ECB meets over banking stress as US rescue eases immediate fears
March 17 (Reuters) – European Central Bank supervisors met to tackle growing cracks in the banking system on Friday after a $30 billion lifeline for U.S. lender First Republic Bank (FRC.N) eased fears of its imminent collapse.
Large U.S. banks on Thursday swooped in to rescue the San Francisco-based bank, which was caught up in a widening shock triggered by the collapse of two other mid-size U.S. lenders.
The rescue package came less than a day after Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) clinched an emergency central bank loan of up to $54 billion to shore up its liquidity. Shares in Switzerland’s second-largest bank were lower in Friday morning trading.
The two deals helped restore some calm to global markets, after a torrid week for banking stocks.
“The Supervisory Board is meeting to exchange views and to provide members with an update on recent developments in the banking sector,” an ECB spokesperson told Reuters.
The ECB, which on Thursday raised interest rates by 50 basis points, held another ad hoc supervisory board meeting earlier this week in an unusual move ahead of a scheduled gathering next week.
“French and European banks are very solid,” ECB policymaker and French central bank governor Francois Villeroy de Galhau, told BFM business radio.
Analysts says authorities appear eager to quickly deal with systemic risks, but worry the potential for a full-blown banking crisis is far from over.
Data on Thursday showed banks in the United States sought record amounts of emergency liquidity from the Fed in recent days, driving up the size of the central bank’s balance sheet after months of contraction.
The First Republic deal was put together by top power brokers including U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, who had discussed the package this week, a source familiar with the situation said.
“They will keep the money in First Republic to keep it alive for self interest … to stop the run on banks. Then they will take it away gradually and the bank will play out a slow death,” Mathan Somasundaram, founder at research firm Deep Data Analytics in Sydney, said on Friday.
But while First Republic’s stock closed up 10% on news of the rescue, its shares fell 17% in after-market trading after the bank said it would suspend its dividend and disclosed its cash position and just how much emergency liquidity it needed.
Some of the biggest U.S. banking names including JP Morgan Chase & Co (JPM.N), Citigroup Inc (C.N), Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N), Goldman Sachs (GS.N) and Morgan Stanley (MS.N) were involved in the rescue, according to a statement from the banks.
While the support has prevented an imminent collapse, investors were startled by late disclosures about First Republic’s cash position, even after the injection, and just how much it and others leaned on the Fed this month for support.
“People are concerned that the contagion risk is real, and that rattles confidence,” said Karen Jorritsma, head of Australian equities, RBC Capital Markets.
“I don’t think we are in the crux of a global financial crisis. Balance sheets are much better than they were in 2008, banks are better regulated,” she added.
Credit Suisse became the first major global bank to take up an emergency lifeline since the 2008 financial crisis amid doubts over whether central banks will be able to sustain aggressive rate hikes to rein in inflation.
LESSONS FROM 2008
For now, authorities are confident the banking system is resilient and have tried to emphasise that the current turmoil is different to the global financial crisis 15 years ago as banks are better capitalised and funds more easily available.
The ECB pressed forward with its rate hike, arguing that euro zone banks were in good shape and that if anything, the move to higher rates should bolster their margins.
Focus now swings to the Fed’s policy decision next week and whether it will stick with its aggressive interest rate hikes as it seeks to get inflation under control.
In Asia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand said they were monitoring financial markets but were confident their local banks were well capitalised and able to withstand major shocks.
While capital remains adequate, analysts say a A$300 billion ($201 billion) refinancing task for Australia’s biggest banks is about to get harder, as appetite for new debt shrinks.
Japan’s finance ministry, financial regulator and central bank said they would meet on Friday to discuss developments.
Banking stocks globally have been battered since Silicon Valley Bank collapsed last week due to bond-related losses that piled up when interest rates surged last year, raising questions about what else might be lurking in the wider banking system.
European banks have lost around $165 billion in market value since March 8, Refinitiv data shows.