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This has been making the rounds and is not impossible:
But European banks may be in far worse shape. Bruno Waterfield of the London Daily Telegraph reports to have seen an eyes-only document prepared by the European Commission for the finance ministers of the various EU member countries. The problem revealed in the report is an estimated write-down by European banks in the range of 16 trillion pounds, or about $25 trillion dollars! The concern is that bailing out the various national banks for such an unbelievable amount would push the cost of government borrowing to much higher levels than we see today.
As my kids would say, “Really, Dad, you think so?” Europe is somewhat larger than the US, so think what my gold-bug friends would say if the US decided to borrow $25 trillion to bail out US banks. The dollar would be crucified! The euro is going to get a lot weaker if bank problems are even half of what the report says they are. The British pound sterling is already off almost 30% and, depending on what the real damage is to their banking system, it could get worse.
Waterfield reports, “National leaders and EU officials share fears that a second bank bail-out in Europe will raise government borrowing at a time when investors — particularly those who lend money to European governments — have growing doubts over the ability of countries such as Spain, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Britain to pay it back.
I’m not too worried about the UK. but the eurozone banks and national governments are at risk.
In fact, they may have failed last fall when the Fed stepped in with unlimited USD swap lines (could turn out to be fiscal transfers?) to the ECB to buy them some time.
Unfortunately it all gets a lot worse as the eurozone GDPs melt down.
“The Commission figure is significant because of the role EU officials will play in devising rules to evaluate ‘toxic’ bank assets later this month. New moves to bail out banks will be discussed at an emergency EU summit at the end of February. The EU is deeply worried at widening spreads on bonds sold by different European countries.”
Part of the problem is that European banks were far more highly leveraged than US banks. Some banks were reportedly leveraged 50:1. And they lent money to Eastern European projects and businesses which are now facing severe financial strain and plummeting local currencies.
Let that number rattle around in your head for a moment: $25 trillion. Even $5 trillion would be daunting. But the problem is that Europe does not have a central bank that can step in and selectively save banks from one country without taking on all euro zone member-country banks. Yet, as noted above, some countries may not have the wherewithal to save their own banks. It is reported that some Austrian banks are hoping that Germany will step in and help them. Given Germany’s problems, they may have a long wait.