Airbags for banks?

by Prof. Dr. Martin Hellmich *


Credit Suisse Group has issued Sfr6bn ($6.2bn) of contingent convertible bonds (CoCo-Bonds).


Contingent convertible bonds are like normal bonds with an exception: they are converted into equity by a trigger event such as the event of a decline in the banks Tier 1 capital ratio to less than 7 per cent.

Such bonds are intended to bolster a lenders equity in a crunch through the commitments of private sector investors. This mechanism shall avoid scenarios rather where too-big-to-fail financial institutions must be saved with taxpayer money as in the recent crisis. By converting the bonds the lender would at once have solved two problems by having less debt and more equity.

An airbag for the finance industry?

As CoCos automatically become equity if a banks capital falls below a set level they will play in future a crucial role under the new Basel III requirements and especially by meeting Swiss regulators demands to hold almost double the amount of capital required under new Basel III rules.


Basel III aims to improve and raise the quality of capital held by banks. Banks will be required to hold a greater amount of tangible common equity (minimum requirement for maintaining normal operations raised to 4.5% against the current 2% of risk weighted assets) which has the greatest loss-absorbing capacity.

What really counts in the end…

Common equity forms a part of Tier 1 Capital. There are also stricter criteria for other instruments that will be considered as part of Tier 1 Capital. These instruments must be able to absorb losses for the bank on a “going-concern” basis, i.e. it assumes that this capital will allow the bank to remain solvent.


Big Swiss banks UBS and Credit Suisse must hold almost twice as much capital as set out in the new international Basel III standards.

They must build their safety net to 19%, 10% of which are in the form of the safest and most liquid equity and 9% in CoCo bonds.

In this context CoCo-Bonds are playing a crucial rule in limiting the risk that a bank failure would drag down the economy and shifting the burden of protecting struggling banks from the taxpayer to the private sector.

Switzerland’s locomotives are Switzerland’s bulk risk

This instrument is of a specific high importance for a country like Switzerland where the worth of the banking sector in relation to the total economy is quite high and the capacity of the state and the tax payer would be massively overstrained in a situation where one of the two big players would be in an existential struggle.

*Martin Hellmich ist Managing Director der Brokerage Firma Cantor Fitzgerald Europe in London.

Er ist Fakultätsmitglied des Lorange Institute of Business sowie der Frankfurt School of Manangment and Finance.


A truly global currency?

by Prof. Dr. Martin Hellmich*

Some analysts are warning that the USD is in danger of collapse because of the exploding U.S. government debt, the horrific US trade deficit and the new round of quantitative easing.

Others are warning that the EUR is in danger because of the serious sovereign debt crisis that is affecting Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Belgium and Spain.

The euro crisis will be with us for many years as the underlying causes, such as southern Europe’s lack of competitiveness which cannot be remedied overnight. The PIIGS states face years of low growth, severe curbs on public spending and social unrest.

The EUs governments need to agree on major reforms to Eurozone governance like stricter budgetary discipline, more mutual surveillance of economic policies and a mechanism for dealing with governments that need to restructure debt. Otherwise the chances of a default by one or more euro zone countries are very high.

This could be followed by a domino effect on other countries and even Germany, France and the UK would end up injecting capital and liquidity into their banks to ensure solvency.

Concerning the Dollar (USD), China and Russia already announced that instead of using USD to trade with each other they will now using their own national currencies. The fact that the USD has been the primary reserve currency of the world for decades has given the United States a tremendous amount of economic power.

Many countries have been heavily investing in dollar-denominated assets and now they are upset that those investments are going to be devalued.

So what happens if the USD and the EUR both collapse?

Creates a new financial order emerging from the ashes of a simultaneous collapse of the USD and the EUR a truly global currency? Or would the nations going back to use dozens of different national currencies?

With our knowledge today it is hard to decide which scenario will become true or is even the most probable. But we cannot deny that we have the severe part of a fundamental currency crisis in front of us and if the USD and/or the EUR collapse the world will certainly never be the same ever after.

* Martin Hellmich ist Managing Director der Brokerage Firma Cantor Fitzgerald Europe in London Fakultätsmitglied des Lorange Institute of Business sowie der Frankfurt School of Manangment and Finance.

Am Lorange Institute leitetet er das Module Wealth Management – Understanding and Hedging Currencies, Interest Rates and Commodities.