by Raúl Ilargi Meijer at The Automatic Earth blog
Europe is fast turning into a freak comedy show. Very fast. Or maybe we should say it’s always been one, and it’s just that the Larry, Curly and Moe moves are only now coming out in droves. Or maybe, what do I know, we’re just starting to understand how much talent for farce and slapstick the boys from Brussels have always had.
Just Wednesday, I wrote in 40% of Eurozone Banks Are In Bad Shape about a Reuters report based on Spanish source Efe, that claimed 12 banks would fail the ongoing stress tests, results of which are due this Sunday at 12pm CET (their daylight savings time will be over by then). I noted how the indignation expressed over the leaked data by Brussels seemed odd, since in 2014 everything leaks.
Then, I cited Pimco’s global banking specialist, Philippe Bodereau, saying he thought 18 banks would fail, and moreover, almost a third would narrowly pass. Something that according to several sources was important than who actually failed. Because all banks have had many many months to shore up their capital positions, and if they’re now still below or just above the dividing line today, that’s suspect at best.
130 banks were supposed to have been tested, and ‘almost a third’ of that is some number north of 40. Add the 12 to 18 sure failures, and you’re north of 40%.
But today Bloomberg reports on a new draft they have obtained, which raises the numbers even further.
25 lenders in the European Central Bank’s euro-area bank health check are set to fail the regulator’s Comprehensive Assessment, according to a draft communique of the final results, seen by Bloomberg News. 105 banks are shown passing the review, according to the draft statement. Of the lenders that failed, about 10 will still face capital shortfalls they need to plug, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified…
If 25 fail, and ‘almost a third’, i.e. at least 40, narrowly make it, 50% or more of Europe’s banks are in trouble. And that’s after they’ve been given ample time to borrow, sell assets, do whatever it takes to pass. More than half of all banks. And sure, Europe has scores of ‘systemic’ or Too Big To Fail banks, and they’ll never be put in the corner with the dunce hat on. But that’s not as great as it may seem, it just means we’re not allowed to know what shape they’re really in, and if they threaten to topple over, taxpayers will need to pay up.
And that’s still not all. Catherine Boyle explains a few things at CNBC about the stress tests:
The EBA stress tests involve running banks’ books through shocks like a 14% drop in house prices from current predictions. However, they do not involve deflation, or a sustained period with higher or lower prices for commodities such as oil – both of which the euro zone is potentially facing.
If ‘shocks’ like these are the worst case scenario of the tests, and half of the banks fail that, you might want to speak of a systemic problem. Many housing markets are still very expensive, let’s see interest rates go up to any historic average of your choosing and then see what happens to home prices. No review of what havoc deflationary pressures or oil and gas prices might do to banks sounds hardly serious either.
There is also disagreement over how certain assets may be classed. In weaker economies like Portugal, Greece, Spain and Italy, the governments have passed laws allowing banks to convert deferred tax assets (DTAs), which are tax payment deferrals generally awarded during times of weaker profitability, into more capital-enhancing deferred tax credits (DTCs).
Translation: local accounting tricks are still alive and well. Deferred tax credits are just one example, obviously.
Oliver Burrows, senior analyst at Rabobank, told CNBC: “European banks have actually done quite a lot in terms of balance sheet repair and capital raising. To give it additional credibility, you need to have some victims, and those are going to be quite predictable. Another fear is that if there is a rush of these weaker “victims” to raise more capital, there may not be much demand for it – and that could weaken the sector further. “Who would want to support or buy new equity in these banks?” Burrows asked.
That’s it right there: they’ve done a lot, and still fail. So where are they going to get the rest of the investments they need?
And then the EU comes this morning with a new stunt worthy of Larry, Curly and Moe. They’ve sent new calculations about members’ economic data, and the contributions they need to send to Brussels based on those data, around, and it’s a shame all the news is about how Britain is told to pay a billion and a half or so extra. Holland must fork over much more per capita, for one thing.
But what makes it even better is that Greece has been told to pay more, and that can go straight to Germany, which is set to receive a billion. Explain that. Italy has to pay extra, France receives.
The problem is of course, Brussels feels it doesn’t have to explain anything it does. They put the data on some webpage before even informing the member nations, as per the Dutch finance minister. Who, like Cameron, had no idea where the numbers came from. Brussels thinks: you don’t have the guts to break up the EU, anyway. So what are you going to do about it? Well, Cameron feels Nigel Farage breathing down his neck, that’s what.
The best part is that everyone’s falling over one another to assure us that the new accounting methods, which include drugs and prostitution, have nothing to do with this madness. But isn’t it just great to ponder that Britain has to fork over an additional billion only because the French have cheaper hookers?
Someone finish off that inane union before it starts to do real serious harm. Because it will.