Thursday, 22 September 2011

European banks head towards another meltdown

 

Shares in some of Europe's largest banks fell by 10pc as the cost of insuring European lenders' senior bonds rose to record levels, according to credit default swap prices. The Markit iTraxx Financial Index of contracts on the senior debt of 25 banks and insurers climbed to an all-time high 315.5 basis points. The last banking crisis was regarded by most eurozone members as an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon caused by lax lending controls that resulted in major UK and US institutions either collapsing or having to take costly state-funded bail-outs. To offset the threat of another crisis spreading across the eurozone, European regulators ordered their banks to increase their liquidity buffers. Government bonds were generally viewed as the most liquid and least risky assets to hold. However, this policy has come back to haunt them, leaving many lenders across the region seriously exposed to the eurozone sovereign debt crisis. French banking giants BNP Paribas and Société Générale are among the hardest hit. Recent estimates suggest BNP has eurozone sovereign debt exposure of about €75bn (£65bn), amounting to roughly 6pc of total assets, including €14bn of Greek debt and €21bn of Italian government bonds. The other two major French banks, SocGen and Credit Agricole, each have exposures of a similar size. Between them, France's banks have about €56bn of Greek sovereign bonds alone, and have so far taken 20pc writedowns on this.

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