Bank stocks drop in Europe as US bank failure stirs jitters

The STOXX Banks index of 21 major European lenders was off 3.8% on Monday, with some members seeing intraday drops in double digits before recovering

A pedestrian passes by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange electronic screen in Hong Kong on Monday, March 13, 2023.
A pedestrian passes by the Hong Kong Stock Exchange electronic screen in Hong Kong on Monday, March 13, 2023.Louise Delmotte (AP)

Bank stocks sagged in Europe and U.S. stock futures fell Monday ahead of the market’s open in New York, shaken by worries the biggest U.S. bank failure in nearly 15 years might have ripple effects around the world. Markets in Asia ended mixed after assurances by U.S. officials that they were taking steps to protect depositors at Silicon Valley Bank, or SVB.

But the role that recent sharp interest rate increases by the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks played in the bank’s collapse caused jitters over the possibility that other financial institutions might be exposed to the same kind of risks. SVB’s holdings of government-backed bonds had fallen in value due to rising interest rates.

Analysts at ING bank said most banks don’t hold the high percentage of government bonds that SVB did but added “that does not mean there aren’t more SVBs out there.”

“So far, it seems that the potential problem banks are few, and importantly do not extend to the so-called systemically important banks,” the ING analyst said.

The STOXX Banks index of 21 major European lenders was off 3.8% on Monday, with some members seeing intraday drops in double digits before recovering. Germany’s Commzerbank was down 9.2%, and Spain’s Banco de Sabadell down 9.3% in noontime trading in Europe.

Dow futures were off 1.1% in premarket trading, and the S&P 500 was 1.4% lower. France’s CAC 40 lost 1.9% to 7,081.91. Germany’s DAX dropped 2% to 15,103.83. Britain’s FTSE 100 dove 1.6% to 7,621.04.

Germany’s financial regulator, BaFin, on Monday prohibited asset disposals and payments by Silicon Valley Bank’s German branch and imposed a moratorium, effectively shutting it for dealings with customers.

In a statement, BaFin stressed that the German branch does not constitute a threat to financial stability. BaFin said SVB’s German branch was responsible for lending but did not run a deposit business in the country, so deposit insurance is not an issue.

In Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 1.1% to finish at 27,832.96. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.5% to 7,108.80. South Korea’s Kospi recouped earlier losses to gain 0.7% to 2,410.60.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng jumped 2% to 19,695.97. The Shanghai Composite rose 1.2% to 3,268.70, as Chinese shares tracked earlier gains in U.S. futures that later were erased.

Before trading began in Asia, the U.S. Treasury Department, Federal Reserve and FDIC said Sunday that all Silicon Valley Bank clients will be protected and have access to their funds and announced steps designed to protect the bank’s customers and prevent more bank runs.

Regulators on Friday closed Silicon Valley Bank as investors withdrew billions of dollars from the bank in a matter of hours, marking the second-largest U.S. bank failure behind the 2008 failure of Washington Mutual. They also announced Sunday that New York-based Signature Bank was being seized after it became the third-largest bank to fail in U.S. history.

Following two bank failures, worries about financial stability and liquidity concerns were dominating the market landscape, said Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management in Hong Kong.

“With the market likely headed for a more turbulent period with U.S. inflation on a collision course with Bank ‘theater of tragedy,’ now is probably not the best time for investor euphoria,” Innes said.

But the sense that U.S. authorities were taking steps to limit “the contagion effect” helped calm the situation somewhat, said Venkateswaran Lavanya at Mizuho Bank.

In Tokyo trading, banking issues were sold, with MUFG Bank falling 3.5%, echoing such falls in the sector on Wall Street. Shares in Mitsui Sumitomo Financial Group dipped 4%.

Worries have grown that interest rates are set to go higher than expected after the Fed said it could reaccelerate the size of its rate hikes. The U.S. central bank is focusing on wage growth in particular in its fight against inflation. It worries too-high gains could cause a vicious cycle that worsens inflation.

Traders now largely expect the Fed to stick with a modest quarter-point hike. Last month, the Fed slowed to that pace after earlier hiking by half a point and three-quarters of a point. The Fed has raised rates at the fastest pace in decades and made other moves to reverse its tremendous support for the economy during the pandemic.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude lost 13 cents to $76.55 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, edged down 14 cents to $82.64 a barrel.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar fell to 133.90 Japanese yen from 134.96 yen. The euro cost $1.0715, up from $1.0643.

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