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Japanese Banking Giant Signals Looming Crisis

Mizuho, the world's largest bank in terms of assets, expects to post a net loss of $16 billion, the largest ever incurred by a Japanese company. The loss would be more than double last year's.

Mizuho, like other Japanese banks, has been saddled with tens of billions of dollars in bad loans. The burden grows heavier as more Japanese firms declare bankruptcy due to the sluggish economy. Mizuho has also been troubled by technical glitches-more than two million banking transactions went awry last April because of computer errors.

James Fiorillo, a senior banking analyst at Commerz Securities, said the government may be forced to bail out Mizuho with taxpayer money if its capital ratio drops below eight-percent, the legal limit. "I do not know where they are going to get the appropriate level of capital to make up for some of these losses - it brings Mizuho in line with some of the more aggressive banks in terms of what they are writing off this year," he said. "But it's not clear how they are going to recapitalize themselves and how are they going to deal with the fact that bad debts, new bad debts are still coming on line at a very rapid rate."

Mizuho's top executives say they hope to avoid government intervention and raise bailout funds from private investors.

The bank was created in September 2000 through the merger of three big Japanese financial institutions and has so far proved a major disappointment to its founders and shareholders.

The Bank of Japan, the country's central bank, says the outlook on the country's economy remains grim. In its monthly economic report, the BOJ says Japan's exports and industrial output are flat and warns there is still substantial uncertainty about prospects for an economic recovery after more than a decade of weakness.

The report came out one day after the central bank decided to leave monetary policy unchanged, defying a call from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to take bolder action to reverse three years of deflation. Some economists expect the central bank to buy more bonds as early as next month to help shore up the economy.

A group of Japanese oil companies takes a stake in an Iranian oil deal organized by energy giant Royal Dutch/ Shell. The group, let by the Japanese Petroleum Exploration Company, bought a 20-percent share in the $800 million venture to develop two oil fields in Iran. The fields have an estimated reserve of more than one-billion barrels of oil.

Investors will be repaid in oil in exchange for their investment. Japan is eager for a role in Iranian oil production because it is largely dependent on imports from the Middle East.