Insurance on the debt of several major European banks has now hit historic levels, higher even than those recorded during financial crisis caused by the US financial group’s implosion nearly three years ago.
Credit default swaps on the bonds of Royal Bank of Scotland, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank and Intesa Sanpaolo, among others, flashed warning signals on Wednesday. Credit default swaps (CDS) on RBS were trading at 343.54 basis points, meaning the annual cost to insure Â£10m of the state-backed lender’s bonds against default is now 343,540.
The cost of insuring RBS bonds is now higher than before the taxpayer was forced to step in and rescue the bank in October 2008, and shows the recent dramatic downturn in sentiment among credit investors towards banks.
“The problem is a shortage of liquidity ”“ that is what is causing the problems with the banks. It feels exactly as it felt in 2008,” said one senior London-based bank executive.
“I think we are heading for a market shock in September or October that will match anything we have ever seen before,” said a senior credit banker at a major European bank.
Despite this, bank shares rebounded on Wednesday, showing the growing disconnect between equity and credit investors. RBS closed up 9% at 21.87, while Barclays put on 3% to 149.6 despite credit default swaps on the bank hitting a 12-month high. This mirrored the US trend, with Bank of America shares up 10% in late Wall Street trade after a hitting a 12-month low on Tuesday over fears that it might have to raise as much as $200 billion. As with the European banks, the rebound in the share price was not reflected in the credit markets, where its CDS reached a 12-month high of 384.42 basis points.
European stock markets joined in the rally. The FTSE closed up 1.5% at 5,206 on hopes the chance of a global recession had diminished. European shares hit a one-week high, with Germany’s DAX closing up 2.7% and France’s CAC 1.8% higher. The Dow Jones index edged higher on strong durable goods orders data as markets began to accept that the US Federal Reserve is unlikely to signal fresh stimulus at Jackson Hole this Friday.
Even Moody’s decision to downgrade Japan’s sovereign credit rating by one notch to Aa3 did little to damage global sentiment, although Tokyo’s Nikkei closed down just over 1pc.
As stock market nerves settled, gold – which has recorded steady gains recently as investors seek a safe haven – fell 5.3% to $1,777 in London.