Archive for March, 2011

Euro rises against dollar on interest rate hopes

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 | Finance News

NEW YORK – The euro climbed against the dollar Thursday as an inflation reading in Europe bolstered investor expectations that the European Central Bank will raise interest rates next week.

Consumer prices in euro countries were up 2.6 percent in March, the fastest increase since October 2008.

Central banks raise interest rates to help counter inflation. But higher rates on government bonds increase demand for the currency linked to that country or region.

The euro rose to $1.4198 late Thursday from $1.4121 late Wednesday.

Debt problems in Europe are ongoing. Portugal says its budget deficit last year was larger than expected. The debt-heavy country is trying to avoid a bailout like the ones Greece and Ireland accepted last year. Such a move would be the latest sign for investors that Europe's debt problems might not be easily resolved.

Meanwhile, Ireland's tests on its banks showed that about $34 billion more in aid is needed for its financial sector.

Economic news from the U.S. was better. The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week fell by 6,000 to 388,000, according to the Labor Department. Investors are awaiting Friday's unemployment report to see whether the economy added jobs in March. Economists forecast that employers added a net total of 185,000 jobs during the month.

In other trading Thursday in New York, the British pound fell to $1.6065 from $1.6069 late Wednesday. The dollar rose to 83.07 Japanese yen from 82.89 yen, and fell to 0.9163 Swiss franc from 0.9193 Swiss franc. The U.S. dollar also fell to 96.88 Canadian cents from 97.13 Canadian cents.

The U.S. currency was also lower against most currencies from around the world, including the Australian dollar, Scandinavian currencies, currencies in Latin America and the South Korean won.

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EU, IMF, ECB welcome Irish banking overhaul

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 | Finance News

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF welcomed Ireland's overhaul of its stricken banking system Thursday as a major step towards restoring the sector back to health.

"Today's comprehensive announcements by the Irish authorities are a major step toward restoring the Irish banking system to health which is crucial for sustained revival of growth and employment," the three institutions said in a joint statement.

The European Union's executive arm, the ECB and the IMF "share the rigorous capital needs assessment" that was identified following stress tests.

The trio "strongly support authorities' plans to ensure that these capital needs are met in a timely manner."

The capital needs "can be funded comfortably" under a programme supported by the EU and IMF, which provided a multi-billion-euro bailout to Ireland late last year.

Related plans to deleverage bank balance sheets will "reinforce the benefits of higher capital and help banks regain access to the market sources of financing needed to enable renewed lending."

"It is understood that the banks are likely to remain reliant on central bank funding during this deleveraging period," the statement said.

The Irish government also made "important announcements on the future structure of banking system," the statement said.

"We endorse this strategy to focus on the development of a few strong pillar banks with sound business models able to serve the Irish economy's needs."

The restructuring plans for the banks must be approved by the commission under the EU competition watchdog's state aid rules.

The commission said it would "assess the plans based on established criteria, taking into account market structures and the need to keep markets open."

The Central Bank of Ireland ordered a drastic overhaul of the eurozone nation's banking sector as the cost of bailing out its lenders was set to top 70 billion euros ($99 billion).

The Central Bank of Ireland said in a statement that four lenders needed to raise an extra 24 billion euros after it carried out vital stress tests on their ability to withstand another financial crisis.

The additional capital would be covered by the 35 billion euros provided for the banks as part of Ireland's huge 85-billion-euro debt rescue agreed in November with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The commission, ECB and IMF said their staff will discuss progress with implementing the measures as well as a "broader range of economic issues" during a programme review mission next week.

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European banks big Fed borrowers in 2008 crisis

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 | Finance News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A European bank that was later exposed to the Madoff scandal and an Arab company now majority-owned by the Libyan central bank were among an odd assortment of firms that dug deep into the U.S. Federal Reserve's coffers as the financial crisis exploded in 2008.

Two second-tier European financial players -- Dexia and Depfa -- accounted for nearly half of the $111 billion borrowed from the Fed on October 29, 2008, the day that lending through its emergency discount window peaked.

Nine of the 12 largest borrowers on that day were foreign-owned firms, according to Fed lending data released on Thursday to comply with a court order. Wachovia, now part of Wells Fargo, was the biggest U.S. recipient with $15 billion.

Many of the biggest U.S. banks are conspicuously absent from the discount window borrowing list. They opted instead to use other emergency lending programs that the Fed created on the fly in the middle of the crisis.

Topping the list of peak day borrowing were Belgian-French Dexia, which borrowed $26.5 billion, and Dublin-based Depfa, a subsidiary of German property lender Hypo Real Estate Holding, with $24.6 billion.

Dexia disclosed in December 2008 that it could face an after-tax loss of 85 million euros if the value of assets managed by Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff proved to be worthless. Dexia said it had no direct investments in Madoff funds, but some private banking clients did and Dexia also had indirect exposure to Madoff-linked funds through lending operations.

Arab Banking Corp, No. 11 on the list of peak-day borrowers with a $1.1 billion loan, is now nearly 60 percent owned by the Central Bank of Libya.

The collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 sent the global economy into a tailspin and caused the financial system to seize up. The Fed's documents -- more than 25,000 pages in all -- illustrate how widely the damage spread, forcing banks around the world to seek emergency help.

In the days and weeks following Lehman's bankruptcy, the Fed also made multi-billion-dollar loans to other foreign banks through its discount window, including Austria's Erste Group, Royal Bank of Scotland, Germany's Commerzbank and France's Societe Generale.

STIGMATIZED

The discount window is the Fed's regular facility for providing emergency cash to banks in difficulty. In normal times, it is rarely used, in part because banks fear the stigma of having sought emergency help.

The Fed had resisted releasing the names of banks that tapped the discount window on the grounds that doing so might discourage firms from seeking help in the future. The central bank released the names only after having run out of legal appeals to block publication.

The documents detail lending from the Fed's discount window for period of August 8, 2007, to March 1, 2010.

The Fed, its hand forced by a new law that rewrote U.S. financial rules, disclosed details of other emergency lending.

Some of those programs doled out far more than the traditional discount window. The Term Auction Facility, for example, lent $493 billion on March 11, 2009 -- more than four times the amount of the discount window's peak lending day.

Citigroup, Bank of America and other industry giants that are eligible for discount window loans borrowed heavily from those other programs in the weeks after Lehman failed. So did foreign banks.

"As much as the government tried to change the perception of it, there was always a stigma of being at the Fed window, and that never really went away during the crisis," said Jefferson Harralson, a bank analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.

Analysts said the other lending programs also accepted different types of collateral and offered longer-term loans, which may have made them more attractive to big banks.

A handful of small banks show up on the discount window borrowing list taking loans of $1,000. Chip MacDonald, a banking attorney with Jones Day in Atlanta, said those may have been merely tests to see whether processes for accessing the discount window were up to speed.

COMING INTO THE LIGHT

Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, and News Corp's Fox News Network had sought the bailout details under the federal Freedom of Information law, which requires government agencies to make certain documents public.

The lending facility is an important tool the Fed has at its disposal to ensure banks remain liquid in times of stress.

"It should be emphasized that confidentiality is not meant to protect the identities of individual banks per se, but rather to make the discount window more effective in dealing with market disturbances," New York Federal Reserve Bank economists Joao Santos and Stavros Peristiani wrote on the regional central bank's blog on March 30.

(Additional reporting by Rachelle Younglai in Washington, Kristina Cooke in New York and Joe Rauch in Charlotte, N.C.; Editing by Neil Stempleman and Leslie Adler)

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