Friday, August 10, 2007

BoJ Battles Credit Crunch

From Bloomberg today:

Bank of Japan, RBA Boost Funds to Ease Credit Crunch

The Bank of Japan added 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) to the financial system and the Reserve Bank of Australia lent the most in more than three years, joining U.S. and European central banks in responding to a credit crunch.

The Japanese central bank's largest provision of funds since June 29 helped bring the overnight call loan rate to 0.49 percent after it climbed to a four-week high of 0.56 percent, according to Tokyo Tanshi Co. Australia's central bank loaned A$4.95 billion ($4.2 billion), the most since at least January 2003. Central banks in the Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea said they are ready to provide more cash if required.

``It's the threat of liquidity drying up that's prompting the major central banks to make these reserves available,'' said Arjuna Mahendran, chief Asia strategist at Credit Suisse Group in Singapore. ``All central banks are on standby but Asian markets don't have very deep exposure to bonds so there is less of a necessity for them to announce explicit measures as yet.''

Europe's central bank yesterday said it would provide unlimited cash in response to a sudden demand for capital from lenders roiled by the subprime mortgage losses. Macquarie Bank Ltd. and Aozora Bank Ltd. led Asian financial stocks lower after BNP Paribas SA halted withdrawals from funds that owned subprime, or higher risk, home loans.

Market Conditions

``We added funds to the system while looking at conditions in the market,'' said Noritaka Fukunaga, a press officer at the Bank of Japan.

Demand for interbank loans soared this week amid record trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. About 4.7 trillion yen ($40 billion) in shares changed hands on the TSE first section today, 59 percent more than the three-month daily average. The value of shares traded yesterday was a record 5.3 trillion yen.

Shares of Aozora Bank fell 3.3 percent. The company wrote off a 4.5 billion yen unrealized loss in mortgage-backed securities in the first quarter. Shinsei Bank Ltd. said this week its losses on subprime loans reached $30 million. Nomura Holdings Inc. cited 31.2 billion yen in such losses in its first-quarter earnings report.

``Subprime concerns are spreading globally,'' said Susumu Kato, chief economist at Calyon Securities, one of the 25 primary dealers that are required to bid at auctions.

Japan's nine biggest banking groups have more than 1 trillion yen of combined holdings in products backed by U.S. subprime mortgages, the Nikkei English News reported July 24, citing a report by Nana Otsuki, an UBS analyst.

`Liquidity Crunch'

Mizuho Financial Group Inc., which had 50 billion yen in subprime-related investments, sold almost all of them at the end of June and suffered losses of ``several hundred million yen,'' said spokeswoman Masako Shiono.

Three-month Tokyo interbank offered rates climbed 1 basis point to 0.792 percent, the highest since September 1998. The three-month Australian bank bill swap rate jumped to 6.725 percent today, the highest since October, 1996.

The European Central Bank yesterday loaned 94.8 billion euros ($130 billion) after Paris-based BNP Paribas SA halted withdrawals from three funds because the French bank couldn't value holdings. The U.S. Federal Reserve added $24 billion in temporary reserves to the system yesterday, the most since April.

``There's a liquidity crunch going on and the banks are sitting on their hands as overnight rates are being bid up,'' said Ray Attrill, director of foreign exchange research at Forecast Ltd. in Sydney.

Market Turbulence

Shares of Macquarie, the largest Australian securities firm, plunged 7 percent. Its Macquarie Fortress Investments Ltd. unit, which had $873 million in two high-yielding funds, said on July 31 it was forced to sell assets to avoid breaching loan agreements.

Turmoil in global credit markets may prompt the Bank of Japan to delay raising its 0.5 percent overnight rate, the lowest among major economies. Investors today saw a 36 percent chance of an increase at the Aug. 23 board meeting, according to Credit Suisse Group calculations based on the exchange of interest payments. That's down from as much as 75 percent yesterday.

``The Bank of Japan will have to carefully assess market developments and implications on business and consumer sentiment,'' said Tomoko Fujii, a senior economist at Bank of America N.A. in Tokyo. ``We now expect a less than 50 percent chance of another 25 basis point hike'' on Aug. 23.

Yen Advances

The Morgan Stanley Capital International Asia Pacific Index lost 3.2 percent. The yield on Japan's benchmark 10-year bond fell 6.5 basis points to 1.715 percent. Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasuries fell 4 basis points to 4.73 percent.

The Philippine central bank said it will take steps to ``maintain stability.'' The Bank of Korea said that the chances of a ``contagion'' spreading from the U.S. subprime rout is low after yesterday raising its benchmark interest rate to try and curb lending that's fueling asset bubbles.

``South Korea is in a different situation to other countries where they are facing a shortage of liquidity,'' said Kim In Sup, head of the Bank of Korea's money market operations team. The rate increase was to ``mop up excess liquidity in the financial system.''

Thailand's central bank Governor Tarisa Watanagase said the nation's financial system was ``barely'' affected by credit market losses caused by subprime loan concerns.

The yen gained on speculation widening credit market losses will prompt investors to trim holdings of riskier assets funded by loans in Japan. The yen rose to 161.31 per euro in Tokyo from 161.63 yesterday when it climbed 2.2 percent, the most since May 2001. Japan's currency traded at 117.93 per dollar from 118.16.

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