Europe Tries To Recapitalize Banks Without Injecting Capital
Europe’s largest banks may raise just a tenth of the total capital shortfall estimated by regulators, fueling concern policy makers’ plans to bolster the region’s lenders could fail.
European Union leaders ordered banks last week to increase the ratio of “highest quality” capital they hold by the end of June, creating a shortfall of 106 billion euros ($148 billion). Of Europe’s 28 largest lenders, only eight will need to raise a total of 11 billion euros from investors, Huw Van Steenis, a Morgan Stanley analyst, wrote in an Oct. 28 report.
Rather than tapping investors or governments, firms are trying to hit the 9 percent core capital target by adjusting risk-weightings, limiting dividends, retaining earnings, reducing loans and selling assets. Banks had threatened to curb lending, risking a recession, to meet the goal rather than take government aid that would bring limits on bonuses and dividends. EU leaders already are pressing banks to restrain payments to employees and shareholders until they meet the capital target.
“The issue is how much fresh capital will be brought in,” Philippe Bodereau, head of credit research at Pacific Investment Management Co. in London, said in a telephone interview. “It would be positive if we saw banks launching rights issues, but they won’t. This is hardly shock and awe.”
Lenders may sell as little as 6 billion euros of new stock to investors to plug the shortfall, according to Alastair Ryan, an analyst at UBS AG (UBSN) in London. That’s seven times less than the amount banks will raise from retaining earnings and adjusting risk-weightings, he said.
Before last week’s summit, analysts at JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Credit Suisse Group AG had estimated banks might need as much as 250 billion euros more capital. Now, only Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA (BBVA) of Spain, Germany’s Commerzbank AG (CBK), France’s BPCE SA, Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International AG (RBI) and four Italian banks -- UniCredit SpA (UCG), Banco Popolare SC (BP), Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA (BMPS) and Unione di Banche Italiane ScpA (UBI) -- need to raise money, according to Van Steenis.
The European Banking Authority, which oversees the region’s regulators, reduced the amount by changing its calculations to offset writedowns on Greek and other southern European government debt with gains on banks’ holdings of U.K. and German bonds, which are trading for more than face value.
The benchmark U.K. 10-year government bond is trading at about 111 pence on the pound and German bunds of a similar duration are trading at 101 cents on the euro. Greek bonds maturing in 2020 are trading at about 35 cents on the euro.
The Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index has fallen 26 percent this year on concern that lenders will have to write down their holdings of the government debt of Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Spain. The index’s 46 members trade at about 34 percent less than book value on average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“Surely, no one thinks that by allowing banks to avoid raising capital in all these various ways it’s going to give investors more confidence,” said Peter Hahn, a professor of finance at London’s Cass Business School and a former managing director at New York-based Citigroup Inc. “Part of the issue for a long time has been the lack of credibility of bank balance sheets and their risk models. This isn’t going to help.”
Group of 20 nations are separately working on long-term plans to require the largest lenders, those deemed too-big-to- fail, to hold even more capital.
Leaders meeting in France from Nov. 3 will require the biggest banks to boost capital to levels beyond those required by the Basel III rules, a German government official said today. Leaders will discuss ways to improve supervision and ensure banks can be wound down without causing shockwaves in the financial system, the German official told reporters in Berlin today on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.
Greece’s six banks will need to raise about 30 billion euros, more than any other EU member state, the EBA said. That shortfall is covered by existing backstop arrangements with the EU and International Monetary Fund, so Greek lenders wouldn’t have to tap investors, according to the EBA.
Spanish banks have the next-biggest deficit, according to the regulator. Yet Banco Santander SA (SAN) and BBVA SA, the country’s two biggest lenders, have said they won’t raise capital. They will instead rely on profit and changes to the way they calculate risk-weighted assets to meet the target.
Under the Basel rules, firms use internal models to decide how much capital to assign to assets based on their own assessment of a default. The models aren’t disclosed and banks can reach different risk-weightings for the same assets, regulators and analysts say.
Lenders also are converting hybrid securities into equity. Of the 26 billion euros Spanish banks need to raise, 9.7 billion euros can be found that way, Van Steenis said. Santander has 8.5 billion euros of convertible bonds.
“The fact that the 26 billion euros could end up with less than 5 billion euros from capital-raising is a concern,” Van Steenis wrote.
Italian banks have a 15 billion-euro shortfall, according to the EBA. UniCredit, which has a 7.4 billion-euro deficit, said it may be able to reduce that to 4.4 billion euros by counting 3.3 billion euros of hybrid securities as core capital. The Milan-based lender, the country’s biggest, said it’s working to identify “capital management actions to be put in place,” without adding further details.
Monte Paschi, UBI and Popolare, which regulators estimate need about 7.4 billion euros, all have said they won’t need to raise capital through rights offerings.
France’s BNP Paribas SA and Societe Generale (GLE) SA, which in September began programs to trim a combined 300 billion euros in assets, said last week they can meet the new capital targets without tapping shareholders or the government.
President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Oct. 27 he has asked the banks to shift “almost all” of their dividend payments into strengthening their balance sheets and make their bonus practices “normal.”
Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) and Commerzbank AG, Germany’s biggest lenders, also are cutting assets and selling businesses to meet the threshold.
The method used to determine how much capital banks need to raise “puts the onus on peripheral banks and limits the impact on core banks,” said Pimco’s Bodereau. “The big weakness is that banks that are truly systemic are headquartered in London, Paris and Frankfurt and not in Athens.”
Southern European banks that can’t raise capital may still need to shrink their balance sheets by as much as 40 percent to meet the new requirements and run the risk of having to rely on state injections, Mediobanca analysts including Alain Tchibozo wrote in a note to clients on Oct. 28.
“They’ve cobbled together a sticking-plaster solution,” said Jonathan Newman, an analyst at London-based Brewin Dolphin Holdings Plc, which manages about 25 billion pounds ($40 billion). “While it’s desirable for them to have been tougher, the reality was they couldn’t afford to be tougher. Banks wouldn’t have been able to raise the money privately, so they would have had to go to governments, which then puts the sovereign at risk.”
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