We owe a great debt of gratitude to the voters of Wigan, Sunderland and the rest of those the UK who voted to leave the EU on the basis that they wanted to “take back control”. Not for them the potential benefits of global trade opening up, the liberation of developing nations from the protectionist EU Customs Union, or saving the City from the multiple threats that Brussels’ mission creep could bring.
They simply wanted their country back so that the decision makers might be accountable to them once again. I doubt a single person would have considered the travails of Deutsche Bank and the risks it presents to HM Treasury and the British taxpayer.
And yet the problems of Deutsche Bank represent much that is wrong with the European Union, its institutions and culture and why we cannot leave a moment too soon.
A new paper by banking expert Bob Lyddon “The Deutsche Bank liability”, published by Global Britain, explains why the storm clouds are gathering and the liabilities that the UK could face. Any rescue will be a multi billion affair, and while the UK remains tied to EU institutions like the European Investment Bank and the European Central Bank we will be liable for a hefty share of any financial lifebelt that is thrown Deutsche’s way.
Deutsche can be counted as a high priest of the EU single financial market, of the Euro, and of the Single Euro Payments Area, with offices, branches and subsidiaries in most EU countries. It has a large subsidiary in Italy with 550 retail outlets and an autonomous balance sheet of EUR15 billion in Spain.
Unfortunately, this stance as a Pan-European Bank of the front rank has not given it a sustainable and profitable competitive advantage or a dominant market position – even in Germany. Its main result has been high costs.
The heavy regulation imposed by the EU in order to create its version of a free market has reduced foreign exchange turnover and revenues, cut payment fees, and permitted market entry to substitutes and non-banks without paying an entry fee.
At the same time central bank policy has been to reduce interest rates to below zero and flatten the yield curve, thus eliminating two archetypal banking operations of investing interest-free deposit balances to cover costs, and borrowing short and lending long to benefit from a positive yield curve.
Thus Deutsche is a typical EU business: it cannot form the private capital needed to expand or continue its operations by itself, and it is unattractive to arm’s-length investors because they cannot see how it is going to deliver high returns when there are better propositions out there – frequently backed by taxpayer support. And people wonder why the EU economy is stagnating?
Only an existing shareholder seeking protection from realising a paper loss, a “sugar-daddy”, or a politician would contemplate new investment at this stage – and Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, former Prime Minister of Qatar who invested €1.75bn in a circa 10% stake in the German lender in 2014 would count as all three. Since that purchase Deutsche’s shares have fallen 61% in value and the sheikh will be sitting on a paper loss of over €1bn.
Without an investor of that type, Deutsche can only create capital by cutting costs, i.e. contracting – or by reducing lending, i.e. contracting.
In the scenario of total and sudden contraction, its main UK creditor, the Bank of England would sell off the gilts it has bought from Deutsche, putting the proceeds on Deutsche’s BoE Settlement Account to then settle its CHAPS liabilities. Deutsche’s liquidator would likewise sell off the gilts Deutsche was holding as High-Quality Liquid Assets in compliance with global liquidity rules, in order to pay depositors.
These would be big operations, which could on their own push gilt prices down, raising UK interest rates and the cost of borrowing for the government – and the rest of us. That’s the first risk of pain.
The impact on the Euro would be a multiple of this. Deutsche is a counterparty of European Central Bank monetary operations, and holds EUR liquidity pools in its major banks in the Eurozone, principally in Germany, Italy and Spain.
The UK is fully tied in to the European Central Bank, where the ECB could make multi-billion losses on liquidating Deutsche’s positions in TARGET and monetary operations where these have been conducted through Deutsche. That’s the second risk of pain.
We also need to know the European Investment Bank’s exposure to Deutsche because the UK is one of the EIB’s largest shareholders, with value-at-risk of nearly EUR40 billion. Any further gearing of the EIB balance sheet would require more subscribed capital or an increase in the capital from the Member States. That’s the third risk of pain – and all of them would be measured in billions of pounds. Lots of them.
The Deutsche Bank problems are symptoms of the EU and Eurozone’s malaise caused by over-regulation and political conceit.
Of course we rarely hear voices from the City like Bob Lyddon talking about risks to financial services now and in the future from the increasing Eurozone regulation, unrealistic oversight and junk debt. There are, however, many comfortable corporates saying how they want it to stay just the way it is.
This is why we should be grateful that those who voted leave for their own personal reasons have actually saved our financial services industry and the UK taxpayer from risks such as having to bail out a bank that is really nothing to do with us.
To achieve our salvation we need a relatively quick clean Brexit to leave the EU baggage behind us so we can secure the City’s future and that of financial services throughout the UK.