ECB’s Draghi: Knowing Too Much About Our Big Banks Could Set Off A Panic

Wolf Richter's picture

Wolf Richter

European banks, like all banks, have long been hermetically sealed black boxes. If someone managed to pry open just one tiny corner, the reek of asset putrefaction that billowed out was so strong that the corner would immediately be resealed. In cases where the corner didn’t get resealed fast enough and too much of the reek spread, the whole bank collapsed, only to be bailed out by taxpayers, often in other countries; it’s easier that way.

The only thing known about the holes in the balance sheets of these black boxes, left behind by assets that have quietly decomposed, is that they’re deep. But no one knows how deep. And no one is allowed to know – not until Eurocrats decide who is going to pay for bailing out these banks. How do we know? ECB President Mario Draghi said that on Friday in Washington.

And today, the Eurogroup of 17 finance minister had a huddle in Luxembourg to try to decide that issue.

The IMF, which can only sniff around the surface of the banks, determined that the Spanish and Italian banks alone would have to recognize an additional €230 billion ($310 billion) in losses over the next two years. As we have seen time and again, bank losses are always much larger when the truth finally seeps out, and that doesn’t happen until after the bank collapses and someone from the outside counts what’s left over.

Additional, because these banks have already written off a mountain of bad assets. In both countries, banks collapsed and were bailed out, some twice – in Spain at the expense of taxpayers in other Eurozone countries.

Next year will be a moment of truth, so to speak, when the ECB is to become the regulator of the 130 largest banks in its bailiwick. Imbued with new powers, it will subject them to a somewhat realistic evaluation, rather than the “stress tests” of yore that were nothing but banking agitprop – assuming certain banks in Italy and Spain can be kept upright until then.

A sense of urgency hung over the meeting today. Time was running out on those banks. But the European banking union, that instrument by which a collapsed bank could be unwound and restructured and its investors and depositors made whole by taxpayers in all Eurozone countries, or at least in the shrinking number of countries that by then haven’t already been bailed out – well, that noble precision instrument doesn’t exist yet! And that’s a problem for the planned bank examinations.

“The effectiveness of this exercise will depend on the availability of necessary arrangements for recapitalizing banks ... including through the provision of a public backstop,” Mario Draghi explained on Friday to set the mood for today’s meetings. “These arrangements must be in place before we conclude our assessment.”

Meaning: The truth shall not be known until after the Eurocrats decided who would have to pay for the bailouts. And the bank examinations won’t be completed until then, because if any of it seeped out – Draghi forbid – the whole house of cards would collapse, with no taxpayers willing to pick up the tap as its magnificent size would finally be out in the open!

Get taxpayers committed while they’re in the dark – that’s the finely honed strategy. The Eurogroup of 17 finance ministers was meeting in Luxembourg to kick off that process. Hence the banking union. Not every politician in Europe, particularly in Germany, Finland, and the Netherlands, is gung-ho about the prospect of raising taxes on the people and tightening their belts in other ways, in order to bail out the banks in Italy and Spain. They’re saying that each country should pay for its own bailouts.

But unless there’s an agreement as to whose taxes will be jacked up and whose belts will be tightened in order to bail out the investors of those banks, the ECB will not complete examining the banks. It can’t afford to. Because the results without bailout plan would cause a panic.

“We have to find a solution now,” urged Michel Barnier, the EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, the entity that deals with financial regulation. “The next financial crisis is not going to wait for us.”

Despite the urgency of the banking crisis that can’t be kept on hold much longer, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, without whom nothing can be worked out, was tangled up in Berlin in coalition negotiations to form a government in Germany. So Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup, had to admit after the meeting today that not much had been accomplished, and conceded, “We need to provide full clarity soon.”

But there may be potentially false a glimmer of hope for taxpayers. The bailout in February SNS Real, the fourth largest bank in the Netherlands, has shown that stockholders and junior debt holders can be asked to lose money (though holders of senior debt and covered bonds were made whole). And the bank “bail-ins” of the cesspools of corruption in Cyprus have shown that deposits beyond the limits of deposit insurance can be fair game as well. These increasingly fashionable high and tight haircuts lighten the load on taxpayers.

“Taxpayers should be protected and financial stability maintained,” explained Economy and Monetary Commissioner Olli Rehn. Bailouts would be the last resort if financial markets and national governments couldn’t come up with the necessary funds, he said. Which neither Italy nor Spain can. Hence the coming bailouts. Taxpayers in other countries, get ready! This is going to be ugly.

But Europe is also involved, along with the rest of the world, in a broader battle: The US has abused its phenomenal privileges – including the control of the only reserve currency – to put global financial stability at risk, “like a truck full of dynamite heading right toward us,” said the chairman of the International Advisory Board of the Universal Credit Rating Group. A “new financial order” is forming. And there’s a timeframe. Read.... Next Step In Dismantling The Dollar And US Credit Hegemony.

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el Gallinazo's picture

The two best indices AFAIK to measure the debasement of the world's major currencies are PM's and bitcoin.  PM's are being suppressed by huge naked shorts made by the central banks and their nameless owners.  These will continue until paper PM's decouple from physical and sink to zero.   AFAIK the criminal banksters haven't figured out yet how to naked short bitcoin.  It has moved up close to 50% in the last several months.  This says a a lot about currency debasement.  I do not own bitcoins but I approve of it.

luckylongshot's picture

Rather than focusing on the painful and inevitable  death of the old system, why not start talking about what could replace it. If all debt was written off and we started again with personal bank deposits carried over and a public banking system, the only real losers would be the banksters responsible for the current mess, exaactly the people who should be paying for it.

Amagnonx's picture

It is the cooperation of the political and banking classes that conspire to send nations into debt in order that banksters might both become rich and also exercise undue political power over those states.

The people who spend the money, the political class, has no responsibility for its repayment.  Until the people of those nations rise up and make the political class personally responsible to cover deficits out of their own pockets, then the corruption will continue.  


The politicians need to be held accountable for sending nations into debt, by jail or guillotine, and the the odious debt needs to be utterly rejected - and the banksters sent away with nothing.


Hungary seems to have escaped the international banksters recently - and this should be the biggest news on the alternative news sites like ZH at the moment - Hungary is issuing debt free money, charging the politicians responsible for sending the nation into ruinous debt, kicking out the IMF, and placing a large tax on the banking institutions that facilitated and profited from the debt.

Escapeclaws's picture

Each transaction has a winner and a loser. So the banks are losers because they have putrid balance sheets. Who were the winners, and where have they stashed their loot? 3 guesses.

Setarcos's picture

"So the banks are losers ..."?

Please explain how you come by this idea, given that, in fact, all have been bailed out by tax payers and are beginning to be bailed in by depositors.

You are not wrong that banks have putrid balance sheets, e.g. billions of notional 'assets' which cannot be marked to market because they are actually worthless, but please explain how the banks are losers.

Please explain how the banksters have not been saved - at least so far - by QE to infinity.

Please tell me why NO bankster has gone to jail, though all and sundry "too big to fails" continue to operate a global Ponzi scheme that Madoff could only dream of pulling off.

Escapeclaws's picture

Yes, I figured this statement would not ve well-received because it suggests that I have sympathy for the banks, whereas that is the opposite of what I feel. Rather, i'm just trying to sort out some ideas that could give me a better perception of what is behind the crisis. I had an inspiration, as it were, whatever its value.

The upshot of what I'm getting at is that the banks losses represent loans to the malfactors who have squirreled the proceeds away in offshore accounts.

These are now bad debts because the malefactors will never repay them. The theft of the public occurs when the public repays these loans through austerity measures and tax increases as well as through theft of savings and pensions (the theft of which also involves interest rates near zero). In a sense the Fed is simply filling in until public repayment of the banks losses occurs. This will take generations and a seriously reduced standard of living. In effect it is the pubic repayment of these bad debts which represents an ongoing theft.

Of course the banks have been in collusion with this theft, but who are the people who actually got the money?

All the more reason to look at things from the odious debt angle.

Element's picture

To hell with their 'needs', expose the lot.

Winston Smith 2009's picture

"It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning." -- Henry Ford

Reaper's picture

In which government should I trust? In which bank should I trust my money? In which currency should I trust? "The greatest heresy is to believe that any office in banking or government sanctifies the holder thereof," Lord Acton paraphrased. Brave new world, it's the rules of the jungle operating under the delusion of the multitudes believing in civilization. Roar.

WallowaMountainMan's picture

thank god the euro is the reserve currency of the world.



999.9's picture

A friend of mine works in a bank in italy and he is stacking gold like crazy

Seer's picture

Is that his job or is he one of the few that's actually being paid (and thus has something with which to purchase "crazy stacks" with)?

BTW - banksters also "work" in banks.

jonytk's picture

This is sounding more and more bullish for bitcoin  looks like every time btc is up EUR is also up...

Haager's picture

I bet: If people would know how the system with the fiat-money and the debt works (for the biggest part of it) AND they're (esp. the poor) finally would accept that it's true, the word ´panic' definitely will have it's shortcomings.

MrSteve's picture

The Fed sat on the taper in September due in part to terrible liquidity and collateral problems in the EU; you can look it up as Yogi said.

The proposed 10% tax on savings for bailout funds is yet another form of zero interest rates where they take capital as taking the interest isn't enough for their planned bailouts of fellow banks.

Only gold off the books, "in another location" will be secure. The feds everywhere on earth have very sophisticated metal detectors that can read through ten feet of space. dirt, etc, so having gold nearby isn't real smart. Think long term.

Singelguy's picture

I do not understand why the unsolvent banks are not forced into bankruptcy, the bad debt written off, creditors and shareholders take the losses, and the government back stops the depositors to the €100,000 maximum. The bad assets are sold off for pennies on the dollar and the good assets could then be structured into a new bank and the new bank starts with a clean slate. Isn't that the way capitalism is supposed to work?
What am I missing here?

MeelionDollerBogus's picture

It's a good thing the most reliable banking policy is to hide all corruption, mistakes, fraud & incompetence so the entire world doesn't collapse laughing at the absurdity of fuckups.

Loucleve's picture

And all (well, lots) because of the toxic waste that goldman et al sold them.

Private profist/public risk.

Seer's picture

The Euro thing was just a Trojan Horse for GS...

Ghordius's picture

the Trojan Horse was built for the purpose of being used as a Trojan Horse. the EUR was built as an answer to the question: "what the heck do we do with the Dollar Hegemony"

and the question still stands, GS or not GS

Yes, the Squid clearly and purposefully partook actions which can be seen as an act of sabotage to "the project". Yes, Draghi is a Squid University member

yet you do have to make a difference between the parasites and the host(s)

remember what the EUR hides: 17 national banks & 17 currencies. which can all spring back to action, should it be necessary

yet this is the wrong environment. they'd be trashed, singularly. we had that experience, a couple of times. hence the EUR

WallowaMountainMan's picture

"they'd be trashed, singularly. we had that experience, a couple of times. hence the EUR"


spot on.

but i do think that, while the group stands bettor to defend the one, defending the all is still not in the cards. while states in the u.s. of a. have their own budgets with no regard for federal oversight, the nations of the euro were supposed to follow euro guidelines. they did not and nothing was done timely to enforce those agreements. that set the stage and it is upon that stage that the story will be told.

euro goes to the structure of a central bank or it simply goes. nothing else, not even the peace dividend, will hold back the math. bad bank, bad country, now the same problem, just different scale. don't 'save' greece? save them one more time? have them leave the euro? those all fail without a central bank that can handle the scale of the vigilantes' efforts.

just my 2.5 cents worth. (i got a raise)




Peter Pan's picture

Speaking to a senior Greek banker my worst fears were confirmed about the state of Greek and Spanish banks in particular. Very few loans negotiated prior to the GFC had equity of more than 20% therefore the subsequent fall in property prices of 50% has left a hole of 30% on the bank's books. Need I say more as to why a haircut is inevitable particularly when wages and employment have fallen to such a degree that serviceability has been screwed.

Paracelsus's picture

All this Euro nonsense was supposed to unify Europe and prevent wars in the future?

Unify everyone under a debtors dictatorship? The whole "plan" with Greece was a blatant  

copy of the WallStreet bailout of latin America several decades ago: keeping lending so

they can keep making the mininum payment and not default on the debt.No talk of debt

restructuring at all.I am rather surprised at these educated Europeans,who saw what the

Versailles reparations did to the economy,the banks,and the political sector in

Germany.The emergence of far-right groups into mainstream politics in Greece should go

down in history as the canary in the coal mine.Hang all those bastards in Brussels,with

the exception of Nigel Farage,"the voice in the wilderness".

thereisonlyonelaw's picture

Fuck you if you think the problems in Greece are the fault of people in Brussels. Greece drank the hemlock on its own. People have to stop blaming bankers for the problems created by socialism. The people that need to be hanged for the problems in Greece are IN GREECE! If the greeks cared to, they could reform the country. Instead, they want foreigners to keep paying for their bloated pensions that they can't sustain because the country is too corrupt and uncompetitive to actually support itself.

Amagnonx's picture

Even if the average person wants the socialist handout - they also usually want a balanced budget, because they know the bill will be due some day.


It is the banks that encourage the public debts and deficits, and the politicians who are happily complicit in taking nations into debt to profit the banksters.


in Hungary they are issuing debt free money, they are kicking out the IMF and THEY ARE PROSECUTING THE POLITICIANS RESPONSIBLE FOR SENDING THE NATION INTO UNSUSTAINABLE DEBT.



thereisonlyonelaw's picture

The average person does not want a balanced budget, the average person seems to think the government operates by magic. Even if they did in theory, the fact is that they want everybody else's benefits to get cut, not theirs. They think there is far more money available than there actually is and the only reason they don't get more handouts is because someone else is stealing the money before they do. So they compromise: instead of a balanced budget, we just increase the handouts by another 10%. And when interest on the debt becomes too high because they have been doing this for their entire adult lives, they figure "oh look, we just found out something we can cut! let's default on the debt!". And you know what? I think people stupid enough to "invest" in the bonds of a government that doesn't show restraint deserve to lose everything they have "invested".

The banks don't encourage the government to go into unsustainable debt spirals; that would be suicide for them. The "central banks" do enable (but still don't encourage) them to do this because having a "central bank" is sort of like having a state oil company, except you don't need to actually drill the ground and transport all that bulky, useful product, you just have to press print and you get instant profits. Greece was making use of "free" central bank profits to finance the state before the Euro was even invented. This is why they are now on the euro, because all their previous currencies turned to shit.

I don't know what is going on in Hungary but I highly doubt your story.

TheReplacement's picture

No they don't want balanced budgets.  If they did, they would vote more responsibly.  In any government where the leaders are freely elected they reflect the whims and wishes of the populace.  The people voted for goodies.  They got goodies.  Now they are on the backend and need to start paying... hmm, I suppose it does balance out one way or the other doesn't it.

The banksters just took what was given.  It truly is the people's fault.

Time to wake up and take responsibility instead of blaming other people for your problems.  Leave the blame game to the FSA or openly join their ranks.

thereisonlyonelaw's picture

Problem is, the people that want goodies and the people that have to pay for them are not the same. This imbalance in the power structure is bad enough on its own but it is insanely bad when you take the temporal imbalance (the making of promises through debt and entitlement) into account. This is the reason why modern democratic societies are inherently doomed. Eventually either voting will have to go back to being means tested (you only get to vote if you are an actual taxpayer) or western societies will descend into chaos and dictatorship as there will be no way to correct the situation through democratic means.

Seer's picture

So, are you saying that GS's activites weren't any part of this?

Actually, if you watch the BBC documentary on Spain's banking collapse you'd see that it ALL started with inclusion into the Euro.  And rather than tossing out trite ideological words one has to dig a bit deeper, and harder, to see that it was just an extention of all that's gone before: this was just another prisms and mirrors trick to force growth when the future just wasn't wanting to give it.

It's ALL a big show, a distraction, a circus to keep our eyes from seeing that "go forth and multiply" was a problematic set of instructions...

GCT's picture

Seer I think you will find most countries in trouble now were doing fine before admission to the EMU.  I know there are some exceptions like Greece and Protugal. Once under the EMu rul they are in trouble.  This is all a big circle jerk. 

viahj's picture

I think you have the cart before the horse.  state socialism only thrives due to the banksters and their fiat money ponzi.

Usura's picture

A Final Solution to the banking problem?  Treating the symptoms never works.

mobydick's picture
IMF calls for a tax on household In a report, the IMF is concerned about the European sovereign debt and proposes a 10% tax on household savings to fix it!

A small paragraph at the end of a document 49 pages in a report the IMF . The type of document that is just starting to read the end. A paragraph in the form of proposition and if a sample once and for all on the one created capital?

Obviously there is a question mark, but also a robust reasoning. Indebtedness advanced countries is such that it has no choice. A tax on private savings has the advantage of not disturbing the system. Some even say it is right.

Tax levied once

But this requires two conditions. Nobody can escape and be absolutely certain that it will be charged only once.

The report discusses the work of several economists based on historical examples where the assumption was considered to deleverage States.

Then he says if you want to return to debt levels before the crisis and the calculations for 15 countries in the euro zone, it should put in place a 10% tax on all households with a positive savings.

The Wisp's picture

Only Once a Month, there i fixed it for them

Randoom Thought's picture

What's to know? The ENTIRE purpose of the ECB is to take away every bit of independence from individual countries and make nations states slaves to the central bank which gets to unilaterally decide who gets money and who does not get money.

What? you believed the bankers and didn't see this coming? Boy, are you a moron!

Haus-Targaryen's picture

The ruling class doesn't care as long as it advances their european dream. 

Ghordius's picture

you seem to imply that there is only one "european dream" and that only the "ruling class" dreams it. well, it ain't so

even talking about one "ruling class" is silly, in europe. open your eyes. you claim to live in Bavaria. you should be able to notice

back to the article: Wolf Richter seems to have lost the rabid edge he had, not long ago. perhaps he looked a bit at facts, which point to a situation where it's silly to talk about "the european banks" in general. for example the ECB will take under it's wings 130 banks out of a total of roughly 6'000

all in all a better article from him then usual. too bad he does not go into what makes those 130 different - except hinting at size, which would expose further unpleasant truths - and the reasons why (imho) it's wise to wait until those sepulchres are opened

Randoom Thought's picture

Parasites drain their victims until they are dead and dry and then try to find the next victim.

kchrisc's picture

A summary, correct me if I missed something: The banksters steal your deposits, then your savings and then come and steal what`s left of your deposits and then have their government minions steal your income and give it to them.

"Guillotines close banks."

q99x2's picture

During the Cold War Washington D.C. built grain storage facilities to feed every American for up to 3 years.

The food stores are gone and Obama and Washington D.C., in anticipation of a National Financial collapse, bought 3 billion bullets, armoured tanks, 50 cal. machine guns and militarized local police forces because they have decided to kill us instead of feeding us this time.

Keep track of the elite families at all time. The maps will bring a hefty price in the near future.

kchrisc's picture

"During the Cold War Washington D.C. built grain storage facilities to feed every American for up to 3 years."

Could you, would you depend on them?!

Diogenes's picture

Back then they needed bodies to man the factories. Now too many of the former working class have become useless eaters.

lasvegaspersona's picture

The US has abused its phenomenal privileges


Robert Triffin knew that this MUST happen in 1960.

How could a political system resist? If you don't discover that 'deficits don't matter' then the competition will, and you'll be out of office. Nope better for the country if YOU are in charge even if that means spending against your principles. Far better to have me doing the needless spending than him.

signed, LB Johnson, RM Nixon, G Ford, J Carter, R Reagan, G Bush I, WJ Clinton, G Bush II, BH Obama  &oh yeah Dick Cheney

mvsjcl's picture

"... including through the provision of a public backstop,”


Words can't express my disgust.

Imminent Crucible's picture

"a public backstop"

But...but...he just said "The taxpayer has to be protected."  Maybe he meant, "The taxpayer has to be protected from the knowledge of what we're about to do to him."


Mr Poopra's picture

"It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning." - Henry Ford

I Write Code's picture

And if Resident Obambus understood our banking system, his head would explode.

Dick Buttkiss's picture

Yes, I've cited this quote many times myself, as it's "right on the money" — not just because there would indeed be a revolution if the people really understood (instead of not having a clue) the truth about our money and banking system but because, to oligarchs like Henry Ford, "It is well enough" that they don't understand.

Hence the open admission by today's oligarchs that the people musn't understand and must instead be kept in the dark about how desperate the situation really is. For as Draghi's partner in crime Jean Claude Juncker said: "When it gets serious, you have to lie."

Oh, don't you, though, you god-damned, cock-sucking, mother-fucking, sons of bitches.

Element's picture

Don't be so sure, Stefan Molyneux pointed out recently that the US is supporing arming and aligned with al-qaeda in Syria, and that was discussed in national newspapers etc. Nothing happened except verbal noise. Obama was not arrested, and nor were any generals, or even Mr Ed.

jballz's picture


Henry Ford was no oligarch. Read his autobiography sometime, "my life" free online. Some of it pretty dull, but some profound insights into the schism that existed between himself and Wall Street. He wanted to neuter the whole banking system and hated doing business with them. Probably why he chummed up with Hitler. Enemy's enemy thing. Henry was a good man. He was kind of a dick sometimes, but who isn't, really.