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Monday, October 20, 2003

Row Over Resona Bailout

This is obviously part of the backdrop to the election campaign, and it is always hard to judge the significance of things in this context. But Resona is interesting, since it is a strange case, and it could give us some clues as to the real determination for serious reform in Japan. On the face of it, not encouraging.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the country's main opposition, is accusing the government of Junichiro Koizumi of "state-sponsored window dressing and fraud" when it bailed out Resona, the Japanese bank. DPJ officials will meet representatives of the Financial Services Agency, the banking regulator, on Monday and will argue that the government was aware that Resona was insolvent when the FSA decided to inject Y1,960bn ($17.9bn) to prevent the bank collapsing. The opposition's decision to accuse the government of acting illegally escalates the potential political fallout from the Resona rescue and is designed to put pressure on the prime minister and his ruling Liberal Democratic party ahead of a general election in November.

The DPJ will argue that the government deliberately used an inappropriate clause of the Deposit Insurance Corporation law to avoid the stigma of an embarrassing nationalisation as well as protecting shareholders from having the value of their holdings completely wiped out. Following the bail-out, Resona's share price rose sharply.

When it bailed out Resona, the government cited a section of the DIC law that can only be used for banks with a positive net worth. Other sections, however, are for use with "bankrupt financial institutions or financial institutions where assets are unable to fully repay liabilities".

An official at a credit rating agency who asked not to be named said: "In Resona's case, if it did have negative net worth at end-March 2003, as is suggested by the subsequent independent audit, it should have been declared insolvent and dealt with either under [sections] 102(2) or under 102(3)." Section 102(2) allows for the failed institution to be merged with another company, while section 102(3) allows for the full nationalisation of the bank, which would result in shareholders' equity being written down to zero.

Controversy over the Resona bail-out intensified after it was announced this month that the bank would report a far higher than expected loss of Y1,760bn for the first half of the year - a figure almost equal to the Y1,960bn injected by the government.
Source: Financial Times

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