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Memo to BofC | Canadian lesson ought to be benefit of early co-operative action – not “it began outside … “

I have to take issue with this statement by the Bank of Canada Deputy Governor made this morning to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance.  Without a full and proper understanding of the crisis, how can our leaders be exepcted to appropriately address it.  In particular this is central bank advice to the House of Commons.  Yes a global solution is required, but no it begain inside all countries borders, and here is the Canadian experience followed at this blog.

Opening statement by Pierre Duguay Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance

Because the crisis we are facing is global in nature and began outside our borders, most solutions must be found at the international level. …   I would note that there has been a great deal of interest worldwide in the resilience of Canada’s financial institutions in the face of the global economic crisis. Unlike their counterparts in other major economies, Canadian banks have not been materially affected by the financial crisis.

To state that the global problem began outside our (Canadian) borders is just incorrect.  I imagine his defense of that statement would be to make the point that the sub prime crisis was American. But that statement belies the now understood nature of the problem being derivatives and SIV’s that were assessed in mathematical terms with improper understanding nor accounting for risk.

The global problem of derivatives which are still over $600 trillion exists because those instruments were a result of real assets being dissected into different components and repackaged as new instruments that bore no resemblance of, nor clear line of sight to the original asset.  This is well known now, and to suggest that world market passed Canada by, is disingenuous at best.

All countries had banks participating in the international money market investing in securities they did not understand and Canada is not exempt from that fact.  Back when I started counting the extent of the problem when frankly few acknowledged it publicly (early 2007), Canadian banks were north of $6bn in write offs associated with sub prime and other very high risk investments, such as the 3/4 billion natural gas speculation at BMO.  CIBC though led the way with $3bn of sub prime losses at that point.  In July of 2008 Dundee Securities painted CIBC as a takeover candidate.  I have since lost track of the sub prime losses in Canada, but they have not gone down.

Then there was the Pan Canadian Investments arrangement orchestrated by Purdy Crawford on behalf of the Bank of Canada (yes, the place where Duguay works) and Government of Canada, whereby some $31 Bn in derivatives, involving secondary players in Canada, were removed  from the financial system and sheltered in an arrangement that ensured no immediate demand for payment on the Canadian banking system would occur.  This was a visionary move taking place in 2007, and before the extent of the world crisis was understood.  But those $31 bn do exist, and I believe Canada could have had its own “Lehman Brothers” crisis in 2008 had that action not occurred in 2007, and being wrapped up in January 2009.  Pages 1 & 2 of this pdf prepared by Pan Canadian and hosted on the E&Y site, highlights the direct involvement of the banks, including $21 bn of it relative to CDS (Credit Default Swaps).

So to say Canadian banks were not materially affected is something of a glossing of the facts.  A better approach for the speech would be to focus on Canadas natural conservative tendencies, early action to address problems,  foresight etc.

Canada took conservative and early action to prevent becoming embroiled in the fiasco being played out in US and UK particularly whereby even Lloyds, that bastion of risk adversity is on brink of full government ownership.  With Debt to Equity ratios ranging from the excellent TD at 14 :1 to CIBC at 25 :1 Canadian banks are on average in better shape now than many others around the world, assuming their bad debts allowances are reasonable and assets well valued, however at the lower end care and watchful eyes are required to ensure stability.

All this to say that Canada is not exempt from the roots as well as the woes of the crisis, and there are lessons to be learned from early action, and proactive work between the government, the central bank and the banks’ – lessons that the US could learn, rather than their naturally adverserial approach.  But lets not pretend we are being dragged into someone elses problem and unwillingly help to fix it.

Written by Colin Henderson

March 5, 2009 at 15:39

2 Responses

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  1. Colin Well said. I am a membr of the Irish Financial Reg Consumer Panel, and challenged our people in June 08 on the derivative dangers. Our Government seems to be facinated with the ”best practice” Canadian model. But I wonder about it.

    I am more impressed with George Cooper’s analysis of ”’The origins of Financial crisis ” A mad system has been invented which can rot from inside out as well as outside in, unless it has a proper control system subject to the Law of Requisite Variety.

    prof noel mulcahy

    March 6, 2009 at 16:19

  2. Prof Noel … Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I believe there needs to be more and better understanding of this to ensure it does not re-occur.

    Colin

    March 6, 2009 at 17:59


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