The largest U.S. banks have a total exposure of $176 billion to four weak European countries whose debt problems have sent shudders through global financial markets in recent days.
According to a report by Barclays Capital, 73 large U.S. banks have exposure of $82 billion to Ireland, $68 billion to Spain, $18 billion to Greece and $8 billion to Portugal.
The report said the level of exposure was relatively low. It also suggested U.S. banks faced limited risk because much of the balance was collateralized.
"Most of this exposure, which includes low-risk collateralized transactions such as repurchase agreements, is concentrated at the 10 largest U.S. banks," Barclays Capital analysts Jonathan Glionna and Miguel Crivelli said in the report. "In aggregate, exposure to these four countries is approximately 5% of the total foreign exposure of U.S. banks."
The debt burden of the four countries has become the focus of global financial markets in recent weeks. Several sell-offs have pulled stock markets lower, and Europe's common currency has dropped against the dollar.
Few banks disclose their exposure to a specific country, and banks do not have to report their cross-border credit exposure unless it exceeds 0.75% of total assets. The analysts used data from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council to calculate many of the figures.
Only two of the major U.S. banking companies — JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of New York Mellon Corp. — disclosed exposure to any of the countries. The analysts said JPMorgan Chase had $18.4 billion of exposure to Spain, while Bank of New York Mellon had $2.32 billion of exposure to Ireland. Spokesmen for both companies declined to comment.
"Concern regarding the creditworthiness of Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain is elevated," the Barclays Capital report said. "Lately this has affected bank spreads, which remain volatile and sensitive to broad market risk tolerance."
Though "the direct risk of the large U.S. banks to Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain is modest," Barclays Capital said "sovereign risk has supplanted regulatory risk as the primary focus of bank bondholders."