The European Banking Authority (EBA) has been aware of the growing problem of non-performing loans (NPLs), especially in Italy, which quickly built up in the recessionary environment following the sovereign debt crisis from 2010. The EBA, hoping that banks could demonstrate solvency, introduced in 2014 new definitions of forbearance and of non-performance, aimed at relaxing the problem. However, despite the EBA’s efforts, Italian NPLs continued to grow at a rate of about 20% each year and peaked in 2015-16, when €341 billion, or about 17% of all Italian bank loans were classified as non-performing. In 2018 international accounting standard changes led to stricter rules requiring provisioning and loss recognition.[[IFRS9, implemented in Italy 2018]] The EBA then pressed banks to maintain more realistic valuations for NPLs on their balance sheets, making provisions which reduced profits and capital. However, these provisions were typically applied by banks to the most severe category of NPLs.
Financial and Banking Newsletter
What is PEPP?
In March 2020, the ECB and European Commission announced the inception of PEPP as a ‘non-standard monetary policy measure’ to deal with the risks to monetary transmission posed by the pandemic. It is in fact the eighth eurosystem bond buying programme. Three of these have been discontinued but there are four presently running:
Late in March Archegos Capital, a New York based hedge fund, collapsed and triggered significant losses for its funding banks. The two most exposed lenders are Credit Suisse, who expect to lose $4.7 billion, and Nomura ($2 billion), but the combined losses of all its banks is estimated at $10 billion. These losses are net of $10 billion of Archegos’ cash which banks held as collateral, so total Archegos losses are $20 billion. Regulators had no idea of these exposure levels.
In February, the Bank of England (BofE) published its latest proposals for new regulations, which are openly stated to continue the implementation of the global Basel III banking standards. This 87-page Consultation Paper is presented as the next phase of reforms which respond to the 2007-8 Great Financial Crisis (GFC), the express intention of the paper being to prevent a recurrence. Buried within the array of proposals is a seemingly innocuous point:
“This chapter sets out the [BofE’s] proposal to require all intangible assets, including software assets classified as intangible assets under International Financial Reporting Standard (IFRS), to be fully deducted from CET1 [core] capital.”
Last October the ECB published a 55-page paper on the pros and cons of a central bank digital currency (CBDC). This paper concluded that research should continue at only a modest pace. It was therefore surprising that a brief statement, accelerating the project, was recently issued. We learn that the ECB (jointly with the European Commission) is actively ‘exploring the possibility of issuing a digital euro’ and that a project might commence within months. Why this acceleration? The statement mentions two factors, i) the emergence of crypto assets, and ii) ‘rapid changes in the payments landscape’. Let us consider each.
The Brexit Agreement Omitted Financial Services, Decisions on Which Will be Taken in 2021. What do we Expect?
The UK’s 2019 current account deficit with the EU was GBP 118 billion. The Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA), commonly referred to as the Brexit agreement, is therefore of greater value to the EU by protecting this imbalance with tariff free trade, than to the UK. However, by excluding services from the Treaty – 42% of UK exports to the EU are services – key decisions about the terms of future trade in financial services such as capital markets and banking, have been deferred to this year. By carving services out of the TCA, the EU has skilfully taken the upper ground in this area. We analyse the present situation and identify possible headwinds that might limit the EU’s exploitation of this advantage.
The concept of central bank issued digital currencies (CBDC) has been around for several years, arguably since bitcoin became established around 2015. The topic is now very hot even in Europe, with Sweden planning to launch a retail focussed e-krona in 2021. Switzerland is also working on this very topic.
Cyprus’ Exploitation of Citizenship Investment Schemes Raises Questions over Many Countries’ Commitment to Europe’s Banking Rules
Background and History of Citizenship Investment Schemes (‘CIS’).
Sixteen EU member states (plus the United Kingdom) operate schemes enabling a residency permit to be obtained by a non-EU citizen in return for a substantial investment, minimum €1 million. Residence in most member states confers the benefits of visa free travel throughout the Schengen area. Three other member states, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta, offer full and immediate citizenship in return for the requisite investment. Citizenship of any member state of course enables full freedom of movement throughout the EU.
Whilst diplomatically presented as a merger, the union of Spain’s third and fourth largest banks, announced mid-September, is in fact the acquisition of Bankia by Caixa. Shares in multiple European banks rose on the news – Société Générale and Paribas of France were up 5%, Commerzbank’s shares rose 8%, while two other Spanish banks mooted to be considering merging, Sabadell and Bankinter, climbed by 11 and 6% respectively. Many commentators welcomed the news, believing the merger is a force for good. Bigger banks are stronger. However, there are several aspects to this transaction that should be of concern to bank stakeholders, taxpayers and regulators.
Whichever candidate wins the forthcoming US election, America’s big banks expect continuing concessions in the two key areas of monetary policy and bank regulation. Monetary policy looks unlikely to change much, with the Federal Reserve (Fed) under Jerome Powell committed to keeping interest rates lower for longer, trying to create some price inflation and growth. In terms of regulation, banks expect to be allowed to increase the sizes of their balance sheets. With little investor appetite for fresh equity, this implies a relaxation of the rules restricting leverage. Do banks prefer one candidate over the other?