Sheer Idiocy, European (and American) Style

It’s rare to see theft described so directly:

Proposals made in July by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision should be redrafted to allow banks to use so-called contingent capital to meet the obligations, the European Banking Federation said in a letter seen by Bloomberg News. They should also be changed so lenders that can’t meet the requirements don’t immediately face restrictions on their ability to pay dividends and bonuses, the EBF said.

Stringing up a few EBF bankers is seeming more and more like a calm, rational approach to solving their issues. Especially when even investors are calling out their lies:

“European banks are in the deepest hole of all. Over the past five years, the European financial sector has shed 900 billion euros in capitalisation and two thirds of its value,” said Jacques Chahine, chairman of European investment firm J.Chahine Capital.

“Although the sector has raised 450 billion euros in capital over the same period, this has clearly been inadequate to cover increased risk on sovereign debt. We believe banks will have to be recapitalised by an additional 450 billion euros to cover that risk,” he said.

The response from the European Banking Authority is less than encouraging:

“The stress test recently conducted by the EBA showed that EU banks have significantly strengthened their capital positions and are able to withstand adverse macroeconomic scenarios, a view not changed by the additional disclosure of sovereign exposures,” it said….



“The main EU banks have significantly strengthened their liquidity buffers, lengthened the maturity profile of their liabilities and covered most of their funding needs for 2011. However, going forward it will be important that normal access to medium and long-term funding markets is restored,” the EBA said. [emphasis mine]

Well, so long as it’s not an immediate crisis, everything is hunky-dory. Ignore that woman running the IMF.

Lest you think I’m only bashing Europeans—a role usually left to Rebecca, who uses their data, not their words—let’s also look at the glories of U.S. corporations. I’m taking the more delicate quotes here, just so you don’t think I’ve gone all Mish:

Central bank and Commerce Department data reveal that gross domestic debts of nonfinancial corporations now amount to 50% of GDP. That’s a postwar record. In 1945, it was just 20%. Even at the credit-bubble peaks in the late 1980s and 2005-06, it was only around 45%.

The Fed data “underline the poor state of the U.S. private sector’s balance sheets,” reports financial analyst Andrew Smithers, who’s also the author of “Wall Street Revalued: Imperfect Markets and Inept Central Bankers,” and chairman of Smithers & Co. in London.

“While this is generally recognized for households,” he said, “it is often denied with regard to corporations. These denials are without merit and depend on looking at cash assets and ignoring liabilities. Cash assets have risen recently, in response to the fall in inventories, but nonfinancials’ corporate debt, whether measured gross or after netting off bank deposits and other interest-bearing assets, is at peak levels.”

By Smithers’ analysis, net leverage is nearly 50% of corporate net worth, a modern record. [emphasis mine]

This should come as no surprise. The lie coming out of KocherlakotaLand in early 2008 was that since companies drawing down on previously-unneeded-and-therefore-unused lines of credit was evidence that we were not in a recession [warning: PDF the reading of which will damage your brain; superstitious Christians should note the Working Paper Number].

Now, those same borrowings, along with capital market moves, are being used to show that companies have “record cash holdings.”

Borrowing money without having a use for it is good in two circumstances: (1) if you are paying down higher-cost debt [oops, that’s a use] and (2) if the carry is positive (that is, if you can earn more than you are being charged in interest–oops, that’s a use, too).

If families worked like European banks, we would all be taking vacations and spending like there is no tomorrow. If they worked like American corporations, they would be borrowing money and boasting about how much cash they have on hand.

Can we now stuff the sh*t about how “governments have to work like families”? Corporations—and most especially financial services intermediaries—certainly do not.

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