Reader Scott passed along this article from the Telegraph. Note that earlier this year, a colleague with high-level connections at the Treasury and Fed said that they were looking at a partial nationalization of US banks. The reasoning was that even if they were technically solvent, they would be sufficiently impaired, between writedowns and carrying less than stellar assets on their balance sheets, to prevent them from extending new loans. Thus, this sighting seems a further development along this line of thinking.
From the Telegraph:
The US Federal Reserve is examining the Nordic bank nationalisations of the 1990s as a possible interim solution to the US financial crisis.
A senior official at one of the Scandinavian central banks told The Daily Telegraph that Fed strategists had stepped up contacts to learn how Norway, Sweden and Finland managed their traumatic crisis from 1991 to 1993, which brought the region’s economy to its knees.
It is understood that Fed vice-chairman Don Kohn remains very concerned by the depth of the US crisis and is eyeing the Nordic approach for contingency options.
Scandinavia’s bank rescue proved successful and is now a model for central bankers, unlike Japan’s drawn-out response, where ailing banks were propped up in a half-public limbo for years.
While the responses varied in each Nordic country, there a was major effort to avoid the sort of “moral hazard” that has bedevilled efforts by the Fed and the Bank of England in trying to stabilise their banking systems.
Norway ensured that shareholders of insolvent lenders received nothing and the senior management was entirely purged. Two of the country’s top four banks – Christiania Bank and Fokus – were seized by force majeure.
“We were determined not to get caught in the game we’ve seen with Bear Stearns where shareholders make money out of the rescue,” said one Norwegian adviser.
“The law was amended so that we could take 100pc control of any bank where its equity had fallen below zero. Shareholders were left with nothing. It was very controversial,” he said.
Stefan Ingves, governor of Sweden’s Riksbank, said his country passed an act so it could seize banks where the capital adequacy ratio had fallen below 2pc. Efforts were also made to protect against “blackmail” by shareholders.
Mr Ingves said there were parallels with the US crisis, citing the use of off-balance sheet vehicles to speculate on property. All the Nordic banks were nursed back to health and refloated or merged.
The tough policies contrast with the Fed’s bail-out of Bear Stearns, where shareholders forced JP Morgan to increase its Fed-led rescue offer from $2 to $10 a share. Christopher Wood, chief strategist at brokers CLSA, says the Fed’s piecemeal approach has led to “appalling moral hazard”.
“Shareholders have been able to lobby for a higher share price only because the Fed took over the credit risk on $30bn of the investment bank’s dubious paper. The whole affair also amounts to a colossal subsidy for JP Morgan,” he said.