Major US banks inject $30 billion to rescue First Republic Bank

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By Pete Schroeder, Chris Prentice and Nupur Anand

(Reuters) – Large U.S. banks injected $30 billion into First Republic Bank on Thursday, swooping in to rescue the lender caught up in a widening crisis triggered by the collapse of two other mid-size U.S. lenders over the past week.

Banking stocks globally have been battered since Silicon Valley Bank collapsed last week due to bond-related losses that piled up when interest rates surged last year, raising questions about what else might be lurking in the wider banking system.

Within days, the market turmoil had ensnared Swiss lender Credit Suisse, forcing it to borrow up to $54 billion from Switzerland’s central bank to shore up liquidity.

By Thursday afternoon, the spotlight whipsawed back to the United States as big banks led an effort to shore up support for First Republic, a regional lender whose shares had tumbled 70% in the last nine trading sessions.

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GRAPHIC – First Republic Bank’s stock market collapse

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Some of the biggest U.S. banking names including JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup Inc, Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo & Co, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were involved in the rescue, according to a statement from the banks.

U.S. regulators said the show of support was most welcome, and showed the resilience of the banking system.

A round of financing on Sunday raised through JPMorgan had given First Republic access to $70 billion in funds. But that failed to calm investors as worries of a contagion deepened with the demise of Signature Bank after SVB and depositors began moving cash to larger lenders that are perceived to be sounder.

First Republic Bank’s stock closed up 10%, erasing earlier losses after being halted several times on Thursday. But its shares fell steeply in after-market trading, after the bank said it would suspend its dividend.

The bank’s stock price is down more than 70% since March 6.

News of the rescue also helped boost Wall Street indexes, with JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America all up more than 1%, while the benchmark S&P 500 Banks Index recovered 2.2%.    Smaller banks also rebounded from the recent sell-off, with Fifth Third Bancorp, PNC Financial Services Group and KeyCorp each gaining more than 4%.

EMERGENCY LIQUIDITY

Earlier in the day, Credit Suisse became the first major global bank to take up an emergency lifeline since the 2008 financial crisis as fears of contagion swept the banking sector and raised doubts over whether central banks will be able to sustain aggressive interest rate hikes to rein in inflation.

Rapidly rising interest rates have made it harder for some businesses to pay back or service loans, increasing the chances of losses for lenders already worried about a recession.

However, the European Central Bank raised interest rates by 50 basis points on Thursday as flagged, stressing the resilience of the euro area banking sector while assuring it had plenty of tools to offer liquidity support if needed.

The U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to follow the ECB move with a quarter-point interest-rate hike that just days ago looked possibly derailed by turmoil in the banking sector.

Policymakers have emphasized that the current turmoil is different than the global financial crisis 15 years ago as banks are better capitalised and funds more easily available.

But central bank data on Thursday also showed that banks sought record amounts of emergency liquidity from the Federal Reserve in recent days, driving up the size of the Fed’s balance sheet after months of contraction.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the country’s banking system remains sound thanks to “decisive and forceful” actions following the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.

Allianz, one of Europe’s biggest financial firms, said authorities were “well equipped” to deal with any liquidity crisis, “unlike what happened during” the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

FOCUS ON FACTS

Credit Suisse, a bank with a 167-year history, became the biggest European name swept up in the turmoil after its largest investor said it could not provide more funds due to regulatory constraints.

It said it would exercise an option to borrow up to 50 billion Swiss francs ($54 billion) from the Swiss National Bank, which confirmed it would provide liquidity to the bank against sufficient collateral.

Credit Suisse shares closed 19% higher on Thursday, recovering some of their 25% fall on Wednesday. Since March 8, before last week’s collapse of SVB, European banks have lost around $165 billion in market value, Refinitiv data shows.

The stock market value of Switzerland’s second-largest bank has fallen by 90% since its peak in February 2007 of around $91 billion, to around $8.66 billion following a prolonged slide in its shares.

Chief Executive Ulrich Koerner told Credit Suisse staff in a memo they should focus on facts as he pledged to move forward rapidly with a plan to streamline operations.

Analysts said the measures will buy time for Credit Suisse to carry out a planned restructuring and possibly take further steps to pare back the Swiss lender.

“We would not exclude the possibility of further restructuring statements from management designed to further simplify the bank,” Thomas Hallett at KBW said in a note.

Credit Suisse bankers contacted clients in Asia to reassure them after the latest inflow of funds.

    “We’ve been telling them to read the statements and look at the fact that we are buying 3 billion francs’ worth of bonds because they are so cheap,” said a Hong Kong-based senior banker, who declined to be named.

GRAPHIC – Credit Suisse goes off piste

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(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in Singapore, Scott Murdoch in Sydney, John Revill in Zurich, Amanda Cooper in London, Saeed Azhar in New York and Tom Sims in Frankfurt, Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru, Rae Wee in Singapore, Chiara Elisei and Dhara Ranasinghe in London, Vera Eckert and Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt, Yasmin Mehnaz in Bengaluru, Noel Randewich in Oakland, California; Writing by Deepa Babington, Sam Holmes and Alexander Smith; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Matthew Lewis)

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