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Are US Banks in Trouble Because of Japan?

Shares in Tokyo dropped following the deadly March 11 earthquake and tsunami
Yoshikazu Tsuno | AFP | Getty Images
Shares in Tokyo dropped following the deadly March 11 earthquake and tsunami

JPMorgan has greater Japanese holdings than any other US bank, according to arecent studyby Bloomberg.

David Konrad, a KBW analyst, sayd that JPMorgan has "total cross-border outstandings" of $53.9 billion, with $64 billion in "commitments," according to Bloomberg.

Konrad says Goldman has $33.6 billion, Morgan Stanley has $19.1 billion, and Bank of America holds $17 billion—while Citi has "$39.2 billion in Japanese loans, securities and trading assets and the government is the New York-based bank's third-largest credit position."

These numbers appear to be quite small when compared with the total assets on the banks' balance sheets.

In fact, Jerry Dubrowski, a Bank of America spokesperson, pointed out just that Japanese holdings represent .75 percent of Bank of America's assets. Dubrowski said he "would describe our [BofA] exposure as small relative to our total assets."

But the broader question may be this: What types of exposures might US banks have that may not appear transparently on their balance sheets?

Are there derivatives exposures that haven't been baked into the equation? Is there counterparty risk from Japanese financial institutions that have not been accounted for?

The real danger here for US banks may lie less in the obvious exposures to clearly held assets than in the network of complex relationships among powerful financial institutions that are not yet well understood.

After all, few would have guessed in 2007 that AIG would have such enormous exposure to a collapse in the residential mortgage market.

Is there an AIG of the Japanese disaster?

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