So yesterday, the European Central Bank (ECB) doled out €489 ($639) billion in loans to the European banking sector.
Why’d they do it? ‘Cause Europe’s banks are broke: That is, if all the crap they collectively hold on their books were marked to market, their liabilities would be greater than their assets. American banks shouldn’t smirk: The only reason they aren’t declared bankrupt for the same reason is because of the suspension of FASB 157 back in March 2009.
The ECB lent out the €489 billion against any and all collateral the European banks would put up. In exchange for this collateral—no matter how damaged—the banks got 1% loans, which is not merely free money but essentially subsidized money: Eurozone inflation is around 3%, and except for German and Dutch debt, all sovereign bonds are yielding more than 3%. Thus a 1%-interest loan from the ECB is like being paid to take out a loan—and who wouldn’t want that deal?
Ordinarily, no bank wants to be seen to be taking money from the central bank, because it makes the bank look weak, and therefore hurts its reputation on the markets. But in this case, 523 banks—count ‘em, 523—took the ECB money: Which proves both how fragile the situation really is, and how generalized that fragility really is. European banks no longer care what it looks like, as survival has trumped appearances. Read More