European Banking Sector—Taking Stock After Silicon Valley Bank and Credit Suisse

How has the failure of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and concerns with Credit Suisse affected European markets? We gathered our banking analysts, strategists and fixed income professionals to discuss recent events and the implications for markets in Europe and globally. Our panel included Michael Brown, Global Head of Investment Strategy and Oversight Executive, Martin Currie, Annabel Rudebeck, Head of Non-US Corporates, Western Asset Management Company, and David Zahn, Head of European Fixed Income, Co-Chair of the Sustainability & Stewardship Council, Franklin Templeton Fixed Income.

  • What is the connection between SVB and the events surrounding Credit Suisse? Without the SVB crisis, it is unlikely the liquidity of Credit Suisse would ever have been called into question. Credit Suisse has several issues: First, there were already concerns around planned strategic changes to its business announced last October. Then, this week, its annual reporting demonstrated material weakness in cash flow accounting. Then, we had what we would consider skewed media reporting about the Saudi National Bank not increasing their stake; so, by Friday, fears that the bank had more severe governance risks and no backstop liquidity naturally became a concern to the markets. In our view, Credit Suisse’s liquidity coverage is sufficient, but the market was reacting with fear, especially after what happened to SVB—that is why we saw the support announcement from the Swiss Central Bank Wednesday night.
  • Is the announcement from the Swiss Central Bank enough to stem systemic risk? We think so, for the moment, and more support could be on the horizon. We believe authorities are poised to step in if needed to avoid further contagion—perhaps not on the equity side but definitely to protect depositors. Historically, banks like the Swiss National bank have intervened during times of crisis, like COVID-19 or the global financial crisis (GFC). We think the market likes the intervention, but the market is still questioning whether it is enough.
  • Is the Credit Suisse situation idiosyncratic or systemic? We would argue the Credit Suisse situation is unique and not an indication of a systemic problem across the European banking industry. European banking regulations are tighter than in the United States, and we would argue for the better. The notion of what is cash on a balance sheet versus what are considered high quality assets is not a concern at European banks like Credit Suisse because of the way European banks are regulated. What matters for Credit Suisse is their liquidity coverage ratio (LCR), which reflects the bank’s high-quality liquid assets divided by their potential net cash outflows over a 30-day horizon in a stressed environment. This LCR is specific to each bank, customized—but on average across Europe, it is about 163%.1 Currently at Credit Suisse it is about 150%.2 The question is: What comprises a high-quality asset? SVB had high-quality assets—US Treasuries—but they were long-term and thus had duration risk and had fallen in value as interest rates rose. At Credit Suisse, more than half is cash held at central banks, and the rest is government credit risk, which is marked to market. The bottom line is that the notion of what is cash versus high-quality liquid assets is not a concern at Credit Suisse and other European banks generally, as opposed to what we may see in the United States.