Sumitomo signals pounds 161m write-down: Warning arouses fears for Japanese banks after collapse of bond market

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SUMITOMO Bank yesterday showed the havoc caused by the Japanese bond market collapse in January, warning that it will have to write down the value of its securities portfolio for the year to March 1994, including bonds and stocks, by pounds 161m.

Bank analysts yesterday said that if other Japanese banks had to make similar cuts in their asset valuations for their 1993 annual results the sector could see losses of tens of millions of dollars.

The Japanese will fare worst over falling bond prices because that is where the bond market went down the furthest, but the American investment banks with big derivatives operations have already felt the pinch of gloomy markets, after a record year in 1993.

Bankers Trust, one of the most aggressive derivatives traders, saw profits in the first quarter of 1994 all but wiped out. Last week the New York bank reported trading income of dollars 14m ( pounds 9.5m), down from a record dollars 449m in the previous quarter and dollars 346m in the 1993 first quarter.

Most Japanese banks share a year-end of 31 March 1994, and are due to announce results in May. Under the Bank of Japan's rules they must value their securities and property assets at the lesser of cost or market value.

'The bank expects that operating profit and net income will fall short of previously estimated levels due to factors including the above evaluation losses,' Sumitomo Bank said yesterday.

Analysts fear that such big write- downs may force some bank's capital asset ratios below the minimum set by the Basle agreements. The Japanese minimum capital ratio is 8 per cent.

Falling bond prices will therefore make it harder for Japanese banks to lend, and could exacerbate the recession in Japan.

Japanese banks suffered from similar problems two to three years ago when the real estate market collapsed. They had to make multi- million dollar write-downs on property portfolios, thereby rocking the banking sector to its foundations.

British banks suffered from the UK's own property slump, but are less involved in the new derivatives market than the Americans.