Monthly Archives: January 2009

The Amazing Shrinking Banks

Last year, I wrote quite a few posts on the subject of the credit crunch, aka the GFC (“Global Financial Crisis”) or GD2 (“Great Depression 2”). Whatever you want to call it, it has been unfolding for almost two years, and does not show any signs of letting up yet. The hardest hit to date have been banks. Many, including Northern Rock, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, Washington Mutual and every Icelandic bank have fallen along the way, via bankruptcy, merger or Government bailout. Others limp along with the odd adrenaline shot from Government to shake a little more life back into the patient.

Just one of these terminal patients is the Royal Bank of Scotland, whose market capitalization has fallen by 90% over the last two years, despite large injections of capital by the UK Government. The bank’s chief executive, Sir Fred Goodwin, has just resigned and was described by the Telegraph as “the most reviled man in Britain”. The once gargantuan Citigroup has shrunk even more and is now 92% smaller than it was in January 2007. In contrast, whether by good luck or good management, Australian banks have held upĀ  well. Nab has been the worst affected, thanks in part to some pesky CDO write-downs, shrinking by 55%. Westpac has weathered the storm better than any major bank in the world, with a fall of only 17% in its market capitalisation. (Quick note to shareholders: your investment will have fallen by more than this since market capitalization equals share price times number of shares and like all banks, Westpac have raised additional capital during the course of the crisis and of course they have also bought St George).

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Australian Prices Heading South

Yesterday’s quarterly inflation release, which showed prices falling by 0.3% over the December quarter across Australia, cemented expectations of a 1% cut in interest rates in February. How things have changed! My very first Stubborn Mule post back in May 2008 examined the inflationary pressures that had so concerned the Reserve Bank and led them to keep interest rates high well into the financial crisis. In that post I used a heatmap to dig down into the drivers of inflation, and a quick comparison of the latest December inflation rate with inflation six months earlier gives a very clear illustration of where prices are falling.

CPI Dec 08 (qoq)

Austalian Quarterly Inflation – Dec 2008
(click to enlarge)

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