On The Trail Of Europe's "Mysterious" $2.6 Trillion In Toxic Debt

Tyler Durden's picture

The NYT has a pretty good article about the "mystery" of Europe mega toxic loans, which amount to $2.6 trillion just to Greece, Spain and Portugal, in that all attempts to find out just who is on the hook for all this debt have apparently yielded no results. We disagree: this is a topic that has been beaten to death before on ZH, and it is all too well known that France and Germany will go bust overnight if PIIGS debt is allowed to be marked even halfway to market pro forma for governmental bailouts, on the banks' balance sheets. Throw in Austria and Italy if the Hungarian crisis (amusingly, the Hungarian government is now scrambling to undo the harm it caused with its fast and loose words of caution last week, but too late - it has now lost all credibility) spreads to Eastern Europe, and the mystery is solved. But at least the NYT has some pretty charts.

As for the NYT's message, here is the gist:

The problem is, alas, that no one — not investors, not regulators, not even bankers themselves — knows exactly which banks are sitting on the biggest stockpiles of rotting loans within that pile. And doubt, as it always does during economic crises, has made Europe’s already vulnerable financial system occasionally appear to seize up. Early last month, in an indication of just how dangerous the situation had become, European banks — which appear to hold more than half of that $2.6 trillion in debt — nearly stopped lending money to one another.

“The marketplace knows very little about where the real risks are parked,” says Nicolas Véron, an economist at Bruegel, a research organization in Brussels. “That is exactly the problem. As long as there is no semblance of clarity, trust will not return to the banking system.”

Limited disclosure and possibly spotty accounting have been long-voiced concerns of analysts who follow European banks. Though most large publicly listed banks have offered information about their exposure — Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt says it holds 500 million euros in Greek government bonds and no Spanish or Portuguese sovereign debt — there has been little disclosure from the hundreds of smaller mortgage lenders, state-owned banks and thrift institutions that dominate banking in countries like Germany and Spain.

Depfa, a German bank that is now based in Dublin, is one of the few second-tier European banking institutions that have offered detailed disclosures about their financial wherewithal, and its stark troubles may be emblematic of those still hidden on other banks’ books.

Despite boasting as recently as two years ago of its “very conservative lending practices,” Depfa, which caters primarily to governments, has flirted with disaster. It narrowly avoided collapsing in late 2008 until the German government bailed it out, and today its books are still laden with risk.

DEPFA and its parent, Hypo Real Estate Holding, a property lender outside Munich, have 80.4 billion euros in public-sector debt from Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy. The amount was first disclosed in March but did not draw much attention outside Germany until last month, when investors decided to finally try to tally how much cross-border lending had gone on in Europe.

There is much more, but it is largely irrelevant. The IMF on Thursday said it can not possibly bail out all of Europe, absent another infusion of $300+ billion, and as the EU itself is insolvent, the debate of a European "game over" is not one of if but when. Unfortunately, the US is in far worse shape than all of Europe combined, but is much better equipped at dealing with a population so illiterate in financial matters that it can keep pulling the wool over the eyes of the sheeple years after the EMU is finished. Furthermore, the longer investors stay glued to their television watching the storming of the Athens parliament first, and soon many more, the longer the US debt catastrophe can stay out of sight and out of mind. Alas, once the European crisis is "dealth with" one way or another, the bored bond vigilantes will inevitably turn their eyes to the US, as Roubini recently predicted. It is all now just a matter of time, and how fast the kleptocracy can load up their vaults in various non-extradition countries with non-dilutable assets before it is all let loose.