Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Financial Post really wants Canadian banks to go shopping

Just got this story sent to me in my email:

National Post: Fed trolls Canada to rescue U.S. banks

In a desperate bid to help U.S. banks recapitalize, Washington is reaching out to Canadian financial institutions to gauge their willingness to participate in rescue operations.
The communications have included phone calls from Fed officials pitching potential sales of assets of U.S. financial companies and at least one intensive discussion of a major rescue operation, according to people familiar with the contacts.
"I don't think Canadian banks want to take a lot of balance sheet risk but I don't think they are going to have to," the [UNNAMED] source said, adding that while the target banks have manysubprime mortgages, the Federal Reserve will backstop these high-risk liabilities. "We could end up in a funny situation two years from now saying this was a once in a generational opportunity for Canadian banks."

While it's been widely reported that the Fed is exhorting foreign banks to check under the sofa cushions for anything they can spare, reading this I see a little conjecture, and a whole lot of effort to drum up a Canadian angle to the story. Call it the financial version of "you provide the pictures and I'll provide the war."

Given the generally provincial and introspective attitude of Canadian banks, I would be deeply surprised if any of them went all-in on distressed US finance assets. A Calgary-born friend who works on Wall Steet is fond of pointing out that Canadian bankers with big balls, bigger ambition and a huge appetite for risk end up in New York, London or Honk Kong. The ones who stay home, well, you could call them cautious, although he uses a different word that starts with "P."

This may indeed be a once-in-a-bubble fire sale. Certainly some big global players are taking advantage. Do Canadian banks have the sack to play too? I have my doubts.

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