European Contagion Spreads; Is This Rational?

Here are two stories that I have picked up on in the last hour that demonstrate how contagion spreads during a panic. Both stories involved the strongest of actors within the Eurozone.

The first story is from Spain. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Spanish bank Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA) is having a difficult time funding itself in the US commercial paper market. Moreover, according to the Journal this has been going on for some time – since the beginning of the month. The amount is small ($1 billion) given BBVA’s large balance sheet which is almost $700 billion, the same as when the crisis started in 2007. And BBVA is widely seen, along with Banco Santander, as the healthiest institution in Spanish banking. Their having problems rolling over paper speaks to the panic of CP buyers, in my view. But the commercial paper market has also been a major source of bank runs since the credit crisis began and this has to be seen by authorities in the US and Europe as a signal of liquidity problems.

The second story involves the German state. Bloomberg has reported that the auction of German five-year notes only received a bid-to-cover ratio of 1.1, as close as you can get to a failed auction (hat tip Scott). Moreover, this was the worst showing since March 2008 when Bear Stearns was having funding problems in the CP market. You have to see this as connected to the commercial paper funding problems of BBVA since Germany is considered the standard setter for sovereign debt in the Eurozone.

In any event, German bund yields are exceedingly low as there has been a flight to safety in global markets.  So while the Bund story is remarkable, Germany could have received a higher bid cover had it offered a lightly higher yield on its bonds.

What do I make of this? For starters, I don’t think it is entirely rational because the two entities I identified are the strongest in their respective markets. These stories have all the hallmark of panic. Yet, it speaks to a certain Eurozone debt revulsion that is now widespread.

Moreover, Germany does have the hidden exposure of the Landesbanks who have been speculating recklessly in Spanish and US property, Greek sovereign debt and US subprime. That’s what my GMAC/HRE post last summer was about. I don’t think the Germans really understand the interconnectedness. Their banks have exposure everywhere. This is where the contagion comes from much as it did in 1931 – via the interlocking global financial arrangements.


Europe-Bank Lenders? Coalition of Unwilling –

German 5-Year Auction Draws Least Demand Since 2008 – Bloomberg (no link yet)


Edward Harrison is the founder of Credit Writedowns and a former career diplomat, investment banker and technology executive with over twenty years of business experience. He is also a regular economic and financial commentator on BBC World News, CNBC Television, Business News Network, CBC, Fox Television and RT Television. He speaks six languages and reads another five, skills he uses to provide a more global perspective. Edward holds an MBA in Finance from Columbia University and a BA in Economics from Dartmouth College. Edward also writes a premium financial newsletter. Sign up here for a free trial.