Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Perceptions and rumors

"Continental was in trouble and had been reporting a steadily increasing volume of problem assets for two years," [bank examiner] Patriarca says. As Continental's capital was drained off by the bad energy loans, his examiners saw signs of a creeping run on deposits. Market confidence was eroding.

The runs tarted in May 1984 on a false rumor. A Japanese wire service story reported that the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency was discussing with the financial giant Nomura Securities its acquisition of Continental Illinois. "Continental called us and said, 'What the hell are you doing?' " Patriarca recalls. "We issued a press release within hours denying it. But the world was goosey about Continental. The rumors had been going on for months in the trading pits. Once there was sufficient question about Continental's viability in the eyes of those large uninsured depositors, bang! - we had a run.

It began in Europe and Japan and quickly struck the United States. It was like no bank run in history; no lines of depositors gathered outside Continental. It was the world's first global electronic run, with billions sucked from the bank by computers in London, Tokyo, and Hong Kong.

From Moira Johnston, Roller Coaster: The Bank of America and the The Future of American Banking, pp. 216-7.

With more prescience than he may have known, [BofA] Corporate Comunications chief Ronald E. Rody, ..., told the conference, "People's perception of the facts is almost as important as what the facts really are. Because people act on their perceptions."

pp. 235-6.

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