lunedì 7 giugno 2010

La fine dell'oligopolio delle agenzie di rating? Le banche e il gioco del cerino con il debito dei PIIGS: chi si scotterà?

Con un OpEd, il New York Times dà voce a  una posizione netta a favore della non obbligatorietà dei ratings per alcuni tipi di investimenti, ponendo fine all'oligopolio delle agenzie di rating:

Reliance on ratings has grown significantly since the 1970s (...)
But as the reliance on ratings has spread, their reliability has plummeted. A continuous thread runs through the collapse of Orange County, Enron, Bear Stearns and the issuers of collateralized debt obligations: All received high ratings and then promptly collapsed.
The crisis hasn’t changed a thing. In fact, more than two years since it began, there are still nearly 2,000 references to credit ratings in the Federal Register. At the height of the crisis, the Federal Reserve instituted the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility, a huge program to encourage lending, but the borrowers could buy only AAA-rated investments.
Just this year, the S.E.C. endorsed ratings in regulations governing money market funds, even after it removed references to ratings in other rules. Meanwhile the Department of Labor has exempted pension funds from some rules if they trade securities with high ratings.
Government reliance on credit ratings explains why they retain such power in the market. Just as people must obtain a driver’s license before driving a car, borrowers must obtain a regulatory license before borrowing money. This is why Mr. Buffett feels powerless.
Mr. Buffett’s testimony comes at a crucial time, with the House and Senate working to reconcile more than 3,000 pages of financial reform legislation, including a short, simple provision to remove credit ratings requirements and force regulators and institutional investors to find substitutes. (...)  under the proposed reform in Congress, ratings wouldn’t be banned, just not required.
Ratings will continue to play an important role in the financial markets, and investors should continue looking to them in making their credit quality judgments. But using them should be an option, not a mandate to follow a government-enshrined oligopoly. 

Intanto continuano le incertezze sul debito dei PIIGS, alimentate anche dalla difficoltà a identificare i creditori. E' una versione ad alto livello del gioco del cerino...Secondo il New York Times:
The problem is, alas, that no one — not investors, not regulators, not even bankers themselves — knows exactly which banks are sitting on the biggest stockpiles of rotting loans within that pile. And doubt, as it always does during economic crises, has made Europe’s already vulnerable financial system occasionally appear to seize up. Early last month, in an indication of just how dangerous the situation had become, European banks — which appear to hold more than half of that $2.6 trillion in debt — nearly stopped lending money to one another.
Now, with government resources strained and confidence in European economies eroding, some analysts say the Continent’s banks have to come clean with a transparent and rigorous accounting of their woes. Until then, they say, nobody will be able to wrestle effectively with Europe’s mounting problems.(...)
Limited disclosure and possibly spotty accounting have been long-voiced concerns of analysts who follow European banks. (...) 
“Everybody knew there was a lot of debt out there,” said Nick Matthews, senior European economist at Royal Bank of Scotland and one of the authors of the report that tallied up Greek, Spanish and Portuguese debt. “But I think the extent of the exposure was a lot higher than most people had originally thought.”
Concern has quickly spread beyond just the sovereign bonds issued by the three countries as well as by Italy and Ireland, which are also seriously indebted.(...)
The European Central Bank estimates that the Continent’s largest banks will book 123 billion euros ($150 billion) for bad loans this year, and an additional 105 billion euros next year, though the sums will be partly offset by gains in other holdings.
Analysts at the Royal Bank of Scotland estimate that of the 2.2 trillion euros that European banks and other institutions outside Greece, Spain and Portugal may have lent to those countries, about 567 billion euros is government debt, about 534 billion euros are loans to nonbanking companies in the private sector, and about 1 trillion euros are loans to other banks. While the crisis originated in Greece, much more was borrowed by Spain and its private sector — 1.5 trillion euros, compared with Greece’s 338 billion.
Beyond such sweeping estimates, however, little other detailed information is publicly known about those loans, which are equivalent to 22 percent of European G.D.P. And the inscrutability of the problem, as serious as it is, is spawning spoofs, at least outside the euro zone. A pair of popular Australian comedians, John Clarke and Bryan Dawe, who have created a series of sketches about various aspects of the financial crisis, recently turned their attention to the bad-debt problem in Europe. After grilling Mr. Clarke about the debt crisis in a mock quiz show, Mr. Dawe tells Mr. Clarke that his prize is that he has lost a million dollars. “Well done,” says Mr. Dawe. “That’s an extraordinary performance.”
On a more serious front, Timothy F. Geithner, the United States Treasury secretary, visited Europe at the end of May and called on European leaders to review their banks’ portfolios, as American regulators did last year, to separate healthy banks from those that need intensive care.
Others say that if such reviews do not occur, the banking sector in Europe could be crippled and the broader economy — dependent on loans for business expansions and job growth — could stall. And if that happens, says Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, the Continent’s banks could find themselves sinking even further because “European governments won’t be in a position to help them again.” (...)
On May 7, the cost of insuring against credit losses on European banks reached levels higher than in the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse in the United States. Officials at the European Central Bank warned that risk premiums were soaring to levels that threatened their ability to carry out their fundamental role of controlling interest rates. Three days later, European Union governments joined with the International Monetary Fund to offer nearly $1 trillion in loan guarantees to Europe’s banks. At the same time, the European Central Bank began buying government bonds for the first time ever to prevent a sell-off of Greek, Spanish and other sovereign debt.
The measures, widely regarded as a de facto bank rescue, restored some calm to the markets, but critics said that the aid merely bought time without reducing overall debt load. Europe’s major stock indexes and the euro have continued to fall as investors remain dubious about the ability of Greece and perhaps other countries to repay their debts.
Even so, figuring out which banks may be most exposed to those countries largely remains a guessing game.
Regulators in each country know what assets their domestic banks hold, but have been reluctant to share that information across borders. (...)
According to the Royal Bank of Scotland study, banks in France have the largest exposure to debt from Greece, Spain and Portugal, with 229 billion euros; German banks are second, with 226 billion euros. British and Dutch banks are next, at about 100 billion euros each, with American banks at 54 billion euros and Italian banks at 31 billion euros.
“Banks continue to not trust each other,” says Jörg Rocholl, a professor at the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin. “They know other banks are sick, but they don’t know which ones.”

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