Denial is a ubiquitous psychological defense mechanism. It involves the repression of bad news, unpleasant information, and anxiety-inducing experiences. Judging by the German press, the country is in a state of denial regarding the waning health of its economy and the dwindling fortunes of its financial system.
Commerzbank, Germany’s fourth largest lender, saw its shares decimated by more than 80 percent to a 19-year low, having increased its loan-loss provisions to cover flood-submerged east German debts. Faced with a precipitous drop in net profit, it reacted reflexively by sacking yet more staff. The shares of many other German banks trade below book value.
Dresdner Bank – Germany’s third largest private establishment – already trimmed an unprecedented one fifth of its workforce this year alone. Other leading German banks – such as Deutsche Bank and Hypovereinsbank – resorted to panic selling of equity portfolios, real-estate, non-core activities, and securitized assets to patch up their ailing income statements. Deutsche Bank, for instance, unloaded its US leasing and custody businesses.
On September 19, Moody’s changed its outlook for Germany’s largest banks from “stable” to “negative”. In a scathing remark, it said:
“The rating agency stated several times already that current difficult economic conditions that are hurting the banking business in Germany come on top of the legacy of past strategies that were less focused on strengthening the banks’ recurring earning power. Indeed, the German private-sector banks, as a group, remain among the lowest-performing large European banks.”
Last week, Fitch Ratings, the international agency, followed suit and downgraded the long-term , short- term, and individual ratings of Dresdner Bank and of Bayerische Hypo- und Vereinsbank (HVB).
These were only the last in a series of negative outlooks pertaining to German insurers and banks. It is ironic that Fitch cited the “bear equity markets (that) have taken their toll not only on trading results but also on sales to private customers, the fund management business and on corporate finance.”
Germans used to be immune to the stock exchange and its lures until they were caught in the frenzied global equities bubble. Moody’s observes wryly that “a material and stable retail franchise in its home market, even if more modestly profitable, can and does represent a reliable line of defence against temporary difficulties in financial and wholesale markets.”
The technology-laden and scandal-ridden Neuer Markt – Europe’s answer to America’s NASDAQ – as well as the SMAX exchange for small-caps were shut down last week, the former having lost a staggering 96 percent of its value since March 2000. This compared to Britain’s AIM, which lost “only” half its worth. Even Britain’s infamous FTSE-TechMARK faded by a “mere” 88 percent. German courses London