to bite her, maybe via German banks exposure in those countries or others ways.

solomon said...

Nursery ryhme," The more we get together, together, together. The merrier we will be". It seemed that the financial crisis now does not reflect the sentiment shown in the ryhme.

While greed had taken the hearts of those who had today crisis, this is some of the cleansing process doing their parts now. Most of those investors dislike the nationalizing of banks and so forth, are shorting the market causing them to bad enough....the actual corporate profits may not reflect the worst of all til now. What are they going to do next? To create more financial blackholes and see the failure of countries??

Barter trade may work??

Kuih said...

S Dali
With the EU at the lifeline now, suprisingly the Yen move up still. do u think it is wise to put in another 1/3 of fund in the market when it hit 97? or wait for the bad news to unfold first?

Salvatore_Dali said...


yes, i think its ok to put 1/3 funds in now... but try to have some gold exposure as well.

Beginner said...


I read a good article recently on Aussie land.


What's ur view on Malaysia or south east asia position regarding to total debt, consumer debt, and etc.

Thanks in advance.

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