Thursday, 21 July 2011 16:01

The Fuel Behind Institutional “Runs on the Bank” Burns Through Europe, Lehman-Style! Featured


US and European markets are rallying once again on news that a new bailout agreement (think this is the 3rd, 4th or 5th, I lose count) has been reached. This one is unique in that it will allow/endorse a short term selective default and create a fund whose goal is actually to manipulate the debt markets and recapitalize banks! This news is quite timely for I have just released one of the banks that I believe are susceptible to a Lehman/Bear Stearns style "run on the bank". All paying subscribers, see icon Exposure Producing Bank Risk (788.3 kB 2011-07-21 11:00:20). Professional and institutional subscribers should feel free to contact me on this topic. I will be releasing additional info to Pro and institutional subscribers in the upcoming week. Now, from CNBC:

Minds have been concentrated by the danger that Europe's debt crisis could engulf the much bigger economies of Spain and Italy. Greece, Portugal and Ireland have already succumbed. The draft summit statement obtained by Reuters showed the EFSF rescue fund would be allowed for the first time to help states earlier with precautionary loans, to recapitalise banks and to intervene in the secondary bond market.

"To improve the effectiveness of the EFSF and address contagion, we agree to increase the flexibility of the EFSF," it said, listing those three key steps, all of which Germany had previously blocked.

... Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager said a short-term or selective default for Greece, long vehemently opposed by the ECB, was now a possibility.

"The demand to prevent a selective default has been removed," he told the Dutch parliament. The chairman of the 17-nation currency area's finance ministers, Jean-Claude Juncker, also told reporters: "You can never exclude such a possibility, but everything should be done to avoid it."

According to the draft, the maturities on euro zone rescue loans to all three assisted countries would be extended to 15 years from 7.5 and the interest rate cut to around 3.5 percent from between 4.5 and 5.8 percent now.

The EFSF would be able to lend to states on a precautionary basis instead of waiting until they are shut out of market funding, and to recapitalise banks via loans to governments, even if they are not under an EU/IMF assistance programme.

It would also be allowed for the first time to intervene in secondary bond markets, subject to an ECB analysis recognising "exceptional circumstances" and a unanimous decision. Germany blocked all these measures when the European Commission proposed them back in February, at a time when the crisis was less acute, EU sources said. The wider EFSF powers could help deter or minimise any market contagion in case of a temporary Greek default.

In an apparent trade-off for Merkel's new willingness to embrace such bolder steps, Sarkozy dropped a French call for a tax on banks to help fund a second Greek bailout.

... The proposed expansion of the EFSF's role would have to be ratified by national parliaments, and could fall foul of critics in Germany, the Netherlands and Finland. Thursday's summit is very unlikely to mark a complete resolution of the crisis, as Merkel herself acknowledged earlier this week.

A second bailout may simply keep Greece afloat for a number of months before a tougher decision has to be made on writing off more of its debt.

I have yet to thoroughly vet the afore-referenced plan, but at first blush I tend to strongly agree with Merkel. This is but another stop gap, and an ephemeral one at that, to the road to Perdition, or at least that's what European appear to believe a true and actual default is. My opinion is that it is a necessary evil needed to purge unpayable debt and push the profligate EU states back onto the path of growth and prosperity.

The portion about intervening in the secondary public markets brings one to mind of how the UK came to be outside of the EMU, and that is due to their hubristic mindset that they were bigger than the world's largest, deepest and most liquid markets as well in their attempt to manipulate the price of the pound upon (attempted) entry into the EMU. Speculators world wide, exemplified in the media by George Soros, apparently taught them otherwise. He became known as "the Man Who Broke the Bank of England" after he made a reported $1 billion during the 1992 Black Wednesday UK currency crises. Soros correctly speculated that the British government would have to devalue the pound sterling, as per Wikipedia:

Black Wednesday refers to the events of 16 September 1992 when the British Conservative government was forced to withdraw the pound sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) after they were unable to keep sterling above its agreed lower limit. George Soros, the most high profile of the currency market investors, made over US$1 billion profit by short selling sterling.

In 1997 the UK Treasury estimated the cost of Black Wednesday at £3.4 billion, with the actual cost being £3.3 billion which was revealed in 2005 under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI).[1]

The trading losses in August and September were estimated at £800m, but the main loss to taxpayers arose because the devaluation could have made them a profit. The papers show that if the government had maintained $24bn foreign currency reserves and the pound had fallen by the same amount, the UK would have made a £2.4bn profit on sterling's devaluation.[2] Newspapers also revealed that the Treasury spent £27bn of reserves in propping up the pound.


The UK's prime minister and cabinet members tried vehemently to prop up a sinking pound and withdrawal from the monetary system the country had joined two years prior was the last resort. Major raised interest rates to 10 percent and authorised the spending of billions of pounds to buy up the sterling being frantically sold on the currency markets but the measures failed to prevent the pound falling lower than its minimum level in the ERM.

The Treasury took the decision to defend Sterling's position, believing that to devalue would be to promote inflation.[5] On 16 September the British government announced a rise in the base interest rate from an already high 10 to 12 percent in order to tempt speculators to buy pounds. Despite this and a promise later the same day to raise base rates again to 15 percent, dealers kept selling pounds, convinced that the government would not stick with its promise. By 19:00 that evening, Norman Lamont, then Chancellor, announced Britain would leave the ERM and rates would remain at the new level of 12 percent (however, on the next day interest rate was back on 10%). It was later revealed that the decision to withdraw had been agreed at an emergency meeting during the day between Norman Lamont, Prime Minister John Major, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, President of the Board of Trade Michael Heseltine and Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke (the latter three all being strong pro-Europeans as well as senior Cabinet Ministers), and that the interest rate hike to 15 percent had only been a temporary measure to prevent a rout in the pound that afternoon.

Currency speculation

On September 16, 1992, Black Wednesday, Soros's fund sold short more than US$10 billion worth of pounds,[27] profiting from the UK government's reluctance to either raise its interest rates to levels comparable to those of other European Exchange Rate Mechanism countries or to float its currency.

Finally, the UK withdrew from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, devaluing the pound sterling, earning Soros an estimated US$1.1 billion. He was dubbed "the man who broke the Bank of England."[31] In 1997, the UK Treasury estimated the cost of Black Wednesday at £3.4 billion.

On Monday, October 26, 1992, The Times quoted Soros as saying: "Our total position by Black Wednesday had to be worth almost $10 billion. We planned to sell more than that. In fact, when Norman Lamont said just before the devaluation that he would borrow nearly $15 billion to defend sterling, we were amused because that was about how much we wanted to sell."

Stanley Druckenmiller, who traded under Soros, originally saw the weakness in the pound. "Soros' contribution was pushing him to take a gigantic position."[32][33]

Hmmm! One would think maybe a statue should be erected of Druckenmiller and Soros in Trafalgar Square considering the euro state's current predicament, which is probably about to be made worse by trying once again to "out market" the market! On that note, let's explore what happens when true market participants - savers and instititutional counterparties - get the hint before governments, regulators and bank management.

Asset/Liability Funding Mismatches: The Major Cause of Institutional “Runs on the Bank”

Modern day banking business models (fiat banking system) fund business investment that often require expenditures in the present to obtain returns in the future (for example, spending on machines and buildings now for production in future years). Therefore, when businesses (banks included) need to borrow to finance their investments, they usually do so on the understanding that the lender will not demand repayment(s) until some agreed upon time in the future. Usually, the farther into the future, the more preferable, thus entities with exposures to business cycles (businesses) often prefer loans with a longer maturity. This longer maturity leads to lower liquidity, which is in the better interests of the borrower. This very same principle applies to individuals seeking financing on the purchase of big ticket items such as real estate, housing, boats, small businesses and cars. The flip side of this equation contains the primary funding source in the fiat banking system, the individual savers (both households and firms). These savers strive for relatively high liquidity due to shorter cycles in their (sometimes sudden) and considerably less predictable needs for cash. The products that serve these needs are the demand accounts that commercial banks use as their primary funding source.

Commercial and investment banks (as well as some broker/dealers) profit by acting as intermediaries between short term savers who prefer highly liquid demand accounts and borrowers who prefer to take out long-maturity loans with considerably less liquidity. When things are working as anticipated in the fiat banking system, banks acting as intermediaries profit by channelling capital from short term savers to long term borrowers, underwriting and eating the risk of this “asset liability funding mismatch”.

Banks also carry on their capital intensive businesses (ex. trading, market making, etc.) in a similar fashion by borrowing heavily on the short end of the yield curve on a relative sliver of equity and investing in the longer end of the curve or in more volatile, risky asset classes (i.e. public equities, private equity, real assets, commodities, etc.)


The premise behind the fractional reserve (a system where only a fraction of deposits are required to be kept in house as reserves against deposit demands)/fiat banking system is that under ordinary circumstances, savers' unpredictable needs for cash are unlikely to occur at the same time. This premise has been justified by the theory that depositors' needs reflect their own and mostly unique individual circumstances. The fiat/fractional reserve banking institution, by accepting deposits from myriad and differing sources, assumes risk has been effectively diversified away, with the bank expecting only a small fraction of withdrawals in the short term at any given time. This is despite the fact that all depositors have the right to take their deposits back at any time. Adherence and acceptance of the logic behind the fractional reserve system allows fiat banks to make loans and investments over a long horizon, while keeping only relatively small amounts of cash on hand to pay any depositors (and counterparties) that wish to make withdrawals, capital calls or collateral calls.

Traditional views on this “bank run model” largely (or more aptly, only) consider individual savers in the form of depositors on the short side (liquid liabilities). It is a run such as this that caused the banking collapse during the US Great Depression. The modern central banking system has proven resilient enough to fortify banks against depositor runs, as was recently exemplified in the recent depositor runs on UK, Irish, Portuguese and Greek banks – most of which received relatively little fanfare. Where the risk truly lies in today’s fiat/fractional reserve banking system is the run on counterparties. Today’s global fractional reserve bank get’s more financing from institutional counterparties than any other source save its short term depositors.  In cases of the perception of extreme risk, these counterparties are prone to pull funding are request overcollateralization for said funding. This is what precipitated the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, the pulling of liquidity by skittish counterparties, and the excessive capital/collateralization calls by other counterparties. Keep in mind that as some counterparties and/or depositors pull liquidity, covenants are tripped that often demand additional capital/collateral/ liquidity be put up by the remaining counterparties, thus daisy-chaining into a modern day run on the bank!


This phenomena essentially discredits the thinking at large and currently in practice that “since individual expenditure needs are largely uncorrelated, by the law of large numbers” banks should expect few withdrawals on any one day. The fact of the matter is that in times of severe distress, particularly stemming from solvency issues (read directly as the Pan-European Sovereign Debt Crisis, and Greece, et. al. in particular), the exact opposite is the case. Individual depositor and counterparty actions are actually HIGHLY correlated and tend to move in tandem, particularly when that move is out of the target fiat bank. They tend to take heed to the saying “He who panics first, panics best!"

Asset/liability mismatch can, at the margin nearly assure a Lehman-style fiasco in the case of an impetus that sparks herding mentality, whether it be among depositors/savers or institutional counterparties.

Since banks both lend out and often invest at long maturity, they cannot quickly call in their loans or sell their investments. This scenario is exacerbated when said loan and/or investments have materially dropped in value causing a capital gap in between what said loans/investments can be called in for, and what is actually owed to the short term creditors. Again, this is a perfect example of what happened in the US with AIG, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. Therefore, if a significant portion of depositors or counterparties either attempt to withdraw their funds or raise collateral/capital requirements simultaneously, a bank will run out of money long before it is able to pay all of its short term the depositors. The bank will be able to pay the first depositors who demand their money back, but if all others attempt to withdraw too, the bank will be realized insolvent and the last depositors will be left with nothing. It is for this reason that short term creditors tend to “panic first” in an effort to “panic best”, leading to a chain reaction that perpetuates a bank run. Essentially, the fiat/fractional reserve banking system creates a self-fulfilling prophecy wherein  each depositor/counterparty's incentive to withdraw liquidity and funds depends on what they expect other depositors/counterparties to do. If enough depositors/counterparties expect other depositors to withdraw their funds, then they all have an incentive to rush to be the first in line to withdraw their funds. “He who panics first, panics best!"

Next up on this topic I will discuss the sovereign states that I see exacerbating this risk through contagion, and will produce additional banks that are at risk to the big bank run for paying subscribers. In addition, I will post technical trade setups for Pro and institutional subscribers as well. After that, we will explore the effect that EVERYONE seems to be overlooking, and that is what happens to European CRE when that 70% of mortgage obligations come up for rollover in the next year and a half? There are basically ony two countries at risk, but they are at risk in a big way. Then again, if the excess funding (you know, to fill that equity gap formed by the devaluing real estate) fails to materialize on top of the expected funding needed just for the anticipated rollover, then lookout below in all of those countries whose CRE wasn't necessarily roaring to begin with. That would be basically... All of them! As all who attended my keynote speech at ING in Amsterdam know, I have proposed solutions for many and will make them part of the upcoming European CRE posts.

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