Monday, October 17, 2011

When No. 1 Financial-Strength Ranking Spells Doom - By Jonathan Weil

Less than three months ago the European Banking Authority said Dexia SA (DEXB) had passed its so- called stress test with ease. The French-Belgian lender’s July 15 news release carried this headline: “2011 EU-wide Stress Test Results: No Need for Dexia to Raise Additional Capital.”

Then last weekend, 86 days after getting its clean bill of health, Dexia took a government bailout to avoid collapsing. Nobody was surprised this happened. Nor should anyone have been.

The stress-test exercise was a charade, just as it was a year earlier when Bank of Ireland Plc and Allied Irish Banks Plc passed their tests and collapsed soon after. Once again the rules were rigged so only a handful of unimportant banks would flunk. Everyone who was paying attention understood this.

The European Union’s banking authority went through with the farce anyway, presumably aware that in all likelihood some big bank was bound to get a passing grade and quickly implode, the same as last year, causing embarrassment for everyone involved. All of which leads to the important question: Why?

Why would any self-respecting regulator participate in this sort of reputational suicide? Is the problem mass corruption? Is it mass stupidity? Assuming it’s both, where on the stupidity- corruption continuum does one begin and the other end? Whatever the case, the European Banking Authority is making even U.S. regulators look good. That’s no small feat.