How long will a $2 trillion collapse in the banking sector play out?
*Barron's, by Robin Goldwyn Blumenthal and Nouriel Roubini, August 4, 2008
“Barron’s: At what point does the government run out of money to lend to troubled banks?
Many public institutions are themselves going bankrupt. The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) has only $53 billion of funds, and has already committed almost 15% of it to bail out depositors of IndyMac. The FDIC’s deposit-insurance premiums weren’t high enough, and now it is asking Congress to raise them. Plus, the agency claims only nine institutions are on its watch list. IndyMac wasn’t on the watch list until June, the month before it collapsed. Studies done by experts in banking suggest that at least 8% of U.S. banks are in big trouble. Eight percent of the roughly 8,500 that the FDIC essentially is insuring equals about 700 banks. Another 8% to 16% also are shaky, so some 700 potentially are going bust and another 700 eventually could join them. Yet the FDIC is watching only nine institutions. It’s a joke.
What recourse will the taxpayer have?
The taxpayer’s bill is going to be huge. I estimate this financial crisis will lead to credit losses of at least $1 trillion and most likely closer to $2 trillion. When I made this analysis in February everybody thought I was a lunatic. But a few weeks later the International Monetary Fund came out with an estimate of $945 billion, Goldman Sachs (GS) estimated $1.1 trillion and UBS (UBS) $1 trillion. Hedge-fund manager John Paulson recently estimated the losses would be $1.3 trillion, and late last month Bridgewater Associates came up with an estimate of $1.6 trillion. So, at this point $1 trillion isn’t a ceiling, it’s a floor. And the banks, as I’ve said, have written down only about $300 billion of subprime debt.
How long will it take for the collapse in the banking sector to play out?
It is happening in real time. Many smaller banks are going bust already. More than 200 subprime-mortgage lenders have gone bust in the past year alone. And many community banks will go bankrupt. Community banks usually finance everything: the homes, the stores, the downtown, the commercial real estate, the shopping center. If you are in a town or a municipality where there is a housing bust, the bank is gone. Of three dozen or so medium-sized regional banks, a good third are in distress. That includes the Wachovias and Washington Mutuals of the world. Half of this group might go bankrupt. Even some of the majors could end up technically insolvent, though they might be deemed too big to fail.”
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