Wednesday, September 7, 2011
In Euro Zone, Banking Fear Feeds on Itself
Remember the collapse of Lehman Brothers? Europeans certainly do.
As Europe struggles to contain its government debt crisis, the greatest fear is that one of the Continent’s major banks may fail, setting off a financial panic like the one sparked by Lehman’s bankruptcy in September 2008.
European policy makers, determined to avoid such a catastrophe, are prepared to use hundreds of billions of euros of bailout money to prevent any major bank from failing.
But questions continue to mount about the ability of Europe’s banks to ride out the crisis, as some are having a harder time securing loans needed for daily operations.
American financial institutions, seeking to inoculate themselves from the growing risks, are increasingly wary of making new short-term loans in some cases and are pulling back from doing business with their European counterparts — moves that could exacerbate the funding problems of European banks.
Similar withdrawals, on a much larger scale, forced Lehman into bankruptcy, as banks, hedge funds and others took steps to shield their own interests even though it helped set in motion the broader market crisis.
Turmoil in Europe could quickly spread across the Atlantic because of the intertwined nature of the global financial system. In addition, it could further damage the already struggling economies elsewhere.
“This crisis has the potential to be a lot worse than Lehman Brothers,” said George Soros, the hedge fund investor, citing the lack of an authoritative pan-European body to handle a banking crisis of this severity. “That is why the problem is so serious. You need a crisis to create the political will for Europe to create such an authority, but there is still no understanding as to what the authority will do.”
The growing nervousness was reflected in financial markets Tuesday, with stocks in the United States and Europe falling 1 percent and European bank stocks falling 5 percent or more after steep drops in recent weeks.
European bank shares are now at their lowest point since March 2009, when the global banking system was still shaky following Lehman’s collapse.
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