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4 Europe nations ban short selling

August 12, 2011

France, Spain, Italy and Belgium will impose bans on short-selling from today to stabilize markets after European banks including Societe Generale SA hit their lowest level since the credit crisis.

“While short-selling can be a valid trading strategy, when used in combination with spreading false market rumors this is clearly abusive,” the European Securities and Markets Authority, which coordinates the work of national regulators in the 27- nation European Union, said in a statement after talks ended late yesterday. National regulators will impose the bans “to restrict the benefits that can be achieved from spreading false rumors or to achieve a regulatory level playing field.”

The watchdogs are trying to stem a rout that sent European bank stocks to their lowest in almost 2 1/2 years and quell concern that European lenders may be struggling to fund themselves. Banks’ overnight borrowings from the European Central Bank jumped to the highest in three months yesterday, a sign some lenders may have need for emergency cash. Regulators imposed similar limits on short sales in September 2008 following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

The move “shows a sense of panic among European regulators,” Giri Cherukuri, head trader for Oakbrook Investments, which manages $2.7 billion, said in a telephone interview. “On the other hand, people have been calling for regulators to do something decisive, and this is one step along that way.”
Asian Short Bans
Market turbulence has already led Turkey to curb short sales and threaten “severe” penalties for manipulation, following nations including Greece and South Korea. Britain, the first to impose a temporary ban in September 2008, lifted its restrictions in January 2009. The Financial Services Authority said yesterday it has no plans to reintroduce a ban.

South Korea may shorten its three-month ban started Aug. 10 if the market stabilizes, Kwon Hyouk Se, Financial Supervisory Service Governor, said today. Taiwan’s stock exchange doesn’t plan to follow Europe’s short-selling measures, as the island’s equity market is “still stable,” said Michael Lin, a spokesman at the exchange.

Japanese Financial Services Minister Shozaburo Jimi and Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission spokesman Jonathan Li separately declined to comment on any short-selling measures.

‘Unintended Consequences’
Short-sellers sell borrowed shares with plans to buy them back later at a lower price, a practice politicians and some investors blame for roiling markets.

“EU policy makers don’t seem to understand the law of unintended consequences,” Jim Chanos, the short seller known for predicting Enron Corp.’s collapse, said by e-mail. “The vast majority of short-selling financial shares is by other financial institutions, hedging their counterparty risks, not speculators. The interbank lending market froze up completely in October to December 2008 — after the short-selling bans.”

The gap between the three-month euro interbank offered rate and the overnight indexed swap rate widened yesterday to the most since April 2009, showing that European banks are becoming more reluctant to lend to each other for longer than overnight. The Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index, which climbed 3.4 percent yesterday, is down 27 percent this year.
France, Belgium
France’s markets regulator said in a statement it will ban any net short positions and any increase in such positions for at least the next 15 days. The 11 companies covered by the restrictions include insurer Axa SA (CS), BNP Paribas (BNP) SA, Credit Agricole SA (ACA), Natixis and Societe Generale, the regulator said. Market makers will be exempt from the ban.

In Belgium, the local regulator said it banned short- selling “by any means whatsoever.” Existing short positions won’t be banned, though can’t be increased. Ageas, Dexia SA, KBC Groep NV (KBC) and KBC Ancora are covered by the limits.

The board of Italy’s securities markets regulator, Consob, postponed a meeting to before the market opens today, said an official at the Rome-based watchdog, who couldn’t be identified in line with its policy. The meeting will address short sales and measures to review the practice, the official said.

Florence Harmon, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, declined to comment on the EU measures.
Short-Term Funding
Frederic Oudea, chief executive officer of Paris-based Societe Generale (GLE), defended the company against speculation that a deterioration in France’s creditworthiness would damage the bank’s stability. He called the rumors “absolute rubbish” in an Aug. 10 interview with CNBC after the stock sank 15 percent.Oudea’s bank is among lenders being targeted by investors because of its perceived dependence on short-term funding, according to analysts at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc.

“The primary culprit for the share-price decline is funding concerns for European banks in general and French banks in particular,” RBS analysts including Stefan Stalmann said in a note to clients yesterday. “The mix of euro doubts and rating fears in recent days and weeks may have dented the confidence of funding counterparties, which has then fed back into equity markets.”

Societe Generale, Credit Agricole, Spain’s Bankia SA, Italy’s UniCredit SpA (UCG) and Intesa Sanpaolo SpA (ISP) as well as Germany’s Commerzbank AG (CBK) are among banks with the lowest net stable funding ratios and are most reliant on short-term sources of wholesale funding, RBS said. Societe Generale said on Aug. 10 it had fulfilled “almost all” of its funding plan for 2011.
Funding Plans
Stable funds are those that banks can expect to have for at least a year even in stressed market conditions, such as term deposits and long-standing consumer deposits. The latest round of Basel rules, scheduled to become binding at the start of 2018, will set a minimum amount of stable funds that banks will have to use to finance different types of lending.

“It’s quite likely, in our view, that funding will not become a serious issue for the large French banks, that anxieties subside and that the shares rebound,” the RBS analysts said. “But there is a non-trivial risk that confidence deteriorates further.”

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