Thursday, November 6, 2008

Credit Crunch and Israeli Banks

Stanley Fischer, Governor of the Bank of Israel, spoke yesterday on the stability of the Israeli banking system. Fischer, along with many other public figures has gone out of his way to keep telling the public that the local banking system is sound. While scaring the public about bank failures is irresponsible, don’t Israelis deserve to be told the truth about what is going on? How about a little honesty from our leaders.

If everything is so rosy, then why does the BOI have a plan to stream money to the local banks in the event of a credit freeze? Is this prudent planning, or cause for worry?

As reported in Globes, Fischer spoke about how disciplined the local Israeli banks have been. “In addition, Israel’s banks had no sub-prime exposure. “Israel’s banks said ‘No’ to this paper,” said Fischer.”

Really? That’s not how I remember it. Bank in March Bank Hapoalim wrote off hundreds of millions of dollars. According to Reuters, “Hapoalim, whose shares have slid some 30 percent so far in 2008, said it posted impairments of 1.18 billion shekels, or $334 million, for its U.S. asset-backed securities portfolio. It had previously said it would write off around $300 million in the fourth quarter due to a decline in the value of its U.S. structured investment vehicle (SIV) holdings.” Other local banks also wrote off smaller amounts.

In the aforementioned Globes article Fischer also said, “Also the banks applied responsible credit policies.” Really? Is loaning money to the wealthiest ten families so that they can spend billions of dollars on international real estate, at the height of the real estate bubble, called responsible lending?

Shouldn’t the central bank head come clean with the Israeli public?

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