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?