From Money Morning:
We dropped the line yesterday about the banks having $13 trillion of off-balance sheet business. We’ve mentioned this number several times over the last year, but if you’re a new reader to Money Morning, here’s a link to the Reserve Bank of Australia spreadsheet that contains the awful truth.
To be precise, it currently runs to $13,058,814,195,842.70.
Just to put that in perspective, the banks have a total of $2.59 trillion of on-balance sheet assets. We’re sure the banks and the RBA will claim that all the off-balance sheet business is completely offset, so that losses are contained.
Personally, we don’t think you should believe a word of it. The number one risk with the off-balance sheet business is counterparty risk. As long as each counterparty can keep the ponzi scheme going then sure, everything will be tickety-boo.
But as we all know, that can’t happen. We’ve seen counterparties collapse before (Lehman, Bear Sterns, etc…) and they’ll collapse or need bailing out again.
There’s only so long that banks can keep the ponzi going. They’ve scraped through by the skin of their teeth thanks to an unprecedented bail-out by the taxpayer.
You see, $13 trillion is $13 trillion. It’s the big unspoken risk that the banks have created for themselves.
You can see the growth in off balance sheet business for yourself here:
So let me make one thing clear. When you hear all the talk about banks deleveraging and de-risking, don’t believe a word of it. As you can see from the chart above, they’re in as deep as they’ve ever been.