'The Sound of Music' film

Austria is fast becoming Europe’s latest debt nightmare

Ah Austria, land of schnitzel, lederhosen, Mozart, alpine meadows and beer drinking. Less widely appreciated is its special place in the history of catastrophic banking crises.

It was the failure of Creditanstalt, a Viennese bank founded in 1855 byAnselm von Rothschild, that arguably sparked the Great Depression, setting off an unstoppable chain reaction of bankruptcies throughout Europe and America.

No-one would think that what happened last week at Austria’s failed Hypo Alpe-Adria Bank International falls into quite the same category; we are meant to be in the recovery phase of the latest global banking crisis, so this is more about re-setting the system than again bringing it to its knees, right?

Well, make up your own mind. I suspect neither financial markets nor policymakers have yet caught onto the full significance of the latest turn of events.

In a nutshell, the Austrian government has had enough of funding the bank’s losses, and announced plans to “bail-in” external creditors to the tune of €7.6bn instead.

As such, this marks a test case of new European rules to make creditors pay for failing banks. About time too, you might say. What took them so long?

Read more