Here is an interesting read covering the bank failures.
But Northern Rock doesn’t have their money and, surprisingly, it is not because the bank was dabbling in risky subprime loans. Rather, NR had unwisely adopted the model of “borrowing short to go long” in financing their mortgages just like many of the major banks in the U.S. In other words, they depended on wholesale financing of their mortgages from eager investors in the market, instead of the traditional method of maintaining sufficient capital to back up the loans on their books.
It seemed like a nifty idea at the time and most of the big banks in the US were doing the same thing. It was a great way to avoid bothersome reserve requirements and the loan origination fees were profitable as well. Northern Rock’s business soared. Now they carry a mortgage book totaling $200 billion dollars.
$200 billion! So why can’t they pay out a paltry $4 or $5 billion to their customers without a government bailout?
It’s because they don’t have the reserves and because the bank’s business model is hopelessly flawed and no longer viable. Their assets are illiquid and (presumably) “marked to model”, which means they have no discernible market value. They might as well have been “marked to fantasy”,it amounts to the same thing. Investors don’t want them. So Northern Rock is stuck with a $200 billion albatross that’s dragging them under.
A more powerful tsunami is about to descend on the United States where many of the banks have been engaged in the same practices and are using the same business model as Northern Rock. Investors are no longer buying CDOs, MBSs, or anything else related to real estate. No one wants them, whether they’re subprime or not. That means that US banks will soon undergo the same type of economic gale that is battering the U.K right now. The only difference is that the U.S. economy is already listing from the downturn in housing and an increasingly jittery stock market.
The panic at Northern rock is the first of what will become a common occurrence as banks begin to fail. Many banks are in the same situation because they all invested in a similar way. Investing their money in long term investments like mortgages. Mortgages that are defaulting in record numbers. These other banks were watching as panicked citizens swarmed in record numbers to close their accounts. When it becomes their turn, I expect them to give the public no warning. I'm expecting them to simply bar the doors.