Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eric Sprott: The Real Banking Crisis is Back

Sprott Asset Management published their monthly newsletter Market at Glance (May 2012) entitled "The Real Banking Crisis, Part II" and I'll give a summary below.

Back in July 2011,  Eric Sprott and David Baker wrote an article entitled "The Real Banking Crisis" where they discussed the increasing instability of the Eurozone banks suffering from depositor bank runs. Even after numerous bailouts, the Euro Stoxx Banks Index have fallen more than 50% from their July 2011 levels and are now in the midst of yet another breakdown led by the events unfolding in Greece and Spain.

They explain that bank runs have started in several countries

In Greece,  1.2 billion Euros withdrawn have been withdrawn on May 14-15, 2012 and now up to 3 billions euros have left the banking systems since the May 6 elections. Greece is now €21 billion away from a complete banking collapse, unless the European Central Bank (ECB) provide an even bigger bailout.

Bank depositors have been pulling money out of banks in Spain, especially the recently nationalized Bankia bank, which is the fourth largest bank in the country. Depositors reportedly withdrew €1 billion during the week of May 7th alone, prompting shares of Bankia to fall 29% in one day.

Deny, deny some more… panic, inject capital - this is the typical government approach to bank runs, but the bailouts are happening faster now, and the numbers are getting larger.

The recent bank runs in Greece and Spain make foreign investors nervous and according to JPMorgan analysts, approximately €200 billion of Italian government bonds and €80 billion of Spanish bonds have been sold by foreign investors over the past 9 months, representing more than 10% of each market.

Eric Sprott explains further that no matter what happens in the Eurozone, the absolute worst case scenario for the authorities is a bank run, because they can spiral out of control faster than governments can react to stop them. Bank runs also prompt banks to liquidate whatever assets they can, revealing the truth about what their "assets" are actually worth. But banks don't want to show the true value of their assets so for example, many Spanish banks are avoiding property sales so they don't have to "mark to market" valuations.

We're now at the point where a bank run in one Eurozone country could quickly seize up the entire system - not just in Greece or Spain, but throughout the entire Eurozone and beyond, because banks are leveraged. For this reason, we'll likely see another ECB-induced printing program announced (with a new fancy name) before a broader bank run can take root.

However, nothing is really being solved here, everyone knows it, and we're essentially in the same place we were when the crisis erupted back in 2010, except there is now more total debt outstanding.

With increasing level of debt and interest payment, there is no way the bond market keeps pretending everything is ok in Europe, like it currently does with the UK, US and Japan… for now. Greece and Spain Minsky moment (when you realize the debt load can't be repaid) has arrived and is coming to the whole of Europe.

Eric Sprott then says that without a doubt, the most counter-intuitive aspect of the Greece/Eurozone debacle has been its impact on the price of Gold. The selling pressure in Gold once again appears to be expressed primarily through the futures markets (and not physical sales), which are highly levered and rarely involve any physical transactions involving actual bullion. The futures market sell-off also appears to be waning now, since the European banking crisis has provided central banks with a politically-palatable excuse to take action if it deteriorates any further. He further notes that China posted another record Hong Kong gold import number in March of 62.9 tonnes, for a total of 135.5 metric tonnes between in Q1 2012, representing a 600% increase over the same period last year.

The full version of the newsletters is available at,-part-ii/

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