16 May 2012

Europe's woes ratchet up fears of another funding freeze

10:19 am on 16 May 2012

Analysts are closely watching the wholesale money markets in Europe for signs they may threaten New Zealand banks' access to funding.

Renewed uncertainty about Greece's future in the euro common currency zone has prompted sharp falls in equity markets recently and led investors to sell commodity currencies like the New Zealand dollar, which has fallen to its lowest level against its American counterpart since December last year.

The latest coalition talks in Greece on Tuesday again failed to form a government and fresh elections will be held in June.

The director of fixed income at Harbour Asset Management, Christian Hawkesby, says fears are growing that the unravelling of the European project will cause more instability in money markets.

Wholesale funding markets are an important source for Australasian banks funding household debt, and Mr Hawkesby says there is a risk the markets will shut as they did late last year.

"At this stage, the New Zealand banks haven't been too affected by the issues that are going on in wholesale funding markets globally. So that's more of a risk rather than something that we're seeing right at the moment.

"I think it is something that needs to be watched over coming weeks and months and ... the first signs we'll be looking for is a drying up of funding activity out of Europe, particularly in London."

Christian Hawkesby says while banks are currently slashing fixed mortgage rates, that could change if their funding sources dries up.