Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Stuff: Zombies and your money.

As if pop horror's seemingly endless wallowing in zombie crudolla wasn't spirit-killing enough, the phenomenon has reached a new misery inducing levels by being linked to the other great soul-numbing fact of modern American life: the economy.

Welcome to the era of the American zombie bank.

For a group not noted for their poetic sensibilities, financial types have some truly descriptive and colorful slang. Way back in 1997, in a Wall Street Journal article about the "lost decade" in Japan (a ten-year slump in Japan's economy experienced zero growth), economist Edward Kane coined the term zombie bank. Zombie banks are created when a combination of government support and shady accounting practices not only prevent banks from failing, but turns them in sucking black holes of crappy value. In the colorful phrasing of WSJ reporter Martin Mayer:

Such walking dead devour their own good assets every night, and thanks to the magic of compound interest they become exponentially more insolvent . . . But governments and central banks vouched for the zombie banks, which were able to keep borrowing dollars from banks in other countries.

In theory, a propped up bank could be saved by the correct balance of wise stewardship and carefully managed injections of cash. In practice, a often badly handled combo results in a bank that just keeps negating the cash injections with its ever growing debt. This doesn't just obliterate any wealth the government may throw at the bank, but starts to drag on the health of other banks. As mentioned above, the zombies continue to borrow money just like a healthy bank would. Unfortunately, this wealth doesn't circulate back out into the system in the form of profit-generating loans. Instead, like the government support, it vanishes down the ever-growing debt-hole of the zombie bank.

This grim term invented to explain the collapse of the Pacific Rim economic boom has, zombie-like, risen again. Only, this time, experts are using it to describe American banks receiving bailout money from the gov.

No comments: