Asian markets fall as global banking fears widenon March 16, 2023 at 5:10 am

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Indexes in Japan, Hong Kong and Australia fall by more than 1% amid heavier losses in bank shares.

A man looks at a stock quotation board outside a brokerage in Tokyo.Image source, Reuters

Stock markets across Asia fell on Thursday as troubles at international banking giant Credit Suisse intensified fears of a wider bank crisis.

Major indexes in Japan, Hong Kong and Australia fell by over 1% amid heavier losses in bank shares.

This comes as Credit Suisse said it would borrow up to 50bn francs ($54bn; £44.5bn) to shore up its finances.

Shares in the bank plunged after it found “weakness” in its financial reporting.

Problems in the banking sector surfaced in the US last week with the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, the country’s 16th-largest bank, followed two days later by the collapse of Signature Bank.

Developments at Credit Suisse were “amplified” by problems at the smaller banks, Sayuri Shirai, an economics professor at the Keio University in Tokyo told the BBC.

“Investors and creditors are concerned about risk. Banks may suffer from raising funds, which in turn will affect the cost of funding for SMEs and start-ups globally,” she added.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell by 1.1% at mid-day Asian trading. The Topix Banks share index fell by more than 4% after recording its worst day in three years earlier this week.

Shares in Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, the country’s largest lender by assets, were down by 3%. This was in line with losses at counterparts Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group and Mizuho Financial Group.

Indexes in Hong Kong and Sydney fell by over 1.5%, while the Shanghai Composite was 0.5% lower.

“Markets could return to normal quickly once the US centric episode fades to the back burner. Broader contagion fears at this stage are limited as banks are so much better capitalised in Asia,” said Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management.

Credit Suisse, founded in 1856, has faced a string of scandals in recent years, including money laundering charges and other issues.

It lost money in 2021 and again in 2022 and has warned it does not expect to be profitable until 2024.

The bank’s disclosure on Tuesday of “material weakness” in its financial reporting controls renewed investor concerns.

These were intensified when the Saudi National Bank, Credit Suisse’s largest shareholder, said it would not buy more shares in the Swiss bank on regulatory grounds.

At that time, Credit Suisse insisted its financial position was not a concern. But shares in the lender ended Wednesday down 24%, as other banks rushed to reduce their exposure to the firm and prime ministers in Spain and France spoke out in an attempt to ease fears.

On Thursday, Credit Suisse said it would borrow up to 50bn francs from the Swiss central bank “to pre-emptively strengthen its liquidity”.

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank has also fuelled concerns about the value of bonds held by banks, as rising interest rates made those bonds less valuable.

Central banks around the world – including the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England – have sharply increased interest rates as they try to curb inflation.

Banks tend to hold large portfolios of bonds and as a result are sitting on significant potential losses. The falls in the value of bonds held by banks is not necessarily a problem unless they are forced to sell them.

Silicon Valley Bank – which specialised in lending to technology companies – was shut down on Friday by US regulators in what was the largest failure of a US bank since 2008.

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