Deutsche Bank scare forces German chancellor to borrow line from Silicon Valley Bank CEO: ‘No cause for any kind of concern’

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Ludovic Marin—AFP via Getty Images

When a full-blown crisis has erupted, lecturing people not to panic rarely helps. Sometimes it can even hurt.

That didn’t stop Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz from trying anyway. The Social Democrat urged calm after shares in Deutsche Bank fell up to 15% on Friday.

Asked whether he was concerned about the Frankfurt lender and might intervene to prevent it from becoming the next Credit Suisse, which was recently acquired in a fire sale after hitting turbulence, Scholz said the country’s leading lender had fundamentally reorganized itself under CEO Christian Sewing following a string of scandals over the years.

“It’s a very profitable bank. There’s no cause for any kind of concern,” Scholz replied curtly.

The line is eerily similar to Greg Becker, CEO of Silicon Valley Bank, who told clients “not to panic” amid a run on deposits. Unfortunately for Becker, they did panic and the following day SVB was seized by federal authorities, marking the second-largest banking failure in U.S. history.

His bank’s collapse on March 10 lit the fuse for the sector's worst crisis since the 2008 demise of Lehman Brothers. Last week, panic had spread across the Atlantic, reaching Credit Suisse despite a liquidity lifeline extended by its central bank. On Sunday, the Zürich-based lender agreed to an emergency $3.3 billion rescue deal by cross-town rival UBS brokered by Switzerland’s federal government.

Deutsche, long Donald Trump's bank of choice for his business dealings, is an obvious candidate for speculators to short, or bet against its stock. For one Germany is considered overbanked, with a multitude of thrifts and cooperatives competing for customers, thereby reducing structural profitability in its domestic market.

More importantly however, the Frankfurt lender had earned a reputation for being mired in one scandal after another thanks to a Wall Street-style risk culture ushered in by its swashbuckling former CEOs Josef Ackermann and Anshu Jain, who rose through the ranks of Deutsche's investment banking operations.

Under Sewing, who took over the reins in April 2018, the lender has charted a path back to stability with a renewed focus on traditional corporate clients.

In the process, the German CEO has sold off the bank's prime brokerage that served high-risk clients like hedge funds and moved €40 billion ($43 billion) of unwanted assets off its balance sheet.

While Credit Suisse posted a net loss of 7.3 billion francs ($7.9 billion) last year, net income at Deutsche doubled to €5.7 billion—its highest profit since 2007.

Nevertheless, bank runs can occur faster than ever before thanks to the advent of smartphone banking paired with social media. Consequently analysts covering the bank urged investors not to assume Deutsche faces the same problems that dogged Credit Suisse.

“We view this as an irrational market,” Citigroup wrote in a research report on Friday. “As we witnessed with CS, the risk is if there is a knock-on impact from various media headlines on depositor psychologically, regardless of whether the initial reasoning behind this was correct or not.”

When reached by Fortune, a spokesman for Deutsche Bank declined to comment on Friday’s developments.

European oversight has become more stringent

Scholz is no stranger to the trials and tribulations of Germany’s banking industry. Prior to parliament electing him head of the new government more than a year ago, he was Merkel’s junior partner in cabinet, serving as vice-chancellor and finance minister from 2017.

Pressed by reporters about the health of the European banking system on Friday, Scholz praised the efforts undertaken by euro area authorities to reform bank oversight.

The European Central Bank assigns minimum thresholds for equity capital as a share of overall assets to guard against solvency risks, and tops them up with individual “Pillar 2” targets tailored to each bank’s respective balance sheet and business model. A global systemically important bank (G-SIB) like Deutsche then has additional requirements to meet.

In addition, lenders have regulations governing stable and diversified funding to ensure they do not refinance themselves predominantly via the wholesale market. Therefore, loans extended from one bank to another tend to be very short-term in nature to keep borrowing rates cheap, but they are often also the first to dry up in a credit crunch.

Finally lenders must keep a certain portion of their assets in cash and cash equivalents to cover one month of average outflows. Deutsche has enough for nearly six weeks, according to its latest quarterly results.

“These clear rules are the foundation upon which the stability of the European banking and finance system are built,” Scholz told reporters in Brussels. “They are the result of oversight and governance measures taken over the past years to regulate solvency and liquidity.”

Scholz claimed these stringent rules were often more transparent and predictable than elsewhere in the world. This may have been a reference to the confusion sown earlier this week by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

On Wednesday, she caused a stir when suggesting bank deposits were being guaranteed on a case-by-case manner determined by the government. This was an apparent contradiction with comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, who said hours earlier that there is an implicit blanket guarantee was in place. The following day, she promptly backpedaled.

On Friday, shares in Deutsche Bank were able to recoup some of their intraday losses to close 8.5% lower. Cross-town rival Commerzbank, which celebrated a return to the DAX blue chip index last month after a five year period of expulsion, finished 5.5% lower.

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