By Tom Westbrook and Saeed Azhar
March 16 (Reuters) – Credit Suisse on Thursday said it would borrow up to $54 billion from the Swiss central bank to shore up liquidity and investor confidence after a slump in its shares intensified fears about a global banking crisis.
The Swiss bank’s announcement helped stem heavy selling in financial markets in Asian morning trade on Thursday, following torrid sessions in Europe and the United States overnight as investors fretted about potential runs on global bank deposits.
In its statement early Thursday, Credit Suisse said it would exercise an option to borrow from the central bank up to 50 billion Swiss francs ($54 billion). That followed assurances from Swiss authorities on Wednesday that Credit Suisse met “the capital and liquidity requirements imposed on systemically important banks” and that it could access central bank liquidity if needed.
Credit Suisse is the first major global bank to be given an emergency lifeline since the 2008 financial crisis and its problems have raised serious doubts over whether central banks will be able to sustain their fight against inflation with aggressive interest rate hikes.
Asian stocks followed Wall Street’s tumble on Thursday and investors bought gold, bonds and the dollar. While the bank’s announcement helped trim some of those losses, trade was volatile and sentiment fragile.
“It does help. It removes an immediate risk. But it confronts us with another choice. The more we do this, the more we blunt monetary policy, the more we have to live with higher inflation — and what is it going to be?” said Damien Boey, chief equity strategist at Barrenjoey in Sydney.
“Do bailouts make things better? On the one hand, you are removing a source of risk to the markets which is a clear and present danger. On the other hand we are feeding into this paradigm of monetary policy bucking within itself.”
Credit Suisse’s borrowing will be made under the covered loan facility and a short-term liquidity facility, fully collateralised by high quality assets. It also announced offers for senior debt securities for cash of up to 3 billion francs.
“This additional liquidity would support Credit Suisse’s core businesses and clients as Credit Suisse takes the necessary steps to create a simpler and more focused bank built around client needs,” the bank said.
Credit Suisse Chief Executive Ulrich Koerner had earlier on Wednesday sought to reassure investors about the lender’s strong liquidity.
“Our capital, our liquidity basis is very, very strong,” Koerner told media. “We fulfil and overshoot basically all regulatory requirements.”
The 167-year-old bank’s problems have shifted the focus for investors and regulators from the United States to Europe, where Credit Suisse led a selloff in bank shares after its largest investor said it could not provide more financial assistance because of regulatory constraints.
The concerns about Credit Suisse added to broader banking sector fears sparked by last week’s collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) SIVB.O and Signature Bank, two U.S. mid-size firms.
Investor focus is also on any action by central banks and other regulators elsewhere to restore confidence in the banking system as well as any exposure businesses may have to Credit Suisse.
Australian Treasurer Jim Chalmers said on Thursday the country’s banks were well capitalised and that he had convened a meeting of major regulators and the central bank this week to discuss the collapse of SVB. He did not specifically mention Credit Suisse.
SVB’s demise last week, followed by that of Signature Bank two days later, sent global bank stocks on a roller-coaster ride this week as investors feared another Lehman Brothers moment, the Wall Street giant whose failure had triggered the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.
Nervous markets had also discounted assurances from U.S. President Joe Biden and emergency steps giving banks access to more funding.
On Wednesday, Credit Suisse shares led a 7% fall in the European banking index .SX7P, while five-year credit default swaps for the flagship Swiss bank hit a new record high.
The investor exit for the doors raised fears of a broader threat to the financial system, and two supervisory sources told Reuters that the European Central Bank had contacted banks on its watch to quiz them about their exposures to Credit Suisse.
The U.S. Treasury also said it is monitoring the situation around Credit Suisse and is in touch with global counterparts, a Treasury spokesperson said.
‘FLIGHT TO SAFETY’
Rapid rises in interest rates have made it harder for some businesses to pay back or service loans, increasing the chances of losses for lenders who are also worried about a recession.
Traders are now betting that the Federal Reserve, which just last week was expected to accelerate its interest-rate-hike campaign in the face of persistent inflation, may be forced to hit pause and even reverse course.
Bets on a large European Central Bank interest-rate hike at Thursday’s meeting also evaporated quickly on growing fears about the health of Europe’s banking sector. Money market pricing suggested traders now saw less than a 20% chance of a 50 basis point rate hike at the ECB meeting.
Unease sparked by SVB’s demise has also prompted depositors to seek out new homes for their cash.
Ralph Hammers, CEO of Credit Suisse rival UBS said market turmoil has steered more money its way and Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing said that the German lender has also seen incoming deposits.