Korea stares into the abyss
Last December, Korea staved off default by a whisker. As the rest of the world dithered, the US banks came up with a rescue plan. It bought time while two heroes emerged to hammer out a deal: Citibank's debt-crisis veteran Bill Rhodes and Mark Walker, one of the toughest lawyers in the business, acting for Korea. The battle was all about bank relationships and the double-edged sword of market forces. Peter Lee reports.
On December 22, William McDonough, chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, summoned the heads of the six biggest banks in the US to a meeting in his fortress-like Federal Reserve building on Liberty Street. With the holidays looming, not all the banks were able to send their chairmen. But it was a pretty high powered group that assembled some hours later: JP Morgan chairman Douglas Warner; William Harrison, vice-chairman of Chase; George Vojta, vice-chairman of Bankers Trust; J Carter Bacot, chairman of Bank of New York; Richard Bloom, senior vice-president at Bank of America; and Alan McDonald, executive vice-president of Citibank. On the agenda was Korea.
The bankers attending that first meeting didn't talk much. They listened. The news was grim. Korea was bleeding more than $1 billion a day in liquidity and hard-currency reserves were below $6 billion. The banks were urged to maintain credit lines to Korea.