Category Archives: banking

The ECB Morphs into the Mother of All “Bad Banks”, by Don Quijones

The European banking system is still one of the prime contenders to kick off the next global financial crisis. From Don Quijones at wolfstreet.com:

More than just a few “fallen angels.”

As part of its QE operations, the ECB continues to pour billions of freshly created euros each month into corporate bonds – and sometimes when it buys bonds via “private placements” directly into some of Europe’s biggest corporations and the European subsidiaries of non-European transnationals. Its total corporate bond purchases recently passed the €100 billion threshold. And it’s growing at a rate of roughly €7 billion a month. And it’s in the process of becoming the biggest “bad bank.”

When the ECB first embarked on its corporate bond-buying scheme in March 2016, it stated that it would buy only investment-grade rated debt. But shortly after that, concerns were raised about what might happen if a name it owned was downgraded to below investment grade. A few months later a representative of the bank put such fears to rest by announcing that it “is not required to sell its holdings in the event of a downgrade” to junk, raising the prospect of it holding so-called “fallen angels.”

Now, sixteen months into the program, it turns out that the ECB has bought into 981 different corporate bond issuances, of which 34 are currently rated BB+, so non-investment grade, or junk. And 208 of the issuances are non-rated (NR). So in total, a quarter of the bond issuances it purchased are either junk or not rated (red bars):

The ECB initially said it would only buy bonds that are “rated” — and rated investment grade. Thus having a quarter of the bonds on its books either junk or not rated represents a major violation of that promise.

To continue reading: The ECB Morphs into the Mother of All “Bad Banks”

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Fears of “Doom Loop” between Italian Banks and Government Bonds Resurface by Don Quijones

What happens when insolvent banks hold the bonds of insolvent governments? That’s a question that will soon confront Europe. From Don Quijones at wolfstreet.com:

What will Draghi do? 

After two controversial bank rescue operations that stretched Europe’s bank resolution laws beyond recognition, things are beginning to look a little less desperate for Italy’s banking sector. The initial market reaction to the interventions has been overwhelmingly positive. For the first time in years Italian banks are leading Europe’s Stoxx 600 bank Index — upwards, not downwards.

Even the recent announcement of a capital raising and bad-loan sale plan by troubled bank Banca Carige was met with enthusiasm, sending its shares up 30%.

One of the Italian banking sector’s biggest problems — its sky-high bad loan ratio — will soon be under control, claimed Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco in a recent speech to the Italian banking association. The interventions in Monte dei Paschi di Siena and the two Veneto-based banks, Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, will take almost €50 billion of bad loans off their balance sheets, leaving about €275 billion in the system. Within a year Italy’s non-performing loan ratio will be down to an almost respectable 8% of total loans, Visco said.

To that end the government will create a new semi-publicly owned national asset management company (NAMC) that will help “develop the market for bad loans.” To lend the scheme legitimacy, European finance ministers rushed through approval of NAMCs for all Eurozone economies last week.

These NAMCs will vacuum up some of the nonperforming loans from bank balance sheets and sell them at a discount on the secondary market. According to Visco, the only way such a scheme would be “useful” is if it is applied on a purely voluntary basis and the assets are transferred at a price “not too far from their real economic value” — i.e. the value assigned to them by the banks. Untold billions of euros of taxpayer funds will be used to make up the difference between what market participants are willing to pay for the banks’ impaired assets and the price the banks want for them. This is the more covert part of Italy’s publicly funded bank rescue program.

To continue reading: Fears of “Doom Loop” between Italian Banks and Government Bonds Resurface

Unwinding QE will be “More Disruptive than People Think”: JP Morgan CEO Dimon, by Wolf Richter

This article was worth posting simply because it contains what sounds like some sort of intellectual humility from JP Morgan’s CEO, Jamie Dimon. From Wolf Richter at wolfstreet.com:

“We act like we know exactly how it’s going to happen, and we don’t.”

“We’ve never had QE like this before, and we’ve never had unwinding like this before,” said JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon at the Europlace finance conference in Paris. “Obviously that should say something to you about the risk that might mean, because we’ve never lived with it before.”

He was referring to the Fed’s plan to unwind QE, shedding Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities on its balance sheet. The Fed will likely announce the kick-off this year, possibly at its September meeting.

According to its plan, there will be a phase-in period. It will unload $10 billion the first month and raise that to $50 billion over the next 12 months. Then it will continue at that pace to achieve its “balance sheet normalization.” Just like the Fed “created” this money during QE to buy these assets, it will “destroy” this money at a rate of $50 billion a month, or $600 billion a year. It’s the reverse of QE, with reverse effects.

Other central banks are in a similar boat. The Fed, the Bank of Japan, and the ECB together have loaded up their balance sheets with $14 trillion in assets. Unwinding this is going to have some impact – likely reversing some of the asset price inflation in stocks, bonds, real estate, and other markets that these gigantic bouts of asset buying have caused.

The Bank of Japan has been quietly tapering its asset purchases for a while to where it buys only enough to keep the 10-year yield barely above zero. And the ECB has tapered its monthly purchases by €20 billion earlier this year and is preparing the markets for more tapering. Once central banks stop buying assets, the phase starts when central banks try to unload some of those assets. The Fed is a the threshold of this phase.

Dimon was less concerned about the Fed’s rate hikes. People are too focused on rate hikes, he said, according to a Bloomberg recording of the conference. If the economy is strong, economic growth itself overcomes the issues posed by higher rates, he said. The economy has been through rate hikes many times before. They’re a known quantity.

But “when selling securities in the market place starts,” that’s when it gets serious.

To continue reading: Unwinding QE will be “More Disruptive than People Think”: JP Morgan CEO Dimon

Many European Banks Would Collapse Without Regulators’ Help: Fitch, by Don Quijones

It’s worrisome when regulatory forebearance is the only thing keeping some banks afloat. From Don Quijones at wolfstreet.com:

Dozens of Greek, Italian, Spanish and even German lenders have volumes of troubled assets higher or similar to that of Spain’s fallen lender Banco Popular. They, too, are at risk of insolvency. This stark observation came from Bridget Gandy, director of financial institutions for Fitch Ratings, who spoke at a conference in London on Thursday.

The troubled banks include:

  • Greece’s HB, Piraeus, NBG, Eurobank and Alpha;
  • Italy’s Monte dei Pachi di Siena (which is in the process of being rescued with state funds), Carige (9th largest bank, now under ECB orders to raise capital or else), CreVal, and the two collapsed banks, Veneto and Vicenza (whose senior bondholders were bailed out last weekend);
  • Germany’s Bremer Landesbank (which just cancel interest payments on its CoCo bonds) and shipping lender HSH Nordbank.
  • Spain’s Liberbank and majority state-owned BMN and Bankia, which are completing a merger after private-sector institutions refused to buy BMN. Now, the problems on BMN’s balance sheet belong to Bankia, which already has its own set of issues, Gandy said.

That many of Europe’s banks are teetering on the brink of insolvency is not exactly new news. Most of the problems that caused the financial crisis have not been resolved. As the financial journalist and former investment banker Nomi Prins said in a 2015 interview with Dutch media group VPRO, “in Europe there still exist massive amounts of trades (on banks’ balance sheets) that are underwater and going wrong every day.”

According to a chart presented by Gandy, most of the banks she cited (in particular the Greek and Italian ones) have total unprovisioned non-performing assets that clearly exceed their total level of capital. In other words, if the losses on those assets crystallized, the banks would run out of funds.

To continue reading: Many European Banks Would Collapse Without Regulators’ Help: Fitch

Autopsy of Banco Popular Shows How Fragile Europe’s Banking System Is, by Don Quijones

How much longer can Europe and its banks keep dodging bullets? From Don Quijones at wolfstreet.com:

What would a disorderly bank collapse in Spain and Italy have done?

New information has revealed just how serious a threat a disorderly collapse of Spain’s sixth largest bank, Banco Popular, might have posed to Spain’s banking system. In its final days, Popular was bleeding deposits at a rate of €2 billion a day on average.

Much of the money was being withdrawn by institutional clients, including global mega-fund BlackRock, Spain’s Social Security fund, Spanish government agencies, and city and regional councils, prompting accusations that Spain’s government was using insider knowledge to withdraw large amounts of public funds, which of course hastened Popular’s demise.

All the while, Spain’s Economy Minister was telling the bank’s less privileged investors, including retail shareholders and junior bondholders, that there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Those that believed him lost everything.

Between the end of March and its last day of trading, Popular shed €18 billion of deposits, roughly a quarter of the total. On the night of June 6, Europe’s Single Supervisory Mechanism decided that the bank could no longer cover its collateral. Popular, warts and all (take note, Italy), was sold for the meager sum of €1 to Banco Santander, though Santander will have to raise €7 billion of fresh capital to fully digest the bad stuff on Popular’s books.

According to the newly published report, the run on deposits did not end with Santander’s shotgun takeover of the bank. The day after the operation — a Wednesday — the money kept pouring out. The same happened on Thursday. On Friday, the deluge slowed a little. By Monday, the tide had finally turned, industry sources say. On that day, for the first time in a long time, Popular’s accounts witnessed more deposits than withdrawals.

To prevent a complete collapse of Popular, Santander had to inject €13 billion of its own funds into the bank’s accounts — one of the biggest one-off transfers of funds in recent Spanish history.

To continue reading:

 

If We Don’t Change the Way Money Is Created, Rising Inequality and Social Disorder Are Inevitable, by Charles Hugh Smith

Charles Hugh Smith points out some of the many problems that render central banking unsustainable. From Smith at oftwominds.com:

Centrally issued money optimizes inequality, monopoly, cronyism, stagnation and systemic instability.
Everyone who wants to reduce wealth and income inequality with more regulations and taxes is missing the key dynamic: central banks’ monopoly on creating and issuing money widens wealth inequality, as those with access to newly issued money can always outbid the rest of us to buy the engines of wealth creation.
History informs us that rising wealth and income inequality generate social disorder.
Access to low-cost credit issued by central banks creates financial and political power. Those with access to low-cost credit have a monopoly as valuable as the one to create money.
Compare the limited power of an individual with cash and the enormous power of unlimited cheap credit.
Let’s say an individual has saved $100,000 in cash. He keeps the money in the bank, which pays him less than 1% interest. Rather than earn this low rate, he decides to loan the cash to an individual who wants to buy a rental home at 4% interest.
There’s a tradeoff to earn this higher rate of interest: the saver has to accept the risk that the borrower might default on the loan, and that the home will not be worth the $100,000 the borrower owes.
The bank, on the other hand, can perform magic with the $100,000 they obtain from the central bank. The bank can issue 19 times this amount in new loans—in effect, creating $1,900,000 in new money out of thin air.
This is the magic of fractional reserve lending. The bank is only required to hold a small percentage of outstanding loans as reserves against losses. If the reserve requirement is 5%, the bank can issue $1,900,000 in new loans based on the $100,000 in cash: the bank holds assets of $2,000,000, of which 5% ($100,000) is held in cash reserves.

Contagion from the 2 Friday-Night Bank Collapses in Italy? by Don Quijones

The Italian banking crisis may kick off a global, or at least a European, banking crisis. From Don Quijones at wolfstreet.com:

This is how desperate the Italian Banking Crisis has become.

When things get serious in the EU, laws get bent and loopholes get exploited. That is what is happening right now in Italy, where the banking crisis has reached tipping point. The ECB, together with the Italian government, have just this weekend to resolve Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, two zombie banks that the ECB, on Friday night, ordered to be liquidated.

Unlike Monte dei Pachi di Siena, they will not be bailed out primarily with public funds. Senior bondholders and depositors will be protected while shareholders and subordinate bondholders will lose their shirts. However, as the German daily Welt points out, subordinate bondholders at Monte dei Pachi di Siena had billions of euros at stake, much of it owned by its own retail customers who’d been sold these bonds instead of savings products such as CDs. So for political reasons, they were bailed out.

Junior bonds play a smaller role at the two Veneto-based banks. According to the Welt, the two banks combined have €1.33 billion (at face value) in junior bonds outstanding. They last traded between 1 cent and 3 cents on the euro. So worthless. Only about €100 million were sold to their own customers, not enough to cause a political ruckus in Italy. So they will be crushed.

The good assets and the liabilities, such as the deposits, will be transferred to a competing bank. According to a rescue plan apparently drawn up by investment bank Rothschild that surfaced a few days ago, Intesa Sao Paolo, Italy’s second largest bank, would get these good assets and the deposits (liabilities), for the token sum of €1, while all the toxic assets (non-performing loans) would be shuffled off to a state-owned “bad bank” – and thus, the taxpayer. According to the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, the bad bank would be left holding over €20 billion of festering assets.

To continue reading: Contagion from the 2 Friday-Night Bank Collapses in Italy?