banking

Tom Burgis

Mark Carney, the incoming governor of the Bank of England, was grilled by MPs and his ECB counterpart Mario Draghi faced awkward questions. By Tom Burgis, Ben Fenton and Lina Saigol in London with contributions from FT correspondents. All times are GMT.  

Economic sentiment in Cyprus fell sharply in the month to March, helping the small eurozone nation to keep its unenviable position of second-from-last in the sentiment stakes. (Last is Greece.)

The banking sector probably isn’t helping. In a report last week, ratings agency Moody’s estimated that about €2.7bn would be needed to recapitalise the banks if assumptions made in stress tests materialised. Compare that to the €500m fund announced on Monday by Cyprus bank governor Athanasios Orphanides and your economic sentiment might dip a little, too. Read more

No stress tests for ages, then they all come along at once.

Some banks are set to raise their dividends imminently in the US, once the Fed gives them the green light ahead of detailed stress test results released in secret next month. Another practice put on hold in 2009 – share buybacks – will also be back on the menu for some of the 19 large banks. Only those groups that wanted to increase dividends or share buy-backs, or repay government capital, received a call from the Fed on Friday. Those receiving good news will no doubt act swiftly: any of these activities will presumably be seen as a public badge of honour, in the absence of results publication.

Europe, meanwhile, does intend to publish results. Arguably the target audience for Europe’s stress tests is investors and markets rather than the banks themselves. This might give the unfortunate impression that policymakers are aiming for the appearance of a healthy banking sector rather than the real thing. Read more

Chris Giles

Bank of England governor Mervyn King sparked another firestorm at the weekend with his interview with the Daily Telegraph. Banks and bankers have been licking their wounds after his rather unflattering remarks.

Although it must be noted that very little in the interview was new, the governor’s use of much more colourful language for financial regulation than for monetary policy, suggests he knew and wanted his remarks on banking to make a splash.

For me, there were three interesting elements in the interview. There are a few other issues others reported heavily but are either simple misunderstandings of the governor or willful misreporting of his words. Read more

Ralph Atkins

Something went badly wrong somewhere in the eurozone banking system late on Wednesday evening. Use of the European Central Bank’s emergency overnight “marginal lending” facility jumped to €15.8bn on Thursday, the highest since June 2009, according to data just released.

The facility, which incurs a penal interest rate, is there to get banks out of unexpected difficulties in their daily liquidity management. So a sudden increase is not unusual and the latest spike may simply have been the result of a temporary glitch. But the amount borrowed is impressive, especially considering that June 2009 was still a time of considerable nervousness in financial markets. Read more

India historical interest rate graphicIndia’s Reserve Bank has raised rates to tackle inflation, while extending bank liquidity measures due to expire next week. The repo and reverse repo rates stand 25bp higher at 6.5 and 5.5 per cent, respectively, while easing measures are extended to April 8.

Indian wholesale price inflation historical seriesThe rate rise was prompted by recent price rises. “Inflationary tendencies are clearly visible,” said governor Duvvuri Subbarao in the statement. “Inflation is the dominant concern… the reversal in [its] direction is striking.” The strength of his words make a 25bp rate rise seem insignificant.

But given global inflationary pressures from food and fuel, India’s December figure was not so dramatic. Viewed historically, annual wholesale price rises of 8.4 per cent still fit into the downward trend seen since April of last year, when inflation was running at 11 per cent. It is too early to say whether December’s figure is the start of a sharp increase in inflation – and today’s decision should make that a little less likely.

Despite the tightening measure, the RBI also announced today that it would alter and extend easing measures Read more

In June last year, the Bank of New Zealand issued the country’s first covered bond – securities backed, for example, by mortgage payments. (So the bank, receiving loan payments, in turn issues debt, receiving cash for that and allowing them to lend more.) Seven months later, the central bank has already seen fit to limit issuance of these bonds to 10 per cent of a bank’s total assets.

The practice allows a bank to increase leverage. The popularity of this and similar leveraging techniques in the US and Europe has been blamed for difficulties faced during the credit crisis. Complex interdependencies are created by reselling debt, repackaging it or simply issuing new debt on the basis of cashflow from other debt. Read more

Every two weeks, on average. That’s how often China is introducing some form of tightening at the moment. The People’s Bank has just increased the reserve ratio again, by 50 basis points, or a half of one percentage point. This increases the amount of cash banks have to keep with the central bank, thus reducing the amount available to lend. Our calculations suggest rural and small-medium sized banks will have to keep 15.5 per cent of their deposits with the central bank, while larger banks will need to keep 19 per cent. In October of last year, PBoC introduced a further division between banks, increasing the reserve requirements of the six largest banks temporarily, keeping the ratio of other large financial institutions on hold. If that division has now expired, the ratio for the six largest banks is now also 19 per cent. The move will be effective January 20.

Mopping up liquidity in this way is one tool to combat inflation. Another is to let one’s currency appreciate. Signals have been sent today from a senior central bank official that China will allow further flexibility in the yuan. “Flexibility” is a one-way bet in the markets at the moment, and the State Administration of Foreign Exchange today set the central parity rate of the yuan at 6.5896 against the dollar, a new record.

British banks should stop paying large cash bonuses and dividends in order to increase their ability to resist the threat of a wider and deeper eurozone crisis, the Bank of England demands on Friday in its latest Financial Stability Report.

Officials worry that although banks have improved their ability to absorb losses, the interconnectedness of the European banking system will amplify losses from peripheral economies, such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Read more

Robin Harding

The Federal Reserve had to be creative in following Walter Bagehot’s dictum for financial crises: “lend freely, at a high rate, on good collateral”. It is unlikely that Bagehot would have approved of this:

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