An Expensive Disaster Heading Your Way

Posted at 10:16 AM (CST) by & filed under General Editorial.

My Dear Extended Family,

Why are you waiting? Are you joining me in Chicago, Vancouver, or Phoenix next week? If you are both waiting and not coming then what can anyone do for you?

You are headed for an expensive disaster that down deep, you know is coming.

Sincerely yours,

Markets Insight: Bail-in regime risks old-style bank runs
By Gene Frieda

Eurozone banks’ legacy debt problems must be cleaned up first

The newly agreed bank recovery and resolution directive swings Europe from one extreme – a system laden with implicit government guarantees that protected bank creditors from bearing losses – to the other.

The regime creates a serious time inconsistency problem by requiring private bank creditors to cover any significant losses without first cleaning up legacy debt problems. Without comprehensive efforts to restructure corporate debt, clean up banks’ balance sheets and fortify the European Stability Mechanism, bail-in will leave Europe much more prone to old-fashioned bank runs than in the past.

In 2010-11, most of the periphery economies ran large current account deficits. When foreign funding for these deficits dried up, the periphery experienced a sharp rise in public and private borrowing costs that plunged their economies into deep recession and, in several cases, threatened default and exit from the euro area. Foreign ownership of public debt fell by a third in Italy and by half in Spain. Not only did the periphery experience a sudden stop in capital flows, but the stocks of past foreign investment began to unwind. The outright monetary transactions programme stopped the stock unwind, but did little to generate a return of foreign investment.

The risks ahead are twofold. First, given the need to deleverage, periphery GDP growth will be weak and persistently vulnerable to shocks. But in the context of the new bail-in regime, a second, arguably more urgent risk has been introduced: that of a renewed unwind of past foreign investment, and indeed capital flight by domestic bank creditors intent on avoiding being bailed-in.

Bail-in increases the loss that prospective creditors suffer in the event of a bank failure or resolution event. Against that backdrop, what should periphery bank creditors do in response to the threat of bail-in? Holders of senior unsecured debt should feel least secure, since they are now at the top of the pecking order. Given the persistence of high sovereign borrowing costs, this form of debt may well disappear in the riskier parts of the euro area. Uninsured depositors will move one step closer to being bailed in.

Secured lenders to banks will still lend against good assets, and the banks will in turn need to rely more on such funding. As the share of encumbered assets rises, unsecured creditors, including depositors, become ever more nervous. The bank is, after all, pledging its best assets to minimise its cost of funding.