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Foreign banks may be in bailout line too

An HSBC bank branch

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Secretary Paulson wants the bailout to be open to all banks with what he calls "significant operations in the United States." Regardless of who owns them. But that might not play too well in Congress. From the European Desk in London, Stephen Beard explains American taxpayers may wind up bailing out more foreign banks than American ones.


STEPHEN BEARD: Foreign banks have been among the biggest casualties of the subprime debacle. UBS of Switzerland alone has already written off more than $40 billion in toxic assets.

Peter Hann is a former American investment banker and now a lecturer at the Cass Business School in London. He can understand why American taxpayers may not want to bail out foreign banks.

PETER HANN: The Royal Bank of Scotland, the Union Bank of Switzerland or Credit Agricole, they took risks like everybody else. They're big, sophisticated organizations. Why should the U.S. taxpayer support their shareholders?

Nevertheless, Hann supports the global reach of the bailout. He says that as the dominant force in the global economy, the U.S. had to take a broad approach.

Economist Andrew Hilton agrees, but says U.S. taxpayers shouldn't -- and won't -- shoulder the whole burden.

ANDREW HILTON: Other governments will be forced to do something similar, perhaps not on such a grand scale. But something similar.

No foreign government has stepped up to the plate so far. But, says Peter Hann, they could be induced to do so. Paulson could insist on the U.S. getting a large equity stake in all the foreign banks that it bails out.

HANN: Certain foreign governments might not like Paulson's bank to own a major share, and that might encourage them to contribute to the process and buy the securities themselves rather than let Paulson's bank do it.

Hann says the condition of an equity stake might even make the Paulson plan more palatable to the beleaguered American taxpayers.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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