The global financial crisis has brought a rather unprecedented period of expansion of banks’ international financial assets and liabilities to an end. In response to the crisis, banks have decreased their international activities as, due to regulatory restrictions, they had to shrink their balance sheets. While total international assets of German banks grew, on average, by 8% per year between 2002 and 2007, international assets dropped by almost 20% in 2008 alone. These adjustments have taken place due to changing risk perceptions, changing regulations, and changes in the sensitivity towards financial frictions. The key question is whether this withdrawal of banks from foreign markets will be short-lived or whether it marks the beginning of a sustained period of financial disintegration, as was observed after the Great Depression.
In this paper, we study bank internationalization before and during the crisis from a bank-level perspective. Our data give detailed information on the internationalization of German banks. The "External Position Reports" provided by the Deutsche Bundesbank contain very detailed information on the international assets of German banks and their foreign affiliates. We use this information on a yearly and country-by-country basis. Our sample starts in December 2002, when minimum reporting thresholds were abolished, and ends in December 2011. We investigate the determinants of the stocks of banks’ assets at the end of each year.
Stylized facts show that the decline in international banking in response to the crisis is most pronounced in terms of the volume of international activities (the intensive margin), but we also find a decline in the number of foreign subsidiaries (the extensive margin). However, this decline started well before the crisis and has hardly accelerated since then.
Our results from running so called gravity equations suggest the following interpretation of these trends and their persistence:
First, banks with market-based funding models have higher international assets. Hence, persistently tighter conditions on funding markets would have an impact on the internationalization strategies that banks will pursue in the future. How persistent this adjustment is going to be is hard to predict. To the extent that the reregulation of the banking industry that is currently taking place changes market structures in banking and banks' funding markets, the adjustment is likely to be persistent.
Second, policy interventions matter. Some German banks which received state support during the crisis have lowered their international assets, and foreign macroprudential policies had a negative impact as well. To the extent that reductions in international assets are associated with the closure of foreign affiliates, they are likely to be persistent.
Third, financial frictions, proxied by gravity-type variables like distance, common language, etc., matter for international banking. However, their impact has remained relatively stable throughout the crisis. The variables for which we find a stronger effect during the crisis period are adjacency and the presence of bilateral trade agreements. This suggests that trade-related finance has become relatively more important over time.
Buch, Claudia M., Katja Neugebauer and Christoph Schröder (2014), Changing Forces of Gravity: How the Crisis Affected International Banking, ZEW Discussion Paper No. 14-006, Mannheim.