Category Archives: ECMU

10/7/16: Europe’s Banks: Dinosaurs On Their Last Legs?


Europe's banks have been back in the crosshair of the markets in recent weeks, with new attention to their multiple problems catalysed by the Brexit vote.

I spoke on the matter in a brief interview with UTV here: http://utv.ie/playlists/default.aspx?bcid=5026776052001.

Now, Bloomberg have put together a (very concise) summary of some of the key problems the banks face: "Europe's banks have been a focal point of investor skittishness since Britons voted to leave the European Union, but reasons to be worried about financial firms pre-date the referendum. Whether it be the mountain of non-performing loans, the challenge from fintech firms and alternative lenders encroaching on what was once their turf, or rock bottom interest rates eroding margins, the problems facing Europe's lenders are mammoth."

To summarise the whole rotten lot: European banks (as a sector)

  • Cannot properly lend and price risk (hence, a gargantuan mountain of Non-Performing Loans sitting on their books that they can't deleverage out, exemplified by Italian, Slovenian, Spanish, Portuguese, Cypriot, Greek, Irish, and even, albeit to a lesser extent, German, Dutch, Belgian and Austrian banks);
  • Cannot make profit even in this extremely low funding cost environment (because they cannot lend properly, while controlling their operating costs, and instead resort to 'lending' money to governments at negative yields);
  • Cannot structure their capital (CoCos madness anyone?);
  • Cannot compete with more agile fintech challengers (because the dinosaur mentality and hierarchical structures of traditional banking prevents real innovation permeating banks' strategies and operations);
  • Cannot reform their business models to reflect changing nature of their customers demands (because they simply no longer can think of their customers needs); and
  • Cannot succeed in their traditional markets and services (despite being heavily shielded from competition by regulators and subsidised by the governments).
Instead of whingeing about the banks' plight, we should focus on the banks' resound failures and stop giving custom to the patrician incumbents. Let competition restructure Europe's banking sector. The only thing that sustains Europe's banks today is national- and ECB-level regulatory protectionism that contains competition within the core set of banking services. It is only a matter of time before M&As and organic build up of fintech players will blow this cozy cartel up from the inside. So regulators today have two options: keep pretending that this won't happen and keep granting banks a license to milk their customers and monetary systems; or open the hatches and let the fresh air in.

15/4/16: Banking Union, Competition and Banking Sector Concentration


One of the key changes in recent years across the entire U.S. economy has been growth in market concentration (lower competition) and regulatory burden increases in a number of sector, including banking. A good summary of the matter is provided here: http://www.americanactionforum.org/research/market-concentration-grew-obama-administration/ .


However, an interesting chart based on the U.S. Fed data, shows that even with these changes U.S. banking sector remains relatively more competitive than in other advanced economies:


Source: @HPSInsight

Interestingly, European banks are also becoming more regional, as opposed to global, players as discussed here: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2016/03/the-us-is-beginning-to-dominate-global-investment-banking-implications-for-europe.html

Chart next shows market shares of the European Investment Banking markets accruing to banks originating in the following jurisdictions:


Source: @NakedCapitalism

As an argument goes: “Deutsche Bank and Barclays are the only Europeans left in the top seven for the EMEA market. But they are likely to lose their positions because Deutsche Bank is currently undergoing a major reorganisation and Barclays is in the process of executing the Vickers split. In the investment banking field, the only pan-European banks will all soon be American. This has the corollary, for good or bad, that European national and EU-level authorities, such as the European Commission, will have rather less direct control over them. A key part of the European financial system is slipping out of the grasp of the European authorities.

Which begs two questions:

Does Europe need more regulation-induced consolidation in the sector, aiming to make TBTF European banking giants even bigger and even less diversified globally, as the European Banking Union and European Capital Markets Union, coupled with increasing push toward greater regulatory constraints on Fintech sector are likely to do?

Or does Europe need more disruptive and more agile, as well as risk-diversified, smaller banking systems and more open innovation culture in banking and financial services?


Note: you can see my analysis of the European Capital Markets Union here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2592918