Is Deutsche Bank the next Lehman?

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Looking back at the Lehman Brothers collapse of 2008, it’s amazing how quickly it all happened.  In hindsight there were a few early-warning signs,  but the true scale of the disaster publicly unfolded only in the final moments before it became apparent that Lehman was doomed.

And the rest is history.

Could this happen to Deutsche Bank?

By the time we are aware of a crisis – if one is in the offing — it will already be a roaring blaze by the time it is known publicly.   It is by now well-established that truth is the first casualty of all banking crises.  There will be little in the way of early warnings.   To that end, we begin connecting the dots:

Here’s a re-cap of what’s happened at Deutsche Bank over the past 15 months:

  • In April of 2014,  Deutsche Bank was forced to raise an additional 1.5 Billion of Tier 1 capital to support its capital structure.  Why?
  • 1 month later in May of 2014, the scramble for liquidity continued as DB announced the selling of 8 billion euros worth of stock – at up to a 30% discount.   Why again?  It was a move which raised eyebrows across the financial media.  The calm outward image of Deutsche Bank did not seem to reflect their rushed efforts to raise liquidity.  Something was decidedly rotten behind the curtain.
  • Fast forwarding to March of this year:   Deutsche Bank fails the banking industry’s “stress tests” and is given a stern warning to shore up it’s capital structure.
  • In April,  Deutsche Bank confirms its agreement to a joint settlement with the US and UK regarding the manipulation of LIBOR.   The bank is saddled with a massive $2.1 billion payment to the DOJ.  (Still, a small fraction of their winnings from the crime). 
  • In May,  one of Deutsche Bank’s CEOs, Anshu Jain is given an enormous amount of new authority by the board of directors.  We guess that this is a “crisis move”.  In times of crisis the power of the executive is often increased.
  • June 5:  Greece misses its payment to the IMF.   The risk of default across all of its debt is now considered acute.   This has massive implications for Deutsche Bank.
  • June 6/7:  (A Saturday/Sunday, and immediately following Greece’s missed payment to the IMF) Deutsche Bank’s two CEO’s announce their surprise departure from the company.  (Just one month after Jain is given his new expanded powers).   Anshu Jain will step down first at the end of June.  Jürgen Fitschen will step down next May.
  • June 9: S&P lowers the rating of Deutsche Bank to BBB+  Just three notches above “junk”.  (Incidentally,  BBB+ is even lower than Lehman’s downgrade – which preceded its collapse by just 3 months)

And that’s where we are now.  How bad is it?  We don’t know because we won’t be permitted to know.  But these are not the moves of a healthy company.

How exposed is Deutsche Bank?

The trouble for Deutsche Bank is that its conventional retail banking operations are not a significant profit center.  To maintain margins, Deutsche Bank has been forced into riskier asset classes than its peers.

Deutsche Bank is sitting on more than $75 Trillion in derivatives bets — an amount that is twenty times greater than German GDP.    Their derivatives exposure dwarfs even JP Morgan’s exposure – by a staggering $5 trillion.

With that kind of exposure, relatively small moves can precipitate catastrophic losses.   Again, we must note that Greece just missed its payment to the IMF – and further defaults are most certainly not beyond the realm of possibility.

Meet Tom Humphrey.  He heads up Deutsche Bank’s Investment Banking operations on Wall Street.

He was also head of fixed income at Lehman.

Full article: Is Deutsche Bank the next Lehman? (NotQuant)

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