Japanese banks' bad debts 50% up

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The Independent Online
BAD DEBTS held by the big Japanese banks increased by more than 50 per cent in the past six months to Y12,300bn ( pounds 61bn), according to figures released yesterday by the Japanese Ministry of Finance.

Earlier in the day the president of Mitsubishi Bank, Tsuneo Wakai, announced a scheme for a joint finance company, to be funded by the banks themselves, which is intended to help banks get rid of their property-related bad loans.

Neither announcement did much to encourage financial analysts, who say the government is still understating the magnitude of the bad debt problem, and see little value in the banks' scheme to bail themselves out unless they are granted some public money.

The Ministry of Finance figures covered loans from Japan's 21 main banks on which no interest payments have been made in the past six months. But private analysts estimate the real figure is closer to Y30,000bn.

Tsutomu Hata, the Finance Minister, said yesterday that the amount of bad debt would take some time to get over, but he believed Japan's financial institutions were strong enough to absorb the debts.

Despite hints earlier in the summer that the government might chip in to a fund to help bail out the banks, public opposition to using taxpayers' money to clean up the mess of rampant speculation has caused the Ministry of Finance to proceed more cautiously in recent weeks.

On Tuesday Mr Hata said there would be no injection of public funds for the time being. 'Japanese financial institutions should make autonomous decisions. They speculated in the bubble years, so they should pursue their own solutions,' he said at a press conference.

However, he stopped short of ruling out any government assistance in the future.

Three of Japan's biggest shipbuilders and defence contractors - Mitsubishi, Kawasaki and Sumitomo - have announced sharply lower first-half pre-tax earnings, blaming sluggish general machinery sales and a prolonged economic slowdown.