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Zombie Banks: How Broken Banks and Debtor Nations Are Crippling the Global Economy Hardcover – November 22, 2011

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Editorial Reviews Review

Q&A with the Author of Zombie Banks
Author Yalman Onaran
Everyone is afraid that the world economy is about to go into a second recession. Why are we heading in that direction?
That's because we haven't fixed the problems that had caused the one in 2008. Leaders in the U.S. and Europe patched up the troubled spots, printed lots of money and avoided the underlying issues. Especially the banking system, which blew up to bring the world economy down a few years ago, is still fragile, too wounded to support a recovery and filled with even more risk. That's why I call the banks zombies. They will make the next blowup more spectacular.

Why are the shares of European banks falling so much? What are investors worried about?
French and German banks are more exposed to the troubled economies of the region than others. During the boom times -- when Irish housing prices quadrupled, Greek civil servants were allowed to retire at the age 53 -- French and German banks fueled the boom in those countries. Now that the bubble has burst, those same banks face huge losses. There's too much debt in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain. When the debt isn't paid -- and most of it can't be -- then lots of European banks will go bust.

What about the stress tests? The Europeans have carried out three of those in the last three years? Why haven't those helped?
The first three tests failed miserably because their assumptions were too optimistic. For example, the banks' holdings of Greek government bonds were discounted by 20 percent. But Greek debt was already trading at 40 percent of their face value. Finally, in October 2011, the EU took a step toward a more realistic test, assuming proper losses on sovereign debt holdings and asking the region’s banks to raise some 100 billion Euro in the next nine months. Even this is less than half the capital hole that exists in the banking system, but it’s better than nothing. So it will probably help the EU stave off the end for now. But once again, the zombies are being propped up –- governments will inject capital if banks cannot raise it in markets –- instead of being wound down.

U.S. bank stocks have also taken a beating in the second half of 2011. Are they also exposed to Greece or other EU countries?
Our banks didn't lend to Greece, Ireland or Portugal that much but they have other exposures to them -- derivatives backing their debt, loan guarantees, etc. So U.S. banks could suffer substantial losses in case of a string of EU defaults. On top of that is the added concern that the U.S. economy is sliding back into recession. We have our share of zombie banks who've managed to stay alive with temporary patches. They're too weak to survive a second downturn.

Why are Bank of America shares dropping more than its peers?
BofA has the largest portfolio of mortgages which are souring and faces the biggest lawsuits due to home loans packaged into tricky securities that blew up in 2008. It needs more capital to cope with mounting losses, but its leadership has been refusing to raise any. Market forces push zombie banks into a corner that's very hard to come out of. The longer BofA waits, the lower its share prices get, making a capital increase more costly and less effective.

What's the solution? What do we need to do? How do we avert another crisis?
Both Europe and United States need serious debt restructuring. Here mortgages need to be written down to diminished house values, in Europe sovereign bonds to levels that will allow countries to resume growth. The write-offs will cause losses on banks' books in both sides of the Atlantic. Unlike 2008, we should let the weakest fall this time, shut them down, sell off their good assets and let the surviving healthy banks pick up their market share. That way the financial sector can resume supporting economy recovery and consumers, companies return to consumption and investment.

From the Inside Flap

Zombie banks are running amok. With net values of less than zero, these institutions continue to operate thanks to the help of national governments that prop them up, print more money, and allow them to avoid financial punishment. Presenting an in-depth look at the issues surrounding this financial phenomenon, Zombie Banks tackles the terror head on, demonstrating how this practice has failed in the past, and why it's destined to do so again.

This revealing new book examines what zombie banking is, why it is practiced, and why it doesn't work. Looking at examples from around the world, it proves that the vast sums invested in keeping these banks afloat has failed to save the United States, the EU, or Japan from their current economic rut, leaving them in just as poor financial shape as before the market crash, only now with reduced resources for the future. Zombie banks are dangerous and positioned to prevent economic recovery. Only by closing the books on these freaks of finance can any country hope to start rebuilding. Author and Bloomberg News reporter Yalman Onaran presents an honest look at how we arrived in this position, bringing together commentary from bank executives, regulators, politicians, and policymakers from around the world, including Joseph Stiglitz and Sheila Bair.

Refusing to shy away from the harsh realities that need to be faced, this book outlines the essential steps that must be taken to get rid of these institutions once and for all. Transforming this highly complex financial issue into something that general business readers and financial professionals alike can understand, Zombie Banks is a must-read for anyone interested in grappling with one of the true monsters of the financial world.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 184 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomberg Press; 1 edition (November 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118094522
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118094525
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,181,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Yalman Onaran (1969- ) was born in Istanbul to lawyer parents whose discussions at home of their court cases made him foreswear studying law himself even though he loved the art of debate, too. He came to the U.S. in 1987 to attend college in Ohio, moved to New York for graduate school at Columbia. He taught at junior high schools before becoming a full-time correspondent for Associated Press and moved back to the Middle East to cover wars and politics. He switched to financial journalism in 1998, joining Bloomberg News and has served in many capacities there. He was covering Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns when they became the first to fall in the financial crisis of 2008-9. He now writes feature articles about banking issues worldwide, comparing the problems of European banks to their U.S. counterparts as well as identifying the effectiveness of new bank regulations.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Scott C. Locklin VINE VOICE on November 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Everyone agrees that the present economic problems are severe and frightening. Few people are interested in exploring how they could get worse. It seems to me that an honest exploration of the fault lines in our economic system are absolutely necessary, yet very few people seem inclined to take a stab at them. I don't understand why concerned people would not demand more such analysis, but most modern journalists seem to be more interested in regurgitating press statements, or engaging in pointless post-facto recrimination.

This book is an effort at serious analysis; it is actual investigative journalism aimed at what is happened and what is presently happening. It provides specific recommendations for heading off future problems before they happen. The author examines "zombie banks." These are banks which should have failed, and which still have the underlying problems which caused the problems in the first place, but which are kept on life support by central banks and governments as "too big to fail." Such banks have distorted the banking system: healthy banks are unable to compete with subsidized banks, and subsidized banks aren't encouraged to perform their primary social function of making loans to people and businesses. The book also outlines the complex interrelationships between failed banks and various other zombie banks, and makes clear the political motivations behind the various confusing EU actions. Despite the fact that this situation already happened in the 90s in Japan, our glorious leaders seem determined to make all the same mistakes the Japanese did. This is a fast-moving situation, and doubly worrisome, as the banking oligarchy who caused these problems in the first place seem to be consolidating their power in the Eurozone.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on November 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Zombie banks don't eat people as the term's historical usage might suggest - instead they eat money. Author Onaran contends that zombie banks, defined as those with net values below zero, are running amok - thanks to being propped up by governments that allow them to continue operating (waiving various requirements), and further aiding them through loans. Who specifically is he talking about in the U.S. - primarily Bank of America, and Citibank. (This isn't Citi's first near-death experience - 1992 real estate losses brought it to the verge of collapse - it was saved by a capital injection from Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and the Fed's massive interest-rate cuts.)

During the S&L crisis regulators allowed floundering S&Ls to book loan origination fees upfront and postpone the costs of servicing the loans; after the 1989 formation of the Resolution Trust, half the 3,234 S&Ls were closed.

Onaran contends that the protests in Greece, U.S. unemployment, Ireland's bank problem, and Japan's 'Lost Decade' are all products of zombie banks, and the governments have failed to correct the underlying causes - big banks with lots of leverage taking crazy risks.

Politicians prefer to kick the can down the road instead of preventing recurrences - avoiding the financial and political pain associated with doing so. The fact that over the past two decades the financial sector has outspent all others in campaign contributions and lobbying, more than the next four combined (health care, defense, transportation, and energy), also helps restrain action; on the other hand, the sector's size explains its relatively large contributions.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By possofazer on September 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book is easy to read. I mention that as somebody who has limited knowledge of finance and the terms hedge fund, derivative and the Federal Reserve are fantastical terms. Unicorns and leprechauns make more sense to me. The book is laid out in a straight forward manner, without obscure terms and if there are, they are explained well enough to have a basic understanding. Now, that being said - I can't say I am fluent in the economy and banking after reading this book by any means. While it was easily understood enough, I feel that one would have to know enough about finance and banking to fully appreciate it. I am sure some concepts flew over my head entirely. But I think reading this book has given me a basic enough knowledge to better understand and conceptualize what's going on in our nation and in the world. I can read something or hear something in the news related to banking and finance without my eyes becoming glazed over now. With the elections coming up, I think this is important to know. I also liked it didn't seem to have any political leaning or agenda.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By evanlucky13 on November 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
this book takes an in depth look at the trouble we are getting ourselves into as the accumulation of the national debt continues to increase. It allows the reader to contemplate deeply on the problems that are arising and perhaps that are to come. One this is certain after reading this title; something has got to give.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By John McCrory on January 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Before reading Zombie Banks, I only grasped the outlines of what happened in the financial sector; the book transformed my understanding so I can actually understand the latest news about austerity measures and credit rating downgrades. What's really rare about this book is that Onaran was able to write a business book that can be understood by lay readers -- people outside the finance, insurance, and real estate industries (like me) -- that doesn't dumb anything down, so it can also have tremendous, lasting value to industry insiders.

There are so many great reasons to read this book, but the best reason may be that it will help readers of any political persuasion to agree why our economy is still limping along, and what can be done to fix it. Onaran shows that every potential solution will inflict a lot pain; the only question is whether we want it over quickly in 2 to 5 years with the banks suffering their fair share of the pain, or slowly over a decade or more with most of the pain suffered by Main St.
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