Friday, September 30, 2011

Kerviel versus Greek government debt

It is all a matter of several billions but as I am reading two articles from the business press today I thought it is nice to compare the numbers on both articles. One is about the exposure of European banks to Greek debt. The other one is the history or recent episodes of individual traders causing massive losses on banks because of unauthorized trading. Here are the two numbers that I find interesting to compare:

1. Loss of Societe Generale as a result of unauthorized trades by Jerome Kerviel back in January 2008: 4.9 Billion Euros.

2. Exposure of Societe Generale to Greek government debt today: 2.9 Billion Euros (this is the total amount of Greek debt they hold).

This is not to minimize the risk of holding Greek government debt but it is useful to keep things in perspective. The real danger in Europe would be one of contagion and the most important task for European authorities is to avoid it. Default in Greece will be painful, but the costs could be contained if it does not spill over to other countries which are substantially larger. George Soros makes this point today in an FT article.

Antonio Fatás