Monday, July 14, 2008

Is Your Bank Next?

A slew of mainsteam press articles a month back stated that the credit crunch was over. Not so fast! As outlined in articles on HingeFire in May (see Is the Financial Crunch over?) the financial sector is ripe for continued turmoil.

The top headline news today outlined the shares of U.S. banks plummeting amid stability fears. Sizeable regional banks such as Wachovia, WaMu, and National City are near the top of the list that investors believe have the likelihood to fail.

‘"It's the cockroach theory. You don't just have one bank failure -- when you have a big bank go under, there's always more than one," said James Ellman, president of hedge fund Seacliff Capital, who is short some financial stocks.’

The failure of IndyMac in many ways was a standard run on a bank. Panicked depositors lined up outside the doors pulling out $100 million a day causing what regulators called the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history. It was clear to regulators, politicians, and investors that IndyMac was in trouble, leaving only the question of degree. This type on depositor driven panic could easily happen to other struggling regional-type banks.

'One woman leaned on the locked doors, pleading with an employee inside: "Please, please, I want to take out a portion." All she could do was read a two-page notice taped to the door.'

At some point the FDIC will not be able to handle the level of defaults. While the FDIC has staffed up expecting more failures, the federally sponsored insurance agency is primarily focused on merging banks in trouble. The FDIC does not have deep pockets to bail out a chain of sizeable cascading failures.

Regional banks are not the only concern. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are in deep trouble. To avoid total financial market panic, the White House administration has ask Congress this past weekend to approve a plan that would provide a credit line of some $300 billion to the troubled GSEs and buy their stock. The Fed passed measures to allow both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to borrow at its discount window. Clearly, the government's hand was forced by a $3 billion Freddie auction scheduled for today that would have revealed the extent of the disaster without government intervention.

Is your bank next?

Will you be lined up at the door of your local institution begging to get your money out while the door is slammed in your face?

This is a time to carefully evaluate the safety rating of your local bank where you have deposited your money. If the bank looks the least bit shaky then your should get your funds out before a wide-spread panic develops.