Worries over UK banks' exposure

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The Independent Online
There were growing concerns yesterday about the exposure of British banks to South Korea and other Asian countries. Bank of England figures show that at the end of June British banks had outstanding loans of $6.6bn (pounds 4bn) in South Korea and $13.4bn in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Altogether Asia accounts for around 3 per cent of British banks' assets.

Ian Linnell, a director of the ratings agency IBCA, said: "It would be surprising if the turmoil did not have some impact on British banks, although it is not yet enough to cause serious concern. We are watching things very carefully."

Most banks, after their experience with lending to Latin America in the 1980s, have withdrawn from the emerging markets. "The UK clearing banks have pulled in their horns in international lending," said Mr Linnell.

Their exposure is mainly through investment banking activities, with banks such as Schroders, Flemings, Standard Chartered and HSBC most involved in Asia.

Amongst the overseas banks most exposed are Chase in the US, which last week announced losses of $160m due to turbulence in emerging markets, and the Dutch giant ING, which took over Barings after its collapse.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund was on red alert over the South Korean crisis yesterday. Although it would not comment on the country's situation, a spokesman said an exchange of information with the Korean authorities was continuing. An IMF official was on his way to Seoul.

But Lim Chang-yuel, the country's new finance and economics director, said South Korea would seek regional assistance before asking the IMF to bail it out. He placed his hopes on the Bank of Japan.

"If South Korea fails to pay the short-term loans, Japanese creditors may have to face defaults on long-term loans too," he said.

The IMF has already put up $10bn for Indonesia and $4bn for Thailand. Along with other contributions, the South-east Asian rescue package already amounts to more than $40bn.