Not a good signal.
Europe‘s troubled banks accelerated efforts to pull loans from countries around the world, including Australia, towards the end of last year as the euro-zone debt crisis intensified. Figures released by the Swiss-based Bank of International settlements show Europe’s banks cut more than $8 billion (USD) from the Australian economy as they began to feel the funding squeeze at home. During the second half of last year, most European banks began selling down their international loan portfolio or simply turned off the lending tap, the Swiss-based Bank of International Settlements (BIS) said.
This coincided with a period in which many large Australian companies were attempting to refinance loans they had locked-in during the global financial crisis.
“Pressures on European banks to de-leverage increased towards the end of 2011 as funding strains intensified and regulators imposed new (capital) targets,” BIS said in its March quarterly review released Friday morning.
The report found it was largely an orderly exit by European banks, with other global banks and bond markets able to step in to replace financing. This helped local businesses avoid a credit squeeze. Senior Australian bankers told Business Day that Asian banks have become more active in terms of financing large corporates in the Australian market. At the same time, US banks have started lending again.
“Come the second half and with all the problems that were going on, you started to see a lot of European banks pull back and repatriating capital, whether it was to France or other parts of the region,” one institutional banker with a major Australian lender said. “European names just aren’t in the transactions that traditionally they’ve been in.”
Towards the end of last year, European banks had been unable to raise funds on wholesale markets and for those banks rolling over short-term loans, costs surged back to levels last seen at the height of the financial crisis. While Australian banks were still able to raise funds through the year, it was these same pressures on global money markets that have seen financing costs run up, which have forced some to hike interest rates for borrowers.
Still, a massive injection of funds by the European Central Bank into the region’s banking system has helped ease strains on financial markets and economic activity. The offer of more than 1 trillion worth of cheap loans to Europe’s banks since December has helped improve funding conditions, the BIS said.
The BIS figures, which cover the period from June to the end of September, show French banks pulled more than $4.5 billion (USD) worth of loans from the Australian economy.
Italian, Irish and Spanish banks each cut their exposure by hundreds of millions of dollars.
At the same time, Australian banks aggressively cut their exposure to some of Europe’s troubled economies, pulling billions of dollars in funds from Belgium, France and Spain. Global banks also sharply reduced their exposure to Europe and the Middle East, the report found. What this tells us is that the European banks are pulling back to contain their exposures Internationally, while repatriating capital around the European Central Bank, a sure sign that the European Banks sense trouble at home. And, soon.