Deutsche Bank alleged to have hid losses in 2007-09. Good?

The effects of what's being alleged are far from simple.

The German central bank has opened an investigation into whether Deutsche Bank failed to correctly mark credit derivatives to market during the financial crisis. The allegations, which the FT reports were made independently by three whistleblowers from inside the bank, suggest that the bank did so to avoid officially recording losses which may have prompted a government bailout.

The proper reaction to the case is more complex than it might first appear, because this is one of the first allegations of massive misevaluation which deals, not with the the run up to the financial crisis, but the response to it. And it is massive: the derivatives position under investigation was worth $130bn.

But interestingly enough, if mispricing did occur, it may have been for the best. Marking to market is the practice of repricing your portfolio, not according to what you paid for it, but what it's worth at current market prices. So the allegation is that Deutsche Bank had a $130bn position, which had dropped to – let's say – $60bn on the open market; but were apparently recording it as worth $72bn in their books, so as to avoid looking insolvent.

In normal times, that would be pretty clearly a negative. But the days after the collapse of Lehman Brothers were anything but normal. To say markets were panicky is an understatement, and so it's pretty likely that the reaction if Deutsche Bank had revealed those losses would have been terminal. As it was, the bank muddled through, and came out the other side more-or-less intact.

Now, that doesn't mean that if there was wrongdoing it should be ignored. After all, if Deutsche Bank hid losses and collapsed despite that, then the hit that creditors would have taken would have been even bigger. But if, as seems to be the case, DB was considered a healthy bank based on what was reported, and would have been considered unhealthy if it had reported those larger losses, then the world might be better off for it. After all, the last thing the winter of 2008 needed was another bust bank.

It's worth noting as well that these allegations aren't new. As DB says, they are “more than two and a half years old” and have already been investigated by an external law firm which found them “wholly unfounded”. But just be wary of chalking this one up in the "bad behaviour from banks hurts us all" column; the real affects of what's alleged are far from simple.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.