There is no doubt that the big four Australian banks have navigated the global financial crisis better than many banks around the world, particularly in the US and UK. However, there seems to be a pervasive tendency in Australia to overstate the success of the Australian banks.
A couple of weeks ago, Michael Duffy wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that
There are only 15 banks in the world which now have a AAA credit rating. The four major Australian banks are among them.
It would be nice if it was true. However, no Australian bank has a AAA rating, they are all in the AA band. There are a few Government-owned or guaranteed banks around the world with a AAA and the only privately-owned bank with a AAA rating these days is the Dutch Rabobank.
More recently, Kerry O’Brien was interviewing the astute Morgan Stanley analyst Gerard Minack when he made the comment
Given that the big four banks in Australia are now in the top 12 around the world, what risk still applies to Australian banks as this scenario that you’ve described unfolds?
Gerard blinked for a moment before moving on, so I suspect he knew that Kerry did not have his facts straight here. By my reckoning (with a bit of assistance from Bloomberg),now that Westpac has taken over St George, it just scrapes in at number 12. ANZ, however, is all the way down at number 33 and the other two are somewhere in between. If I have missed any of the major world banks in my calculations, that would only push Australian banks further down.
The chart below shows data I have uploaded to Swivel giving the market capitalization for 40 of the biggest banks in the world in billions of US dollars. Figures are in thousands of millions (i.e. billions) of US dollars. While management of the big four Australian banks should be pleased with how they are faring, there is no need to blow their trumpets to the point of ignoring the facts.
One final point: it is interesting to note that the three biggest banks in the world today are Chinese banks.
For those who read my earlier Amazing Shrinking Banks post, you may notice that I have added a few more banks, including the large Chinese banks.