Remember how we joked (but were dead serious) that the IMF is now simply a figurehead organization, and the real global bailout cop is China? Well, that may not be the case for much long. Reuters has just broken news that at least one bank in Asia, and five other in process, has cut credit lines to major French lenders "as worries about the exposure of French banks to peripheral euro zone debt mounts, banking sources told Reuters on Thursday." Why is this worrying? Because as is by now well-known, the PBoC has been as aggressive a buyer in the primary market of European market as most European banks, which as is well-known immediately turn and pledge said debt as collateral to the ECB for 100 cents on the euro, and the fact that its proxies are now quietly withdrawing from the European market as lenders of last resort, is probably far worse news than a rumor that the S&P may cut France.
That sudden rise in risk perception, combined with sharp share price falls in French banks, prompted some banks in Asia to speed up reviews of counterparty risk and look at whether they should cut exposure to European lenders, sources at each of the six banks in Asia said. Contacted about the moves by the banks in Asia, a spokeswoman for top French lender BNP Paribas <BNPP.PA> in Paris said: "We never comment on market rumours."
Societe Generale <SOGN.PA> had no immediate comment to make while a spokeswoman for Credit Agricole <CAGR.PA>, which will publish its second-quarter earnings later in August, said the bank would not make any comment.
The banks in Asia and the sources -- a mix of risk officers, senior traders and loan bankers -- could not be identified because of the sensitive nature of the information.
The head of treasury risk management for Asia at one bank in Singapore said their credit lines to large French banks had been cut because of the perceived risks in lending to these counterparties.
"We've cut. The limits have been removed from the system. They have to seek approval on a case-by-case basis," the treasury risk official said. The bank official declined to name the French banks.
A senior credit trader in Singapore said that when a bank's shares fall that sharply their risk officer will automatically look at how much exposure they have to that lender.
Banks' heightened responses could exacerbate the market strains if they all acted simultaneously with portfolio-at-risk modelling, analysts said.
"The thing is if they all use it at the same time they will all sell at the same time when risk goes up, and that will drive prices down and it is like a snowball because then the prices go down and then your value-at-risk ratio will tell you 'oh, I must reduce my risk even more'," said Mark Matthews, head of research at Julius Baer.
Several of the traders and bankers in Asia said that while they had not cut all exposure to any particular institution, they were very cautious about taking on new trading positions with them.
A senior risk officer at a bank in Singapore said "obviously we are having a review", when asked if they were reassessing their positions with European counterparties.
Bankers and risk officers at the five institutions in Asia that were still dealing with French banks said that while short-term lending of up to 30 days was still taking place, they were conducting a thorough review of longer-term credit lines regardless of the type of transaction.
"It's all in relation to (our) take on a French bank's credit risk, regardless of whether it's a swap or interbank lending transaction," said a senior loan banker at a Japanese bank.
What happens next is well known to anyone who lived through the fall of 2008: credit lines withdrawn means investors dumping stock in droves, means depositors staging physical money runs, means more credit lines withdrawn, means immediate liquidity crunch, means rumors of insolvency, means self-fulfilling prophecy, means scramble to get funding first from ECB, then from Fed, but by then contagion has spread and the entire financial system is in danger of imploding, means several trillion in FX swap lines activated to prevent a run on the dollar, which also happens to be the funding currency, means another scramble to bail out capitalism.
Granted this is a downside case assessment.