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Americans warned bank ‘bail-ins’ coming

Experts say institutions will grab deposits without warning

28 Sep 2013
by Clark Kent

With the United States facing a $17 trillion debt and an acidic debate in Washington over raising that debt limit on top of a potential government shutdown, Congress could mimic recent European action to let banks initiate a “bail-in” to blunt future failures, experts say.

Previously the federal government has taken taxes from consumers, or borrowed the money, to hand out to troubled banks. This could be a little different, and could allow banks to reach directly into consumers’ bank accounts for their cash.

Authority to allow bank “bail-ins” would be in lieu of approving any future taxpayer bailouts of banks that would be in dire need of recapitalization in order to survive.

Some financial experts contend that banks already have the legal authority to confiscate depositors’ money without warning, and at their discretion.

Financial analyst Jim Sinclair warned that the U.S. banks most likely to be “bailed-in” by their depositors are those institutions that received government bail-out funds in 2008-2009.

Such a “bail-in” means all savings of individuals over the insured amount would be confiscated to offset such a failure.

“Bail-ins are coming to North America without any doubt, and will be remembered as the ‘Great Leveling,’ of the ‘great Flushing’ (of Lehman Brothers),” Sinclair said. “Not only can it happen here, but it will happen here.

“It stands on legal grounds by legal precedent both in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.”

Sinclair is chairman and chief executive officer of Tanzania Royalty Exploration Corp. and is the son of Bertram Seligman, whose family started Goldman Sachs, Solomon Brothers, Lehman Brothers, Bache Group and other major investment banking firms.

Some of the major banks which received federal bailout money included Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase.

“When major banks fail, they are going to bail them out by grabbing the money that is in your bank accounts,” according to financial expert Michael Snyder. “This is going to absolutely shatter faith in the banking system and it is actually going to make it far more likely that we will see major bank failures all over the Western world.”

Given the dire financial straits the U.S. finds itself in, these financial experts say that Congress could look at the example of the European Parliament, which recently started to consider action that would allow banks to confiscate depositors’ holdings above 100,000 euros. Generally, funds up to that level are insured.

Finance ministers of the 27-member European Union in June had approved forcing bondholders, shareholders and large depositors with more than 100,000 euros in their accounts to make the financial sacrifice before turning to the government for help with taxpayer funds.

Depositors with less than 100,000 euros would be protected. Considering protection of small depositors a top priority, the E.U. ministers took pride in saying that their action would shield them.

“The E.U. has made a big step towards putting in place the most comprehensive framework for dealing with bank crises in the world,” said Michel Barnier, E.U. commissioner for internal market and services.

The plan as approved outlines a hierarchy of rescuing struggling banks. The first will be bondholders, followed by shareholders and then large depositors.

Among large depositors, there is a hierarchy of whose money would be selected first, with small and medium-sized businesses being protected like small depositors.

“This agreement will effectively move us from ad hoc ‘bail-outs’ to structured and clearly defined ‘bail-ins,’” said Michael Noonan, Ireland’s finance minister.

The European Parliament is expected to finalize the plan by the end of the year.

The purpose of this “bail-in,” patterned after the Cyprus model, is to offset the need for continued taxpayer bailouts that have come under increasing criticism of the more economically well-off countries such as Germany.

Last March, Cyprus had agreed to tap large depositors at its two leading banks for some 10 billion euros in an effort to obtain another 10 billion European Union bailout.

While this action prevented the collapse of Cyprus’ two top banks, the Bank of Cyprus and Popular Bank of Cyprus, it greatly upset depositors with savings more than 100,000 euros.

WND recently revealed that the practice of “bail-ins” by Cyprus a year ago was beginning to spread to other nations as large depositors began to see their balances plunge literally overnight.

A “bail-in,” as opposed to a bailout that countries especially in Europe have been seeking from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union, is a recognition that such outside monetary injections won’t be forthcoming.

Sinclair said that the recent confiscation of customer deposits in Cyprus was not a “one-off, desperate idea of a few Eurozone ‘troika’ officials scrambling to salvage their balance sheets.”

“A joint paper by the U.S. federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Bank of England (BOE) dated December 10, 2012 shows, that these plans have been long in the making, that they originated with the G20 Financial Stability Board in Basel, Switzerland, and that the result will be to deliver clear title to the banks of depositor funds,” Sinclair said.

He pointed that while few depositors are aware, banks legally own the depositors’ funds as soon as they are put in the bank.

“Our money becomes the bank’s, and we become unsecured creditors holding IOUs or promises to pay,” Sinclair said.

“But until now, the bank has been obligated to pay the money back on demand in the form of cash,” he said. “Under the FDIC-BOE plan, our IOUs will be converted into ‘bank equity.’ The bank will get the money and we will get stock in the bank.”

“With any luck,” Sinclair said, “we may be able to sell the stock to someone else, but when and at what price? Most people keep a deposit account so they can have ready cash to pay the bills.”

Such plans already are being used, or under consideration, in New Zealand, Poland, Canada and several other countries.

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European cap-and-trade market takes a nose dive

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The European Union’s cap-and-trade system took a huge hit on Thursday, with carbon prices plummeting a record 40 percent after a panel rejected a plan to delay emission permit sales to alleviate the overabundance of permits already in the system.

“The market is panicking, really,” Daniel Rossetto, managing director of Climate Mundial, told Bloomberg, adding that traders fear that Europe’s carbon emissions market won’t continue past 2020.

An excess of carbon emission permits in the 54 billion euro trading system drove the price down 91 percent from its record high in April 2006. Carbon permit prices sank to a record low of 2.81 euros ($3.75) per metric ton immediately after the panel rejected the EU plan. However, prices slightly rebounded to 4.33 euros per metric ton.

“This should be the final wake-up call,” said EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard in a statement. “Something has to be done urgently. I can therefore only appeal to the governments and the European Parliament to act responsibly.”

The Financial Times reports that the carbon market has seen two record-low prices within the last four days, causing some analysts to say carbon permits are “worthless.”

The European Commission wanted to temporarily delay the sale of 900 million permits to alleviate the current overabundance. Analysts say this move would have boosted prices, but not high enough to provide sufficient incentives for utilities to switch to cleaner energy sources, reports the Guardian.

However, the plan was met with resistance from various governments, industries, and lawmakers.

Joachim Pfeiffer, economy spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, said the plan was “absurd” and would impose higher costs on German industry.Reuters reports that the bank Societe Generale cut its EU carbon price forecast from 2013 to 2015 by 30 percent, due to prices plunging to record lows.

“Negative news and events relating to the EU [Emissions Trading System] continue to pile up and come from all sides. So it is not at all surprising that EUA prices have fallen and have continued to be quite volatile,” they said. “The EU ETS has become a one-way market, spiraling down.”

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Special Report: Amazon’s billion-dollar tax shield

By Tom Bergin
LUXEMBOURG | Thu Dec 6, 2012 3:18am EST

(Reuters) – In 2005, Amazon rented a historic five-storey building in Luxembourg‘s Grund quarter, right at the bottom of a steep rock-walled valley below the old town.

By setting up in Luxembourg, and channelling sales through its units there, the world’s biggest online retailer could minimize corporate taxes.

It was a move with big financial consequences.

Amazon’s Luxembourg arrangements have deprived European governments of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax that it might otherwise have owed, as reported in European newspapers. But a Reuters examination of accounts filed by 25 Amazon units in six countries shows how they also allowed the company to avoid paying more tax in the United States, where the company is based.

In effect, Amazon used inter-company payments to form a tax shield for the group, behind which it has accumulated $2 billion to help finance its expansion.

Amazon revealed last year that the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants $1.5 billion in back taxes. The claim, which Amazon said it would “vigorously contest”, is linked to its foreign subsidiaries and payments made between them.

The issue highlights the way multinationals reduce their taxes by parking intellectual property in tax havens and charging affiliates big fees for using it. Politicians in rich countries are beginning to target such practices, which have been used by other multinationals including Google and Microsoft.

U.S. Senator Carl Levin has called the tactics “gimmickry.” Michael McIntyre, a tax expert at Wayne State University in Michigan, said that while Amazon’s arrangement, and others like it, looked like commercial transactions, they actually only served to reduce taxes.

“The IRS shouldn’t be happy about this,” he said. “It sounds like they’re not.”

Amazon declined to answer questions about its tax affairs for this story, the latest in a Reuters series on corporate tax avoidance. In an emailed statement a spokesman said that “Amazon pays all applicable taxes in every jurisdiction that it operates within.”

The group has come under scrutiny from tax departments in at least six countries over the past six years. Tax authorities in the United States, UK, Germany, France and Luxembourg declined to comment, citing rules on taxpayer confidentiality.

The Luxembourg structure, outlined by media including the Guardian newspaper in April, fulfils a corporate obligation to shareholders to maximize returns. There is no suggestion the company has broken any laws; Amazon, which started out selling books and now offers everything from tools to toys, paid an average 44 percent tax on its U.S. earnings in the last five years.

This is an examination of how Amazon set up its tax shield, and how it works.

MARKET SHARE

Amazon’s first foray abroad came in 1998, when it bought online retailers in Britain and Germany and rebranded them Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.de. In 2000, it launched a French website, Amazon.fr.

At first it did little to integrate these foreign units, former senior executives say. Even product purchasing – where Amazon would later squeeze huge savings by negotiating hard with suppliers – was handled independently in different markets.

“There were no real operational synergies in our early years. The units operated largely independently,” said Todd Edebohls, current CEO of recruitment website Inside Jobs, and Amazon’s Director of Business Development and Sales between 1999 and 2007.

But in late 1999, accounts for the UK business show, the UK unit’s principal activity changed from “marketing and selling of books via the Internet” to “the provision of services to other group undertakings.”

People shopping on Amazon.co.uk would now do business with a U.S. unit registered in Delaware. There were similar changes at the German business: in effect, the fast-growing European units had become fulfillment operations just to distribute packages and offer customer support. Amazon’s accounts show the bulk of its overseas revenues were now attributed to the U.S. parent.

That shift helped with a problem it faced at home.

Founded in 1995 and listed two years later, the company lost money every year until 2003. This was standard practice for a dotcom startup: Amazon focused on market share rather than profit.

But by the end of 1999 Amazon’s accumulated losses were so large – more than $1 billion – that its own accountants would not let the firm recognize them as a tax asset, because it was unclear it could ever make enough profit to use them up. Bringing foreign profits home allowed Amazon to set them against U.S. losses, so the company did not have to pay tax on overseas profits, according to Stephen Shay, a professor of tax law at Harvard University.

SERVICES, NOT BOOKS

That changed in 2003, when Amazon started making a lot more profit in the United States. There was a chance the foreign earnings would now increase its global tax bill, according to Shay, because U.S. corporate tax rates were higher than in other markets such as Britain.

Amazon turned to the tiny country of Luxembourg. The Grand Duchy has a population of 500,000 – half the size of Rhode Island – and offers a variety of advantages. It’s a member of the European Union, so businesses based there can sell across EU borders with less red tape. Then there’s the tax rate.

Luxembourg has a headline charge on corporate income of 29 percent, but under certain circumstances it will exempt income a company earns through intellectual property by up to 80 percent, a government spokesperson said. This cuts the effective tax rate to below 6 percent. Tax advisers and academics say rates close to zero can be achieved using other methods.

In June 2003, Amazon registered Amazon Services Europe SARL in Luxembourg, establishing an office in a drab grey concrete building overlooking the central bus depot. The initials stand for Societe a Responsabilite Limitee – a limited company, liable for tax.

A month later, it told clients in the UK its terms were changing. Contracts with third-party retailers who used Amazon to sell their products would no longer be handled in the United States but with the Luxembourg unit.

In June 2004, Amazon established another Luxembourg entity – Amazon Europe Holding Technologies – whose purpose was to hold shares in Amazon group companies and “to acquire … any intellectual property rights, patents, and trademarks licenses and generally to hold, to license the right to use it solely to one of its direct or indirect wholly owned subsidiaries.”

This group was set up as a “Societe en Commandite Simple” or SCS, a type of limited partnership that a Luxembourg government spokesman said is exempt from income taxes. It has not had any operational staff or premises, its registered address being the offices of a trust services company in an upmarket residential area west of Luxembourg’s old town.

A month later, this company established a third Luxembourg company, Amazon EU SARL, whose principal purpose was to “sell, auction, rent or otherwise distribute products or services of all types” via Amazon websites.

This taxable unit was to become, on paper at least, the supplier of all goods and services to Amazon’s European customers.

FROM NEVADA TO LUXEMBOURG

To be tax efficient, though, Amazon needed to shift the profit this unit would make into its untaxed parent. The easiest way to do this was for Amazon EU SARL to pay Amazon Europe Holding Technologies a fee to license the Amazon technology it would use to sell things.

There was just one problem: Amazon Europe Holding Technologies had no technology to license. Amazon’s patents – including the Amazon brand and its ‘1-click’ ordering software – were held by Amazon Technologies Inc, a unit registered in Nevada, Patent and Trademark Office records show.

In early 2005, Amazon did an inter-company deal that solved this problem.

Exact details of the arrangement have never been made public and Amazon declined to clarify them. Chief Financial Officer Tom Szkutak told analysts on a conference call a few weeks afterwards that the deal to create the Luxembourg operation involved shifting “certain operating assets” offshore and that it would boost the group’s 2005 tax bill by $58 million but “beneficially impact our effective tax rate over time.”

Amazon’s Luxembourg arrangements have helped it pay an average tax rate of 5.3 percent on overseas income over the past five years, less than a quarter of the average rate across its major foreign markets.

Company accounts show that since 2005, Amazon Europe Holding Technologies started to make payments to Amazon Technologies Inc in Nevada of up to 230 million euros ($300 million) each year. At the same time it received up to 583 million euros each year from its European affiliates.

The difference stayed in Luxembourg.

Had Amazon remitted all that to the United States and then paid the headline U.S. corporate income tax rate on it, the firm would have incurred taxes of more than $700 million. But it has not and the deal has allowed Amazon’s Luxembourg unit to accrue tax-free cash worth more than $2 billion.

Historically, such inter-company payments might have been treated as a taxable dividend under U.S. tax law, but a provision introduced in 1997 known as ‘check-the-box’ allowed companies to have them disregarded by the IRS. Senator Levin, a Democrat, is among many U.S. politicians who want this loophole rescinded.

“HEADQUARTERS OF NIGHT LIFE”

For Amazon’s tax-free money-making machine to work, it had to show it had more than a nameplate in Luxembourg.

To benefit from favorable taxation, the Grand Duchy says firms “must ensure that they give adequate substance to their presence in the country in terms of both logistics and staff.” At the end of 2005, Amazon had just a dozen staff there. If tax departments around the continent were to recognize the arrangement, Amazon needed a meaningful corporate presence.

In February 2006, it transferred ownership of its UK, German and French businesses to Amazon EU SARL, and ownership of its UK and French web domains to Amazon Europe Holding Technologies. It also moved some U.S. executives to Luxembourg, hired more locals and began to call Amazon EU its European headquarters.

Filings show that in December 2006, the group relocated its Luxembourg operating units into the rented building on Plaetis Steet, a stone’s throw from the English and Irish bars that lead the city-state’s tourist office to describe the Grund and neighboring Clausen as the “Headquarters of Luxembourg’s night life.”

CASH PILE BUILDS

As the cash built up in Amazon Europe Holding Technologies, the firm started to lend to Amazon EU SARL. Besides funding international expansion, this has generated up to 45 million euros a year in interest since 2005 – all untaxed.

Today, Amazon calls its 300-person Luxembourg operation the nerve-centre of an operation which employs tens of thousands of people across the continent. It expanded into a new building, opened by Luxembourg’s Finance Minister, Luc Frieden, in October.

“All the strategic functions for our business in Europe are based in Luxembourg,” Amazon’s head of public policy, Andrew Cecil, told UK parliamentarians in November.

At home in the United States, though, the Internal Revenue Service seems unconvinced.

Amazon disclosed in October 2011 that the IRS wanted $1.5 billion in unpaid taxes. It has declined to say exactly what transactions the charge relates to but said it was linked to “transfer pricing with our foreign subsidiaries” over a seven-year period from 2005.

“We disagree with the proposed adjustments and intend to vigorously contest them,” Amazon said at the time. “If we are not able to resolve these proposed adjustments … we plan to pursue all available administrative and, if necessary, judicial remedies.”

Shay, the Harvard professor who contributed to a recent Congressional committee investigating tax avoidance, said the fact the Luxembourg unit charged a much higher price than it paid for the right to license Amazon intellectual property could open the company to an investigation into whether it is engaging in abusive transfer pricing.

“The price originally paid to the U.S. for the rights is something the IRS should want to look at,” he said.

Transfer pricing is the way corporations trade goods or services between their units. Many multinationals use it.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which lays down the rules on transfer pricing, stipulates that it should not be used to shift profits from high tax jurisdictions to low tax jurisdictions.

The IRS declined to comment.

(Additional reporting by Alistair Barr in San Francisco; Edited by Sara Ledwith and Simon Robinson)

Source

Euro zone fragmenting faster than EU can act

By Paul Taylor
PARIS | Mon Jul 9, 2012 2:05am EDT

(Reuters) – Signs are growing that Europe‘s economic and monetary union may be fragmenting faster than policymakers can repair it.

Euro zone leaders agreed in principle on June 29 to establish a joint banking supervisor for the 17-nation single currency area, based on the European Central Bank, although most of the crucial details remain to be worked out.

The proposal was a tentative first step towards a European banking union that could eventually feature a joint deposit guarantee and a bank resolution fund, to prevent bank runs or collapses sending shock waves around the continent.

The leaders agreed that the euro zone’s permanent bailout fund, the 500 billion euro ($620 billion) European Stability Mechanism, would be able to inject capital directly into banks on strict conditions once the joint supervisor is established.

But the rush to put first elements of such a system in place by next year may come too late.

Deposit flight from Spanish banks has been gaining pace and it is not clear a euro zone agreement to lend Madrid up to 100 billion euros in rescue funds will reverse the flows if investors fear Spain may face a full sovereign bailout.

Many banks are reorganizing, or being forced to reorganize, along national lines, accentuating a deepening north-south divide within the currency bloc.

An invisible financial wall, potentially as dangerous as the Iron Curtain that once divided eastern and western Europe, is slowly going up inside the euro area.

The interest rate gap between north European creditor countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, whose borrowing costs are at an all-time low, and southern debtor countries like Spain and Italy, where bond yields have risen to near pre-euro levels, threatens to entrench a lasting divergence.

Since government credit ratings and bond yields effectively set a floor for the borrowing costs of banks and businesses in their jurisdiction, the best-managed Spanish or Italian banks or companies have to pay far more for loans, if they can get them, than their worst-managed German or Dutch peers.

POLITICAL BACKLASH

The longer that situation goes on, the less chance there is of a recovery in southern Europe and the bigger will grow the wealth gap between north and south.

With ever-higher unemployment and poverty levels in southern countries, a political backlash, already fierce in Greece and seething in Spain and Italy, seems inexorable.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi acknowledged as he cut interest rates last week that the north-south disconnect was making it more difficult to run a single monetary policy.

Two huge injections of cheap three-year loans into the euro zone banking system this year, amounting to 1 trillion euros, bought only a few months’ respite.

“It is not clear that there are measures that can be effective in a highly fragmented area,” Draghi told journalists.

Conservative German economists led by Hans-Werner Sinn, head of the Ifo institute, are warning of dire consequences for Germany from ballooning claims via the ECB’s system for settling payments among national central banks, known as TARGET2.

If a southern country were to default or leave the euro, they contend, Germany would be left with an astronomical bill, far beyond its theoretical limit of 211 billion euros liability for euro zone bailout funds.

As long as European monetary union is permanent and irreversible, such cross-border claims and capital flows within the currency area should not matter any more than money moving between Texas and California does.

But even the faintest prospect of a Day of Reckoning changes that calculus radically.

In that case, money would flood into German assets considered “safe” and out of securities and deposits in countries seen as at risk of leaving the monetary union. Some pessimists reckon we are already witnessing the early signs of such a process.

OVERWHELMING?

Any event that makes a euro exit by Greece – the most heavily indebted member state, which is off track on its second bailout program and in the fifth year of a recession – look more likely seems bound to accelerate those flows, despite repeated statements by EU leaders that Greece is a unique case.

“If it does occur, a crisis will propagate itself through the TARGET payments system of the European System of Central Banks,” U.S. economist Peter Garber, now a global strategist with Deutsche Bank, wrote in a prophetic 1999 research paper.

Either member governments would always be willing to let their national central banks give unlimited credit to each other, in which case a collapse would be impossible, or they might be unwilling to provide boundless credit, “and this will set the parameters for the dynamics of collapse”, Garber warned.

“The problem is that at the time of a sovereign debt crisis, large portions of a national balance sheet may suddenly flee to the ECB’s books, possibly overwhelming the capacity of a bailout fund to absorb the entire hit,” he wrote in 2010, after the start of the Greek crisis, in a report for Deutsche Bank.

European officials tend to roll their eyes at such theories, insisting the euro is forever, so the issue does not arise.

In practice, national regulators in some EU countries are moving quietly to try to reduce their home banks’ exposure to such an eventuality. The ECB itself last week set a limit on the amount of state-backed bank bonds that banks could use as collateral in its lending operations.

In one high-profile case, Germany’s financial regulator Bafin ordered HypoVereinsbank (HVB), the German subsidiary of UniCredit (CRDI.MI), to curb transfers to its parent bank in Italy last year, people familiar with the case said.

Such restrictions are legal, since bank supervision is at national level, but they run counter to the principle of the free movement of capital in the European Union’s single market and to an integrated currency union.

Whether a single euro zone banking supervisor would be able to overrule those curbs is one of the many uncertainties left by the summit deal. In any case, common supervision without joint deposit insurance may be insufficient to reverse capital flight.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, keen to shield her grumpy taxpayers, has so far rejected any sharing of liability for guaranteeing bank deposits or winding up failed banks.

Veteran EU watchers say political determination to make the single currency irreversible will drive euro zone leaders to give birth to a full banking union, and the decision to create a joint supervisor effectively got them pregnant.

But for now, Europe’s financial disintegration seems to be moving faster than the forces of financial integration.

(Editing by David Holmes)

Banker to the Bankers Knows the Numbers Are Lying

By Jonathan Weil
 Jun 28, 2012 5:30 PM CT

The Bank for International Settlements, which acts as a bank for the world’s central banks, should know fudged numbers when it sees them. What may come as a surprise is how openly it has been discussing the problem of bogus balance sheets at large financial companies.

“The financial sector needs to recognize losses and recapitalize,” the Basel, Switzerland-based institution said in its latest annual report, released this week. “As we have urged in previous reports, banks must adjust balance sheets to accurately reflect the value of assets.” The implication is that many banks are showing inaccurate numbers now.

Unfortunately the BIS’s suggested approach is almost all carrot and no stick. “The challenge is to provide incentives for banks and other credit suppliers to recognize losses fully and write down debt,” the report said. “Supporting this process may well call for the use of public sector balance sheets.”

So there you have it. More than four years after the financial crisis began, it’s so widely accepted that many of the world’s banks are burying losses and overstating their asset values, even the Bank for International Settlements is saying so — in writing. (The BIS’s board includes Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank.) It fully expects taxpayers to pick up the tab should the need arise, too.

No Change

In this respect, little has changed since the near-meltdown of 2008, especially in Europe. Spain has requested 100 billion euros ($125 billion) to rescue its ailing banks. Italy, perhaps the next in line for a European Union bailout, is weighing plans to boost capital at some of the country’s lenders through sales of their bonds to the government.

Those bank rescues almost certainly won’t be the last. All but four of the 28 companies in the Euro Stoxx Banks Index (SX7E) trade for less than half of their common shareholder equity, which tells you investors don’t believe the companies’ asset values. While it may be true that the accounting standards are weak, the bigger problem is they are often not followed or enforced.

Government bailouts might be easier for the world’s taxpayers to swallow if banks were required to be truthful about their finances, as part of their standard operating procedure. Nowhere in its report did the BIS discuss the role of law enforcement, although the last time I checked it’s against the law in most developed countries to knowingly publish false financial statements. There have been few fraud prosecutions against executives from large financial institutions in recent years, in the U.S. or elsewhere, much to citizens’ outrage.

In the BIS’s eyes, it seems that it’s enough to merely encourage or incentivize banks to come clean about their losses, by dangling the prospect of additional taxpayer support before them. For example, on the subject of how to deal with overvalued mortgage loans: “One frequently used option is to set up an asset management company to buy up loans at attractive prices, i.e., slightly above current market valuations,” the BIS report said. “Alternatively, authorities can subsidize lenders or guarantee the restructured debt when lenders renegotiate loans.”

The BIS report got this much right: The lack of transparency and credibility in banks’ balance sheets fuels a vicious cycle. When investors can’t trust the books, lenders can’t raise capital and may have to fall back on their home countries’ governments for help. This further pressures sovereign finances, which in turn weakens the banks even more. The contagion spreads across borders. There is no clear end in sight.

Propping Up

To date, the task of propping up the economies in Europe and the U.S. has fallen largely to central banks. As the BIS wrote, easy-money policies also can make balance-sheet repairs harder to accomplish.

“Prolonged unusually accommodative monetary conditions mask underlying balance sheet problems and reduce incentives to address them head-on,” the report said. “Similarly, large- scale asset purchases and unconditional liquidity support together with very low interest rates can undermine the perceived need to deal with banks’ impaired assets.”

At some point, the cycle will break, only nobody knows when. This you can count on: It will take more than subtle inducements to make banks fess up to all their losses. Prosecutors must have a role. There’s nothing like the threat of a courtroom trial to focus a bank executive’s mind. The risk just has to be real.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Weil in New York at jweil6@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net

Source

Spain says markets are closing to it as G7 confers

http://s1.reutersmedia.net/resources/r/?m=02&d=20120605&t=2&i=615331606&w=&fh=&fw=&ll=700&pl=390&r=CBRE8540R1P00

By Julien Toyer
MADRID | Tue Jun 5, 2012 5:44am EDT

(Reuters) – Spain said on Tuesday that credit markets were closing to the euro zone’s fourth biggest economy as finance chiefs of the Group of Seven major economies were to hold emergency talks on the currency bloc’s worsening debt crisis.

Treasury Minister Cristobal Montoro sent out the dramatic distress signal in a radio interview about the impact of his country’s banking crisis on government borrowing, saying that at current rates, financial markets were effectively shut to Spain.

“The risk premium says Spain doesn’t have the market door open,” Montoro said on Onda Cero radio. “The risk premium says that as a state we have a problem in accessing markets, when we need to refinance our debt.

The country, which enjoyed rapid growth after it joined the euro at its launch in 1999, is beset by bank debts triggered by the bursting of a real estate bubble, aggravated by overspending by its autonomous regions.

The risk premium investors demand to hold Spanish 10-year debt rather than the German equivalent hit a euro era high of 548 basis points on Friday, on concerns that Spain’s fragile banking system and heavily indebted regions will eventually force it to seek a Greek-style bailout.

Montoro said Spanish banks should be recapitalized through European mechanisms, departing from the previous government line that Spain could raise the money on its own and prompting the Madrid stock market to rise.

But his comments on Spain’s borrowing sent the euro down after the 17-nation European currency earlier hit a one-week high against the dollar on expectations that a conference call of G7 finance ministers and central bankers may hasten bold action.

The European Central Bank holds its monthly rate-setting meeting on Wednesday and European Union leaders meet on June 28-29 to discuss their strategy for overcoming the two-year-old crisis which has already seen Greece, Ireland and Portugal forced to accept international bailouts.

Investors have fled peripheral euro zone sovereign debt for the relative safe haven of German Bunds and U.S. and British government bonds amid worries about Spain’s banking crisis and fears that a June 17 Greek election could lead to Athens leaving the euro, setting off a wave of contagion around the euro area.

Spain will test the market on Thursday by issuing between 1 billion euros ($1.24 billion) and 2 billion euros in medium- and long-term bonds at auction.

Emilio Botin, chairman of the nation’s biggest bank, Banco Santander told Reuters Spanish banks needed about 40 billion euros in additional capital, adding that “there is no financial crisis in Spain”. Montoro said the figures were “perfectly accessible”.

But his dramatization of the debt situation set a stark backdrop for the conference call of the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Britain, plus European Union officials, which two G7 sources said would start at 1100 GMT.

Montoro’s comments appeared aimed at pressuring the ECB and EU paymaster Germany to find ways of intervening. But the central bank has so far shunned calls to resume purchases of Spanish government bonds, and Berlin has said it is up to Madrid to decided whether to apply for assistance if it needs help.

Spain has been trying to persuade EU partners to allow direct aid from the euro zone’s rescue fund to recapitalize its banks without making it submit to the political humiliation of a full-fledged assistance programme, officials say.

FESTERING CRISIS

The festering euro zone crisis has sparked mounting concern outside Europe, with the United States fretting that it could further harm its faltering economic recovery, and countries such as Japan and Canada fearing fallout for the global economy.

“We have reached a point where we need to have a common understanding about the problems we are facing,” Japanese Finance Minister Jun Azumi told reporters.

Ottawa and Washington both called for action after a G7 source said fears that capital flight from Spain could escalate into a full-fledged bank run had triggered the emergency talks.

“Markets remain skeptical that the measures taken thus far are sufficient to secure the recovery in Europe and remove the risk that the crisis will deepen,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

In a sign of increasing concern about the euro area’s debt crisis, Australia’s central bank cut interest rates by 25 basis points to 3.50 percent, the lowest level in two years. It cited further weakening in Europe and a deterioration in market sentiment.

PRESSURE ON BERLIN

Pressure is building in particular on Germany, the biggest contributor to euro zone rescue funds, to back away from its prescription of fiscal austerity for the region’s weaker economies and to work harder on fostering short-term growth.

Berlin argues that it is already doing its share by encouraging above-inflation domestic wage settlements, accepting the prospect of higher-than-usual German inflation and most recently agreeing that Spain should have more time to achieve its fiscal targets.

Furthermore, Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the door on Monday to the prospect of a euro zone banking union in the medium term, saying she would discuss with EU authorities the idea of putting systemically important cross-border banks under European supervision.

A German government strategy paper seen by Reuters sets out a timetable for closer fiscal union in the euro zone, but Berlin does not expect final decisions on strengthening economic policy coordination until March 2013, with only a roadmap being agreed at this month’s summit.

A G7 source familiar with plans for the call said the group would urge more progress at this month’s EU summit, though this alone would probably disappoint global markets.

Central banking sources said the ECB could contribute by cutting its main interest rate, lowering its deposit rate to try to shake loose some 700 billion euros parked overnight in its vaults by anxious banks, or by providing a third big liquidity injection to banks.

Some analysts believe the bank is more likely to await the outcome of the Greek election and the EU summit before taking decisive action.

A G7 source said there was only a very small chance the G7 would go as far as to pledge coordinated action to curb excessive currency volatility. Japan, for one, fears a strong yen, which has been a safe haven for investors during the euro zone crisis, could help tip its economy into recession.

The G7 could also call for concerted action at the upcoming summit of the wider Group of 20 major economies in Mexico on June 18-19, the source said. The G20, which includes China, played a prominent role during the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

A G20 official in Asia said the grouping, which also includes Brazil and India, could look to put pressure on Germany to switch to stimulus mode, as part of a wider call for strong, developed economies to step up spending.

“Germany and Canada could be seen as those having fiscal capabilities among the advanced economies,” the official said.

(Additional reporting by Leika Kihara in Tokyo, Ana Flor and Alvaro Soto in Brazil, Andreas Rinke in Berlin, Fiona Ortiz in Madrid. Writing by Paul Taylor, editing by Mike Peacock)

European Banks Are Getting Pounded

It’s selloff day in Europe again, with markets down across the board.

Damage in particular is centered around — no surprise here — European banks, especially the peripheral ones.

But here’s the whole EURO STOXX Bank Index (via Bloomberg), which is down 1.8%.

Your Quick Guide To The IMF-World Bank Meetings Today

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by Simone Foxman

World leaders are meeting in Washington, D.C., to attend a joint IMF-World Bank meeting.

Their focus? The funding available to the IMF, specifically to support the ongoing debt and bank crises in Europe.

Countries in Europe and Asia have expressed interest and even firm commitments in contributing more money to the fund. The U.S. and Canada, however, have said they won’t contribute any more cash to an effort EU leaders should be able to resolve themselves.

While we could hear more pledges over the course of the day, so far Japan, Switzerland, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and the euro area have all made dollar commitments totaling $320 billion, according to Bloomberg:

Read more: BI

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