European banks: Borrowed time

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It has been a traumatic week for European banks. Their problems run deepest in Italy

FOR those who worry that a repeat of the crisis of 2007-08 is imminent, this week brought fresh omens. Shares of big banks tumbled; despite a mid-week rally, American lenders are down by 19% this year, European ones by 24% (see article). The cost of insuring banks’ debts against default rose sharply, especially in Europe. The boss of Deutsche Bank felt obliged to declare that the institution he runs is “absolutely rock solid”; Germany’s finance minister professed to have no concerns (thereby adding to the concerns). This is not 2008: big banks are not about to topple. But there are reasons to worry, and many of them converge on one country.
Start with the better news. Banks are more strongly capitalised than they were. Even in Europe, where lenders have been slower than their …

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