The behavior of financial markets along with world events indicate that Europe’s financial crisis is (unfortunately) spreading. This is not a scare tactic, but an honest evaluation of the facts. Let’s analyze some of the reasons behind this.
1. Europe’s banks are undercapitalized. Last week, European banks in France and elsewhere needed an emergency cash infusion from a coalition of world central banks. The International Monetary Fund, in its “Global Financial Stability Report,” estimates $408 billion in banks’ risk exposure to toxic government debt from countries like Greece, Ireland and Portugal. Because Europe’s crisis is moving so rapidly, even IMF is having trouble estimating the true liabilities for European banks. Just last month, IMF said it would take only $272 billion to cover banks’ capital shortfall.
2. Banks still aren’t properly managing risk. The global banking system is a mess because banks are deficient at underwriting and managing financial risk. The fact that European banks are overexposed to toxic sovereign debt is proof enough. Furthermore, UBS (NYSE:UBS) is the latest poster child for incompetence when it comes to supervising its traders. It’s never a good time to announce $2.3 billion in losses from bunk trades, but doing it during the middle of a credit crisis is surreal. How many other banks are at jeopardy for this same kind of nonsense?
3. Credit downgrades. We don’t advocate putting implicit faith in credit ratings because history has taught us they are nothing more than financial opinions — and frequently, not very accurate ones. Still, a gander at the latest downgrading trend is troublesome. Intuitive observers will note this is not an isolated phenomenon, but a global trend. Sovereign debt from Greece and Portugal, after several downgrades, is now rated junk. Ireland has been downgraded, Italy was downgraded this week, and Japanese, along with U.S. debt, was lowered in August. The pace at which government debt is being downgrade is accelerating and reversing this trend won’t be easy.
4. Too many cooks in the kitchen. One of Europe’s problems in solving its crisis is bureaucracy. Between the Economic and Monetary Union, European Banking Authority and EU finance ministers, everyone has an opinion on how to fix things, but nobody can execute. Layered on top of this melting pot, are individual countries within the euro zone, each with its own distinct set of financial regulators with their own viewpoints. It’s a conglomeration of confusion. Read