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Friday, August 22, 2014 3:25 PM

Spotlight on European Bank Lending: Capital Impairment to the Forefront

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As noted in German Two-Year Bonds Have Negative Yield, Demand High; Euro Bond Bubble Guaranteed to Burst, "Banks lend (provided they are not capital impaired), when credit-worthy borrowers want credit and banks perceive risks worth lending."

So which is it, lack of credit-worthy borrowers or capital impairment? The answer is likely both, but the spotlight goes on capital impairment and Texas Ratios, the latter a ratio of bad loans to equity.  

The New York Times DealBook explains Europe Fears Banks Lack Cash Cushion to Cover Bad Loans.

When the ratio of bad loans to equity and cash set aside exceeds 100 percent, it suggests that the bank is either ready to fail or is in desperate need of new capital — as was the case with Texas banks in the 1980s.

The E.C.B. will publish the results of its half-year investigation into Europe’s 128 largest banks on Oct. 17. But until then, with worries mounting that the central bank will come down hard on banks with particularly weak loan books, investors and analysts have been scrambling to determine which of these lenders are most at peril.

This spring, banking analysts for Nomura in London used the Texas ratio to highlight 11 banks in Southern Europe that were most exposed to nonperforming loans relative to cash they had on hand.

Of the 11 banks that exceeded the 100 percent threshold, three banks stood out with ratios of 150 percent and above: Piraeus Bank in Greece, Banco Popolare in Italy and Banco Popular Español in Spain.

Using the Texas ratio also underscores the ever-increasing gap that separates European banks from their American counterparts, highlighting as well the contrasting approaches taken by bank regulators here and in Europe.

According to the most recent data, the average ratio for all United States banks is 15 percent, with giants like JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup boasting very healthy metrics: 16 percent for JPMorgan and 13 percent for Citigroup.

By contrast, the largest banks in the eurozone that also pretend to have global ambitions have much higher ratios — and arguably would be considered to carry more risk. Santander and BBVA in Spain have ratios of about 70 percent; UniCredit in Italy comes in at 90 percent; BNP Paribas has a lower measure of 41 percent. Deutsche Bank in Germany has one of the lowest scores in Europe, at 14 percent, but that understates its risk because most of its assets comprise riskier traded securities like derivatives and bonds.
Problem Understated

DeelBook understates the problem, most likely by a huge amount. For starters, what about the risk or European banks being loaded up with their own sovereign bonds?

Bear in mind, eurozone sovereign bonds are all considered risk-free assets. From a capital-requirement perspective, bonds of Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc. are all treated alike.

Yet, as we found out with Greece, not all bonds are alike. That they do not yield the same is proof enough.

Via the LTRO, Draghi succeeded in suppressing yields of European government bonds, but at the expense of creating a bond bubble.

More Questions

  • Any banks fudging the definition of a performing loan? 
  • What about mark-to-market valuations of loans and assets on the balance sheets of banks? 
  • Are loan loss provisions high enough?

To date, every alleged "stress test" in Europe has been rigged. Some banks failed immediately after passing previous tests.

Texas Ratios are very useful, but banks can fail with low ratios. Why?

Look to the questions above for answers.

Whether or not banks pass stress tests, and whether or not reports say they are not capital impaired, one can look at actual lending and easily come to another conclusion.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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