April 20, 2015

Greece, Europe, to keep your banking sector afloat, and in good spirits, look to Chile.

Sir, Wolfgang Münchau writes: “So to default “inside the eurozone” one only needs to devise another way to keep the [Greek] banking system afloat. If someone could concoct a brilliant answer, there would be no need for Grexit.” “A Greek default is necessary but Grexit is not” April 20.

I am sorry. I do not think the problem of banks is limited to the Greek ones. All European banks must surely have problems with excessive long-term exposures at low rates to what is perceived as “safe”, and to which they are seriously undercapitalized because of the risk-weighting… and any little tick up in interest rates could wipe out all their equity.

In my mind what Greece (and the rest of Europe) most need now is an ambitious recapitalization of banks plan that brings their equity up to around 8 percent for all assets… inclusively against sovereign debt. None of that risk-weighted assets nonsense that only confuses.

Chile might be the role model for how to proceed. Banks there were recapitalized by the Central Bank issuing local credit, in order to buy all the nonperforming loans of the banks. And the banks in their turn agreed to repurchase all non-performing loans, plus to pay some interests, out of retained profits... before resuming any dividend payments.

In fact that is what ECB should be doing with its QEs. To have ECB competing with pension funds and widows and orphans for whatever little “safe” assets there are left does not make much sense.