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Has the Bank Run Begun in Europe?

In many ways, the answer to that question is obviously yes.

Money-market funds in the United States have quite dramatically slammed shut their lending windows to European banks. According to the Economist, Fitch estimates U.S. money market funds have withdrawn 42 percent of their money from European banks in general.

And for France that number is even higher — 69 percent. European money-market funds are also getting in on the act.

Bond issuance by banks has seized up because buyers have gone on strike.

From the Economist's Free Exchange Blog:

In the third quarter bonds issues by European banks only reached 15 percent of the amount they raised over the same period in the past two years, reckon analysts at Citi Group. It is unlikely that European banks have sold many more bonds since.

Corporate depositors are also pulling their cash.

Free Exchange:

“We are starting to witness signs that corporates are withdrawing deposits from banks in Spain, Italy, France and Belgium,” an analyst at Citi Group wrote in a recent report. “This is a worrying development.”

And there are troubling signs that banks are even running out of collateral to back their borrowings from the European Central Bank.

So far the liquidity of the European Central Bank (ECB) has kept the system alive. Only one large European bank, Dexia, has collapsed because of a funding shortage. Yet what happens if banks run out of collateral to borrow against? Some already seem to scrape the barrel.

The boss of UniCredit, an Italian bank, has reportedly asked the ECB to accept a broader range of collateral. And an increasing number of banks are said to conduct what is known as “liquidity swaps”: banks borrow an asset that the ECB accepts as collateral from an insurer or a hedge fund in return for an ineligible asset — plus, of course, a hefty fee.

Right now, according to sources I spoke with in Europe, there isn't much of a sign of retail customers withdrawing funds. But hoping that customers don't notice what is happening to every other source of bank funding is not exactly a strategy for stability.

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