Bank Stocks Teeter as Investors Worry About Who May Fall Next
Darkness falls on bank stocks.Credit…Michael Buholzer/Keystone, via Associated Press
How to stop a global panic
Andrew here. After Credit Suisse’s historic shotgun sale to UBS over the weekend, the question now is whether the 166-year-old bank is the last domino to fall — or the first.
Just two weeks ago, Silicon Valley Bank, a niche midsize lender in California, went under. Now, one of the most-storied firms in Europe has been undone.
The connection between the two is tangential, except for this: Markets across the globe are in a panic. Any institution that has prompted questions from investors — Credit Suisse has been troubled for years — is now on notice.
The likelihood of more deals is high. And, in truth, they can’t come soon enough. If we learned anything from the 2008 financial crisis, it’s that banks and regulators need to get ahead of the problems before they metastasize. After Bear Stearns was sold to JPMorgan Chase in March 2008, government officials started pushing Lehman Brothers to do a deal. But Lehman’s management and board refused for months — until it was too late.
Some regional banks across the country engaged in one of Silicon Valley Bank’s risky practices: Buying long-dated bonds with low interest rates, whose value has now fallen as interest rates have risen. The current chaos is less about contagion from that one firm’s collapse and more about embedded losses hiding in banks’ balance sheets. One study says that as many as 190 more lenders could fail.
First Republic, which has drawn potential suitors like Morgan Stanley, should sell itself or raise more capital quickly, after a $30 billion cash injection by bigger banks failed to assure markets. But its management still thinks it is worth more than the market does, while buyers believe they could get it for even less.
A similar story is playing out at other regional banks under pressure on the West Coast, including PacWest. And some would-be buyers think that if they wait long enough, they might be able to get financial help from the U.S. government, or at least some guarantees around legal liabilities. (The government has already taken a $2.5 billion hit from the sale of Signature to New York Community Bancorp.) But it’s unclear what the government can offer, since many of the powers it drew upon in 2008 were removed by the Dodd-Frank overhaul of banking rules.
The one good piece of news is that it appears, at least anecdotally, that the run on uninsured deposits from many of the regional banks has stopped, or at least slowed. (Customers have reportedly pulled $70 billion from First Republic.) If true, it would behoove the banks to come out publicly and describe their deposit position in detail. That might help start to restore confidence in a sector badly in need of it.
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Goldman Sachs scraps its forecast of $100-a-barrel oil prices. Analysts at the bank, which had been especially bullish on oil prices, cited fears of a global recession and the recent stock market volatility in cutting their prediction. The Brent crude global benchmark has fallen nearly 20 percent over the past two weeks and currently trades at about $70 a barrel.
Xi Jinping of China has landed in Moscow. The Chinese leader will meet with President Vladimir Putin of Russia to discuss, among other issues, Beijing’s proposal for ending the war in Ukraine. Xi’s state visit underscores increasingly closer ties with Russia, as China faces growing tensions with the U.S. and other Western countries.
President Emmanuel Macron of France faces a no-confidence vote. France’s lower house of Parliament is set to vote on two motions tied to Macron’s forcing through a rise in the country’s retirement age to 64 from 62 without a vote. If even one passes, Macron’s cabinet would be forced to resign, thrusting a Western power’s government into chaos at a critical time.
TikTok influencers are heading to Washington. Content creators for the video service are set to lobby American policymakers over three days this week, as part of the Chinese-owned company’s effort to avoid being banned in the U.S.
Markets fall after another weekend of tumult
The tie-up of Switzerland’s biggest banks and a new coordinated measure by a quintet of big central banks, including the Fed, to inject liquidity into the global economy failed to restore calm to the markets.
From Tokyo to London, stocks, commodities and bond yields tumbled this morning, adding to fears that instability in the banking sector will spread to the wider economy.
UBS shares fell as much as 15 percent in the first hour of trading in Zurich, before recovering some of those losses, as investors dumped bank stocks en masse. The Stoxx Europe 600 Banks Index and the KBW Bank Index were lower as of 6 a.m. Eastern.
The market uncertainty is casting doubt on central banks’ next move. The Fed and the Bank of England are both scheduled to announce interest rate decisions this week. “The turmoil lowers the likely peak in central bank rates on both sides of the Atlantic,” Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank, wrote in a client note this morning. Berenberg predicts that the Fed will raise the prime borrowing rate by 0.25 percent on Wednesday rather than the half-percentage point increase it had forecast a few weeks ago.
In other banking and markets news:
Money managers who bet big on AT1s, among banks’ most risky bonds — including Credit Suisse’s, which were wiped out in the UBS deal — are bracing for staggering losses.
S&P Global is the latest ratings agency to downgrade First Republic, suggesting a $30 billion capital injection last week may not be enough to support the firm. Its shares were sharply lower in premarket trading.
Regulators could break up Silicon Valley Bank in a renewed effort to sell it. And, the F.D.I.C. has a buyer for parts of Signature Bridge Bank.
Warren Buffett has reportedly been in contact with the Biden administration about potentially investing in beleaguered U.S. regional banks. So far, the billionaire investor has not written a check.
What lies ahead for Switzerland’s last banking titan
Swiss regulators may have hoped that pushing UBS to buy its ailing rival, Credit Suisse, would stem a wave of global panic about banks. But investors weren’t persuaded, sending shares of UBS lower on Monday as concerns grow about the risks of smashing together Switzerland’s two banking giants.
A recap of what happened: Shares and bonds of Credit Suisse tumbled last week to record lows, amid market fears about which bank would be the next to implode. While Credit Suisse was far bigger and better capitalized than Silicon Valley Bank, investors finally came to believe that the Swiss bank could not recover from years of scandals and billion-dollar losses.
But the Swiss government, determined to avoid a catastrophic collapse, pushed a reluctant UBS to act. Over the weekend, UBS agreed to buy Credit Suisse for a small fraction of its market value.
A major piece of fallout is the end of Credit Suisse’s investment bank. The Swiss lender shot to global financial stardom when it partnered with, and then took over, the storied American brokerage First Boston. (Consider how many star alumni the business minted, including Doug Braunstein, Larry Fink, Ray McGuire, Joe Perella, Frank Quattrone, Gordon Rich and Bruce Wasserstein.)
But its trading business caused endless headaches over the last two decades, from pushing mortgage-backed securities to a $5.5 billion loss tied to Archegos, the failed investment firm.
Credit Suisse had intended to spin off its investment bank and revive the First Boston name, tapping the former Citigroup rainmaker Michael Klein to lead the business. But UBS executives said on Sunday that they planned to essentially wind it down instead.
UBS executives and investors appear worried about the deal’s risks. One is the prospect of litigation: UBS leaders emphasized on Sunday that the Swiss government was responsible for contentious decisions like wiping out $17 billion worth of Credit Suisse bonds to ease strain on UBS’s finances.
Then there is the question of how to run down Credit Suisse’s enormous book of assets, including many that are of questionable value. UBS executives told analysts that they had 25 billion Swiss francs ($27 billion) worth of downside protection from Swiss regulators against things like asset write-downs.
UBS’s chairman, Colm Kelleher, is especially aware of the risks in bailing out a failing bank: As Morgan Stanley’s C.F.O. during the 2008 financial crisis — an experience he cited on Sunday — he saw JPMorgan Chase buy Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, only to be tied up in years of litigation and working through their troubled assets.
In other Credit Suisse news, the lender told employees that they will still receive promised pay raises and bonuses.
The debate over banks’ deposit insurance cap heats up
Washington’s role in trying to contain the fallout from the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank has prompted calls for the Biden administration to take more action, as well as warnings that it has already done too much.
Midsize banks are calling for more help. A coalition of small regional lenders has asked the F.D.I.C. to insure all deposits for two years, and lawmakers urged more action at the weekend. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, also wants the cap to be lifted. The House Financial Services Committee’s chairman, Patrick McHenry, Republican of Georgia, said he was open to change, but warned that lifting the cap would cost “the financial system significantly.”
Did political connections matter above all? Banking officials and the president say that emergency measures won’t cost taxpayers. But some argue that the Biden administration only insured depositors of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank because the companies had strong political ties with Democrats and were based in New York and California.
Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, told Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week that the higher fees banks will have to pay after Silicon Valley Bank’s fall are likely to be passed on to customers. He also asked if the federal government would save small rural banks in his state that didn’t engage in the risky behavior that felled the California lender. This hinted at another big issue: Should there be new rules to decide if an institution is important enough to merit a bailout?
What next? On March 29, the House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing on the bank failures with the F.D.I.C.’s Martin Gruenberg and the Fed’s Michael Barr on how regulators responded.
THE SPEED READ
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