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Why is Deutsche Bank in crisis?

The German banking giant has survived the fall in its stock price so far but there are still challenges ahead.

The Conversation
Deutsche Bank is in the news for all the wrong reasons. Some speculators believe that it will be the 2008 Lehman Brothers collapse all over again. Shares in the bank were briefly driven down to single digits. They seem to have stabilised around €10 but this remains well below the €30 just over a year ago and €100 a share in 2007. And the bank’s future is uncertain.

Clearly investors are worried and there is an absence of people who believe even €10 would be a sensible investment. At €10 per share, an investor has a right to €48 of equity. But the problem is whether that €10 will ever be returned to you – let alone with gains. Like many other banks though, Deutsche Bank faces a number of headwinds, which have knocked its profits in recent years.

Three structural issues

New regulation since the financial crisis requires that banks must accumulate their profits to create a greater cushion against the risks that became apparent in 2008. This means that the profits that Deutsche will earn over the next few years will be used to increase the size of that cushion rather than being returned to shareholders. Relief is unlikely, as the IMF has identified Deutsche as “the most important net contributor to systemic risks in the global financial system”.

Large well-established banks have a second problem. They have become fat with too many employees juggling outdated, disparate and often dysfunctional IT systems. Deutsche has more than 100,000 employees. Its retail branches – a number of which have been cut this year – are labour intensive and add to these problems.

Dealing with this problem requires reinvesting some of its profits in restructuring its activities – which again means less money for shareholders in the short-run. Failure to do so, however, will create opportunities for new entrants to the banking market such as alternative finance and new fintech operations.

The European Central Bank’s negative interest rate policy is compounding problems. Historically, banks benefited from retail depositor inertia – depositors that park their money in accounts and don’t act upon earning little or no interest. A healthy deposit base ensured a source of zero or low-cost funds that could be lent elsewhere. But the benefit of depositor inertia disappears when interest rates go negative as it costs money to service these customers with extensive retail networks. Imposing user fees is unpopular with customers.

Crisis catalyst and management

These structural issues are well known. The catalyst for the recent action is a US$14 billion fine from the US Department of Justice for mis-selling mortgage bonds a decade ago. Deutsche is looking to negotiate a smaller figure, but if the $14 billion fine sticks the bank could need to raise another €9 billion of equity. At current prices, hapless investors would need to subscribe an additional 60% of their investment to simply hang on to the share of future profits that they expected to receive prior to the fine.

While Deutsche talks confidently of lowering its fine, it is unlikely to attract buyers for its stock. Meanwhile, speculators betting on a decrease in the share price are pushing an open door. Plus, given the dysfunctional nature of eurozone financial regulation, the high political costs of German government intervention and risk of signalling that larger eurozone members play by a different set of rules – the German government will be slow to intervene.

Adding to this complexity, the fine from the US government comes just days after the US$13 billion fine the EU hit Apple with, making some suspicious that there is an element of revenge at play. True or not, the uncertain outcome during the lengthy appeals process will only increase the perceived risks of an investment in Deutsche Bank.

From the sidelines, one would be sympathetic to the CEO’s statement that Deutsche is a strong bank that is being targeted by “forces that want to weaken us”. The bank has assets of more than €1.8 trillion and equity of €67 billion.

As a large, complex entity, it is easy for outsiders to speculate that the bank may be weak, further eroding investor and customer confidence in both the bank and European bank regulation. The coming days will largely determine whether the negative feedback loop between confidence and the stock price can be broken. At worst, the outcome will be significant economic and political difficulties in the coming weeks. At best, it may create a sense of urgency within the eurozone to comprehensively address the banking sector issues that have festered for the past eight years.

Eamonn Walsh is professor of accounting at University College Dublin

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Aussies and Kiwis can be “us” to Brexiteers - so why are EU citizens “them”?

Nostalgia for the empire means Brexiteers still see Australians and New Zealanders as "Brits abroad". 

There are many terrible things about Brexit, most of which I counted, mournfully, on the night of the referendum while hiding in a stairwell because I was too depressed to talk to anyone at the party I’d just run away from. But one of the biggest didn’t hit me until the next day, when I met a friend and (I’m aware how ridiculous this may sound) suddenly remembered she was Dutch. She has been here 20 years, her entire adult life, and it’s not that I thought she was British exactly; I’d just stopped noticing she was foreign.

Except now, post-referendum, she very definitely was and her right to remain in Britain was suddenly up for grabs. Eleven months on, the government has yet to clarify the matter for any of Britain’s three million European residents. For some reason, ministers seem to think this is OK.

If you attended a British university in the past 20 years, work in the NHS or the City – or have done almost anything, in large parts of the country – you’ll know people like this: Europeans who have made their lives here, launching careers, settling down with partners, all on the assumption that Britain was part of the EU and so they were as secure here as those with British passports. The referendum has changed all that. Our friends and neighbours are now bargaining chips, and while we may not think of them as foreigners, our leaders are determined to treat them as such. People we thought of as “us” have somehow been recast as “them”.

There’s a problem with bringing notions of “us” and “them” into politics (actually, there are many, which seems like a very good reason not to do it, but let’s focus on one): not everyone puts the boundary between them in the same place. Take the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan. The sort of man one can imagine spent boyhood afternoons copying out Magna Carta for fun, Hannan spent decades campaigning for Brexit. Yet he’s not averse to all forms of international co-operation, and in his spare time he’s an enthusiastic advocate of CANZUK, a sort of Commonwealth-on-steroids in which there would be free movement ­between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

When pushed on the reasons this entirely theoretical union is OK, when the real, existing one we’re already in isn’t, he has generally pointed to things such as shared language, culture and war memorials. But the subtext, occasionally made text by less subtle commentators, is that, unlike those Continentals, natives of the other Anglo countries aren’t really foreign. An Australian who’s never set foot in Britain can be “us”; the German doctor who’s been here two decades is still “them”.

There’s a funny thing about Hannan, which I wouldn’t make a big thing of, except it seems to apply to a number of other prominent Leave and CANZUK advocates: for one so fixated on British culture and identity, he grew up a very long way from Britain. He spent his early years in Peru, on his family’s farm near Lima, or occasionally on another one in Bolivia. (You know how it is.) That’s not to say he never set foot in Britain, of course: he was sent here for school.

His bosom pal Douglas Carswell, who is currently unemployed but has in the past found work as both a Conservative and a Ukip MP, had a similarly exotic upbringing. He spent his childhood in Uganda, where his parents were doctors, before boarding at Charterhouse. Then there’s Boris Johnson who, despite being the most ostentatiously British character since John Bull, was born in New York and spent the early years of his life in New England. Until recently, indeed, he held US citizenship; he gave it up last year, ostensibly to show his loyalty to Britain, though this is one of those times where the details of an answer feel less revealing than the fact that he needed to provide one. Oh and Boris went to boarding school, too, of course.

None of these childhoods would look out of place if you read in a biography that it had happened in the 1890s, so perhaps it’s not surprising that they instilled in all of their victims a form of imperial nostalgia. I don’t mean that the Brexiteers were raised to believe they had a moral duty to go around the world nicking other people’s countries (though who knows what the masters really teach them at Eton). Rather, by viewing their homeland from a distance, they grew up thinking of it as a land of hope and glory, rather than the depressing, beige place of white dog poo and industrial strife that 1970s Britain was.

Seen through this lens, much of the more delusional Brexiteer thinking suddenly makes sense. Of course they need us more than we need them; of course they’ll queue up to do trade deals. Even Johnson’s habit of quoting bits of Latin like an Oxford don who’s had a stroke feels like harking back to empire: not to the Roman empire itself (he’s more of a late republican) but to the British one, where such references marked you out as ruling class.

There’s another side effect of this attitude. It enables a belief in a sort of British diaspora: people who are British by virtue of ancestry and ideology no matter how far from these shores they happen to live. In the 19th century, Australians and Canadians were just Brits who happened to be living abroad. What Britain absolutely wasn’t, however, was just another European country. So, in the Leavers’ minds, Aussies and Kiwis still get to be us. The millions of Europeans who have made Britain their home are still, unfortunately, them.

I’m sure these men bear Britain’s European citizens no ill-will; they have, however, fought for a policy that has left them in limbo for 11 months with no end in sight. But that’s the thing about Brexiteers, isn’t it? They may live among us – but they don’t share our values.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Age of Lies

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