World markets recovered this morning after US markets rose on hopes that sense would prevail and the do nothing US Congress would pass a new version of the $US700 billion bailout bill, with a new addition: lifting the federal bank deposit insurance limit from $100,000 to $250,000.

Asian stockmarkets were up for the first time in six days of trading: our market was up around 150 points, or just over 3%, still around 50 points less than Tuesday’s drop. Tokyo’s Nikkei Index though was up a more sedate 1.4%.

In Australia, the bank lending freeze deepened with the amount left with the Reserve Bank hitting an all time record $A11.043 billion, or nearly three times the $A4.669 billion the bank injected into the system this morning in a series of repos to meet a deficit of $A4.632 billion (due to the end of quarter boost).

The size of the amounts left by banks and others in their Exchange Settlement Accounts at the RBA was also influenced by pressures of the end of quarter and end of financial year for some local banks like the NAB, Westpac and the ANZ.

The deficit was large because of the usual end of quarter payments made by banks and others in the economy, but the central bank made sure there was no chance of any upward pressure on the cash rate by swamping the deficit.

But some key European financial institutions remain in trouble.

Iceland’s sovereign debt rating was cut for a second day in a row by Fitch Ratings, after the $US1 billion bail out Glitnir Bank. Fitch said the new rating remains on review for another cut. Fitch also cut its ratings on four Icelandic banks. Another agency, Moody’s, placed Iceland’s government bond rating on review for a downgrade. Standard & Poor’s yesterday cut Iceland’s foreign-currency debt rating one level to A- and said it may fall further.

The Irish government said it would start a guarantee arrangement to safeguard all deposits at six leading financial institutions in response to concerns about the future stability of the country’s highly leveraged and over lent banks and building societies.

Shares in the three biggest banks jumped yesterday after the government announced the immediate start of the two year scheme, for the deposits in Allied Irish Banks, Bank of Ireland and Anglo Irish Bank and Permanent, Irish Nationwide Building Society and the Educational Building Society.

The scheme also guarantees covered bonds (used to finance house lending), senior debt and dated subordinated debt. The Government’s decision came a day after Irish bank shares had their biggest one-day fall in share price in 20 years on Monday.

In Belgium more details have emerged on the parlous financial state that Dexia found itself on Monday. It received a 6.4 billion euro cash injection from the Belgian, French and Luxembourg governments (and from three regional governments in Belgium) after its shares lost 30% of their value on Monday.

It was the second time in 24 hours that the Belgian government had saved a bank, after the purchase of a 49% stake in the much larger Fortis financial group with the Dutch and Luxembourg governments. The Belgian government defended its 5.7 billion euro involvement in the rescues of Dexia and Fortis, saying that more than 100 billion in euros in deposits and other savings had been at stake.

French finance minister Christine Lagarde said the government had intervened to guarantee financing for the country’s local government because Dexia provided credit to more than half of French local authorities. That was its background before Dexia was formed in a merger of French and Belgian banks. She said that had Dexia collapsed, as it was on course to do by Tuesday or Wednesday, it would have posed a systemic risk.

The Financial Times reported that talks between the Belgian and French governments began on Monday afternoon as Dexia’s share price plunged 30% on the speculation that it needed was running out of money. The paper reported that Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, François Fillon, Prime Minister, Ms Lagarde and Mr Noyer (head of the French Central Bank) met at the Elysée Palace at 5am in Paris on Tuesday to agree the capital injection. Dexia shares rose 6% overnight in the wake of the rescue.

In London, meanwhile, new worries as shares of HBOS, the British bank which has accepted a rescue offer from rival Lloyds TSB Group, fell sharply overnight on speculation the current shape of the deal might change dramatically.

HBOS shares dropped by as much as 20% on Tuesday amid market talk that Lloyds may reduce its offer by a quarter. They ended down 13%. Lloyds shares rose 6% and dealers said the offer terms of 0.60% of a Lloyds share for every HBOS share might be altered. The HBOS shares were trading at 30%-plus discount to the value of the Lloyds offer which was brokered by the UK Government to prevent HBOS from imploding two weeks ago when its shares were sold off on fears it would follow Lehman Brothers into collapse. HBOS shares was the biggest loser on the FTSE 100 overnight, an indicator that investor confidence is not solid about this deal.

In Germany, Hypo Real Estate’s 35 billion euro bailout in Germany continues to raise questions about the management of one of the country’s top 30 listed companies and a major financial group. The German finance minister sneeringly criticised the US last week for its financial woes, but that ill-timed attack has returned to bite the German Government and financial establishment firmly on the balance sheet.

HRE (as Hype is known) is the fourth German bank or financial group to get into trouble since the crunch erupted in August of last year, two of those were state controlled, one was a mixed state-private bank and now the largest of all the problems in Europe so far in Hypo.

The German banking sector, central bank and the European central bank all chipped in: the German Government is expected to give its formal approval to the recapitalisation in the next day or so. The 35 billion euro bailout is in addition to Hypo selling a further 15 billion euros in assets: just who will buy those assets when credit is so tight, remains to be seen. There’s likely to be a European sleight of hand to do that, just as the sale by Belgium’s Dexia bank of its ABN Amro assets is hard to see at the moment.

Hypo though had a 400 billion euro balance sheet, or $US570 billion and the 50 billion euro bailout indicates that the size of the hole must have been growing for months without anyone saying anything, or perhaps German regulators just hoped the crunch would ease and the hole would close.

Part of the answer might be found in the constant references in news stories and commentaries on problems HRE had with Depfa, a Dublin based subsidiary. It seems HRE’s needed the quick bailout when it was unable refinance short-term borrowing within Depfa due to the freeze on lending by banks in Europe and around the world.

Like Dexia, Depfa was a lender to the public sector. Why such a large bailout was needed so quickly is still unexplained by HRE or any one in Germany. No wonder though the Irish Government was so quick to issue its guarantee to the country’s six major financial groups and lenders.  Perhaps the answer might rest in what’s behind these two management changes from HRE.

The board member of HRE and Depfa responsible for long term funding and treasury within Depfa and for “Public Sector and Infrastructure finance” within the group has gone, as a second executive, the Dublin-based CEO of Depfa for the past year where he had responsibility for “Public Sector Origination and Infrastructure Finance.

That’s a big hint.

Peter Fray

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