Category Archives: Banks NPLs

27/7/15: IMF Euro Area Report: The Sick Land of Banking

The IMF today released its Article IV assessment of the Euro area, so as usual, I will be blogging on the issues raised in the latest report throughout the day. The first post looked at debt overhang.

So here, let's take a look at IMF analysis of the Non-Performing Loans on Euro area banks' balance sheets.

A handy chart to start with:

The above gives pretty good comparatives in terms of the NPLs on banks balance sheets across the euro area. Per IMF: "High NPLs are hindering lending and the recovery. By weakening bank profitability and tying up capital, NPLs constrain banks’ ability to lend and limit the effectiveness of monetary policy. In general, countries with high NPLs have shown the weakest recovery in credit."

Which is all known. But what's the solution? Ah, IMF is pretty coy on this: "A more centralized approach would facilitate NPL resolution. The SSM [Single Supervisory Mechanism - or centralised Euro area banking authorities] is now responsible for euro area-wide supervisory policy and could take the lead in a more aggressive, top-down strategy that aims to:

  • Accelerate NPL resolution. The SSM should strengthen incentives for write-offs or debt restructuring, and coordinate with NCAs to have banks set realistic provisioning and collateral values. Higher capital surcharges or time limits on long-held NPLs would help expedite disposal. For banks with high SME NPLs, the SSM could adopt a “triage” approach by setting targets for NPL resolution and introducing standardized criteria for identifying nonviable firms for quick liquidation and viable ones for restructuring. Banks would also benefit from enhancing their NPL resolution tools and expertise." So prepare for the national politicians and regulators walking away from any responsibility for the flood of bankruptcies to be unleashed in the poorly performing (high NPL) states, like Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Slovenia and Portugal.
  • And in order to clear the way for this national responsibility shifting to the anonymous, unaccountable central 'authority' of the SSM, the IMF recommends that EU states "Improve insolvency and foreclosure systems. Costly debt enforcement and foreclosure procedures complicate the disposal of impaired assets. To complement tougher supervision, insolvency reforms at the national level to accelerate court procedures and encourage out-of-court workouts would encourage market-led corporate restructuring."
  • There is another way to relieve national politicians from accountability when it comes to dealing with debt: "Jumpstart a market for distressed debt. The lack of a well-functioning market for distressed debt hinders asset disposal. Asset management companies (AMCs) at the national level could support a market for distressed debt by purchasing NPLs and disposing of them quickly. In some cases, a centralized AMC with some public sector involvement may be beneficial to provide economies of scale and facilitate debt restructuring. But such an AMC would need to comply with EU State aid rules (including, importantly, the requirement that AMCs purchase assets at market prices). In situations where markets are limited, a formula-based approach for transfer pricing should be used. European agencies, such as the EIB or EIF, could also provide support through structured finance, securitization, or equity involvement." In basic terms, this says that we should prioritise debt sales to agencies that have weaker regulatory and consumer protection oversight than banks. Good luck getting vultures to perform cuddly nursing of the borrowers into health.

Not surprisingly, given the nasty state of affairs in Irish banks, were NPLs to fall to their historical averages from current levels, there will be huge capital relief to the banking sector in Ireland, as chart below illustrates, albeit in Ireland's case, historical levels must be bettered (-5% on historical average) to deliver such relief:

Per IMF: "NPL disposal can free up large volumes of regulatory capital and generate significant capacity for new lending. For a large sample of euro area banks covering almost 90 percent of all institutions under direct ECB supervision, the amount of aggregate capital that would be released if NPLs were reduced to historical average levels (between three and four percent of gross loan books) is calculated. This amounts to between €13–€42 billion for a haircut range of between zero and 5 percent, and assuming that banks meet a target capital adequacy ratio of 13 percent. This in turn could unlock new lending of between €167–€522 billion (1.8–5.6 percent of sample countries’ GDP), provided there is corresponding demand for new loans. Due to the uneven distribution of capital and NPLs, capital relief varies significantly across euro area countries, with Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Ireland benefiting the most in this stylized example."

A disappointing feature, from Ireland's perspective, of the above figure is that simply driving down NPLs to historical levels will not be enough to deliver on capital relief in excess of the average (as shown by the red dot, as opposed to red line bands). The reason for this is, most likely, down to the quality of capital held and the impact of tax relief deferrals absorbed in line with NPLs (lowering NPLs via all but write downs = foregoing a share of tax relief).

Stay tuned for more analysis of the IMF Euro area report next.

27/7/15: IMF Euro Area Report: Debt’s a Mean Bitch…

The IMF today released its Article IV assessment of the Euro area, so as usual, I will be blogging on the issues raised in the latest report throughout the day.

The first post looks at debt overhang.

Per IMF, low inflation environment in the Euro area is "pushing up real rates, more in countries with higher debt burdens"

And here's a handy chart from the Fund:

Note: Net debt is the total economy’s financial liabilities minus assets.

Broadly-speaking, with annual expected inflation at or below 1%, we have serious pressure on Portugal and Spain, where Government borrowing costs (and by some proximity, banks funding costs) have not declined as dramatically as in, say, Ireland. The second sub-group at risk are countries with lower debt ratios, but still high enough funding costs - Slovenia and Italy. Ireland is in a separate category, having enjoyed significant declines in cost of funding, without a corresponding improvement in debt ratios. In other words, for Ireland, so far, the challenge is less of day-to-day funding of debt, but the quantum of debt outstanding. Short-run sustainability is fine, but longer run sustainability is still problematic.

The problematic nature of debt carried across the euro area goes well beyond the sovereign cost of funding and into the structure of European banks balance sheets.

Per IMF: "A chronic lack of demand, impaired corporate and bank balance sheets, and deeply-rooted structural weaknesses are behind the subdued medium-term outlook:

  • Insufficient demand. Business investment continues to lag the cycle, remaining well below pre-crisis levels, reflecting weak demand, as well as high corporate debt, policy uncertainty, and tight credit. While overall unemployment has begun to recede, it remains above 11 percent, with long-term and youth unemployment near historic highs. Fiscal policy is broadly neutral, but is not providing offsetting support.
  • Weak balance sheets. The ECB’s comprehensive assessment (CA) found that banks had raised capital, but also saw NPLs continuing to rise, reaching systemic levels in some countries. High levels of NPLs and debt have held back bank lending and investment, limiting the pass-through of easier financial conditions. Europe’s experience contrasts sharply with that of the U.S. recently and Japan in the 2000s where, after their financial crises, aggressive NPL resolution helped support a faster recovery in credit.
  • Low and divergent productivity. Progress on structural reforms has been piecemeal and uneven across countries, as highlighted by the slow implementation of Country-Specific Recommendation (CSR) reforms under the European Semester. Productivity remains well below pre-crisis levels and lags the U.S., especially in important sectors such as information technology and professional services."

Note, I wrote extensively on the three factors holding back credit cycle before and recently testified on the subject at the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, the Houses of the Oireachtas:

Here is a chart highlighting the state of NPLs across the Euro area, U.S. and Japan which shows just how dire are the conditions in European banking really are:

Even by provisions measure, Europe is a total laggard. Which means there is plenty more delve raging left in the system.

And here is the IMF chart on productivity:

Which really neatly highlights the debacle that is euro area productivity growth: we have a massive uplift in unemployment during the crisis. Normally, rising unemployment automatically induces higher labour productivity through two channels: by destroying more jobs in lower value-added sectors, and by destroying jobs of, on average, less productive workers. In Europe, of course, the former factor did took place, but there was no corresponding retainment of activity in the higher value-added sectors, and the latter factor did not take place because of inflexible labour markets (for example, unions rules preventing lay offs of less productive staff, basing any employment adjustments on superficial criteria of tenure and/or union membership/contracts structures). So net result: jobs destruction (bad) was not even contributive to improved productivity (bad). But things are actually even worse. Chart below shows the distribution of productivity growth by broader sector, comparing euro area and the U.S.:

This is truly abysmal, for the euro area, which managed to post negative growth in productivity in Professional Services, and undershoot U.S. productivity growth in everything, save agriculture (where U.S. already enjoyed significant pre-crisis advantage over the EU, which implies normally lower productivity growth for the U.S.) and Construction (where the U.S. has enjoyed more robust recovery since 2010 against continued decline of activity in the euro area).

Yeah, remember those flamboyantly delightful days of denial, when everyone was keen on repeating the Krugmanite thesis that 'debt doesn't matter'? In reality, debt overhang is such a bitch… especially when it comes to messing up value-added investment and productivity growth. But never mind - Europe is not about these capitalist concepts, with its Knowledge Economy (as measured by IT and Professional Services and Manufacturing) shrinking in both metrics compared to the U.S.

Stay tuned for more excerpts and analysis from the IMF report.

16/7/15: Ah Shure, matey, de Banks were Solvent… and Still Are…

You know the meme... "Banks are/were solvent"... It replays itself over and over again, most recently - well, just now - in the Banking Inquiry hearings in Ireland.

Ok, so they are:

Yes, that is 4 years after Irish banks were recapitalised, more than 3 years after they passed 'stringent' stress-tests and over 2 years of 'rigourous' work-outs (with 'strict' targets being met) of NPLs.