The ECB faces problems from the Euro area banks as well as fiscal policy

This morning has brought us up to date on the state of play at the European Central Bank. Vice President De Guindos opened his speech in Frankfurt telling us this about the expected situation.

The pandemic crisis has put great pressure on economic activity, with euro area growth expected to fall by 8% in 2020. ……The tighter containment measures recently adopted across Europe are weighing on current growth. With the future path of the pandemic highly unclear, risks are clearly tilted to the downside.

So he has set out his stall as vaccine hopes get a relatively minor mention. Thus he looks set to vote for more easing at the December meeting. Also he rather curiously confessed that after 20 years or so the convergence promises for the Euro area economy still have a lot of ground to cover.

The severity of the pandemic shock has varied greatly across euro area countries and sectors, which is leading to uneven economic developments and recovery speeds……..And growth forecasts for 2020 also point towards increasing divergence within the euro area.

Looking ahead that is juts about to be fixed, although a solution to it has been just around the corner for a decade or so now.

The recent European initiatives, such as the Next Generation EU package, should help ensure a more broad-based economic recovery across various jurisdictions and avoid the kind of economic and financial fragmentation that we observed during the euro area sovereign debt crisis.

He also points out there has been sectoral fragmentation although he rather skirts around the issue that this has been a policy choice. Not by the ECB but bu governments.

 Consumers have adopted more cautious behaviour, and the recent tightening of restrictions has notably targeted the services sector, including hotels and restaurants, arts and entertainment, and tourism and travel.

Well Done the ECB!

As ever in a central banking speech there is praise for the central bank itself.

Fiscal support has played a key role in mitigating the impact of the pandemic on the economy and preserving productive capacity. This is very welcome, notwithstanding the sizeable budget deficits anticipated for 2020 and 2021 and the rising levels of sovereign debt.

This theme is added to by this from @Schuldensuehner

 Jefferies shows that France is biggest beneficiary of ECB’s bond purchases. Country has saved €28.2bn since 2015 through artificial reduction in financing costs driven by ECB. In 2nd place among ECB profiteers is Italy w/savings of €26.8bn, Germany 3rd w/€23.7bn.

Care is needed as QE has not been the only game in town especially for Greece which is on the list as saving 2,2 billion Euros a year from a QE plan it was not in! It only was included this year. But the large purchases have clearly reduced costs for government and no doubt makes the ECB popular amongst the politicians it regularly claims to be independent from. But there is more.

While policy support will eventually need to be withdrawn, abrupt and premature termination of the ongoing schemes could give rise to cliff-edge effects and cool the already tepid economic recovery.

It is a bit socco voce but we get a reminder that the ECB is willing to effectively finance a very expansionary fiscal policy. That is why it has two QE programmes running at the same time, but for this purpose the game in town is this.

 The Governing Council will continue its purchases under the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP) with a total envelope of €1,350 billion.

There was a time when that would be an almost unimaginable sum of money but not know as if government’s do as they are told it will be increased.

The purchases will continue to be conducted in a flexible manner over time, across asset classes and among jurisdictions.

Oh and there is a bit of a misprint on the sentence below as they really mean fiscal policy.

This allows the Governing Council to effectively stave off risks to the smooth transmission of monetary policy.

The Banks

These are a running sore with even the ECB Vice President unable to avoid this issue.

The pandemic has also weighed on the long-term profitability outlook for banks in the euro area, depressing their valuations. From around 6% in February of this year, the euro area median banks’ return on equity had declined to slightly above 2% by June.

Tucked away in the explanation is an admittal of the ECB’s role here so I have highlighted it.

The decline in profitability is being driven mainly by higher loan loss provisions and weaker income-generation capacity linked to the ongoing compression of interest margins.

The interest-rate cuts we have seen hurt the banks and this issue was exacerbated by the reductions in the Deposit Rate to -0.5% as the banks have been afraid of passing this onto the ordinary saver and depositor. Thus the Zero Lower Bound ( 0%) did effectively exist for some interest-rates.

This is in spite of the fact that banks have benefited from two main sweeteners. This is the -1% interest-rate of the latest liquidity programmes ( TLTROs) and the QE bond purchases which help inflate the value of the banks bond holdings.

Then we get to the real elephant in the room.

Non-performing loans (NPL) are likely to present a further challenge to bank profitability.

We had got used to being told that a corner had been turned on this issue even in Italy and Greece. Speaking of the latter Piraeus Bank hit trouble last week when it was unable to make a bond payment.

The non-payment of the CoCos coupon will lead to the complete conversion of the convertible bond, amounting to 2.040 billion euros, into 394.4 million common shares.

It is noted that the conversion will not involve an adjustment of the share price and simply, to the 437 million shares of the Bank will be added another 394.4 million shares at the price of 0.70 euros (closing of the share at last Friday’s meeting). ( Capital Gr).

There is a lot of dilution going on here for private shareholders as we note that this is pretty much a nationalisation.

The conversion has one month after December 2 to take place and the result will be the percentage of the Financial Stability Fund, which currently controls 26.4% of Piraeus Bank, to increase to 61.3%.

Meanwhile in Italy you have probably guessed which bank has returned to the news.

LONDON/MILAN/ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s Treasury has asked financial and legal advisers to pitch for a role in the privatisation of Monte dei Paschi BMPS.MI as it strives to secure a merger deal for the Tuscan lender, two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Friday.

The equivalent of a Hammer House of Horror production as we mull how like a financial vampire it keeps needing more.

Italy is seeking ways to address pending legal claims amounting to 10 billion euros (£9 billion) that sources say are the main hurdle to privatising the bank.

Even Colin Jackson would struggle with all the hurdles around Monte dei Paschi. Anyway we can confidently expect a coach and horses to be driven through Euro area banking rules.

If we look at the proposed solution we wonder again about the bailouts.

Although banks have stepped up cost-cutting efforts in the wake of the pandemic, they need to push even harder for greater cost efficiency.

So job losses and it seems that muddying the waters will also be the order of the day.

The planned domestic mergers in some countries are an encouraging sign in this regard.

A merger does reduce two problems to one albeit we are back on the road to Too Big To Fail or TBTF.

There is of course the ECB Holy Grail.

Finally, we also need to make progress on the banking union, which unfortunately remains unfinished. Renewed efforts are urgently required to improve its crisis management framework.

Just as Italy makes up its own rules….

Comment

We are now arriving at Monetary Policy 3.0 after number one ( interest-rates) and number two ( QE) have failed to work. In effect the role of monetary policy is to facilitate fiscal policy. It also involves a challenge to democracy as the technocrats of the ECB are looking to set policy for the elected politicians in the Euro area. However there are problems with this and somewhat ironically these have been highlighted by the Twitter feed of the Financial Times which starts with an apparent triumph.

Italy’s bond rally forces key measure of risk to lowest since 2018

So on a financial measure we have convergence. But if we switch to the real economy we get this.

‘There is no money left’: the pandemic’s economic impact is ‘a catastrophe’ for people in southern Italy who were already in a precarious situation

Switching to the banks we are facing the consequences of the Zombification of the sector as the same old names always seem to need more money. Although there has been more hopeful news for BBVA of Spain today albeit exiting the country where banks seem to be able to make money.

PNC to buy U.S. operations of Spanish bank BBVA for $11.6 billion ( @CNBC )

Although the price will no doubt if the speech above is any guide will be pressure to give a home to a Zombie or two.

Podcast

 

 

 

11 thoughts on “The ECB faces problems from the Euro area banks as well as fiscal policy

  1. “The pandemic crisis has put great pressure on economic activity, with euro area growth expected to fall by 8% in 2020. ……The tighter containment measures recently adopted across Europe are weighing on current growth. With the future path of the pandemic highly unclear, risks are clearly tilted to the downside.”

    This is the future path of the pandemic:
    destruction of smes, indebtedness, slavery. breakdown of society.

    • Please can you mention the re-building of a new Animal Farm leadership via the great reset and harnessing of the serfs therein.

  2. “The decline in profitability is being driven mainly by higher loan loss provisions and weaker income-generation capacity linked to the ongoing compression of interest margins.”

    SOOooooooOOO! The banks are still effed & the interest rates, far from being a race to the bottom, are co-ordinated, subordinating the rest of the economy to the banks, as I’ve been stating for years.

      • Sorry to answer this politically, & it’s not party political, but many, many studies have shown, (which I found when researching about the happiness of small countries during the Scottish Independence referendum campaign) that people tend to be happier the less remote they are from the centre of political power.

  3. Hello Shaun,

    re: “Zombification of the sector as the same old names always seem to need more money.”

    Perhaps we should set up a Barings Profitability Index ? As in the profitable Singapore branch needing more and more cash despite being ” well run ” and ” profitable business model ” ( and no doubt our ” best minds ” that “no one could have foreseen” the next bust ….. ) .

    Forbin

    Buzz , sorry no monsters , no uglies

    Please stand by for your next PSA ………

    • Hi Forbin

      The model at Barings Securities was having made money go back with twice as much next time. There was no thought as Christopher Heath and Andrew Bailey instructed Nick Leeson because it did not seem to occur to them that positions of over 3% of the open interest were declared. So as things went wrong everybody knew and gave it another shove knowing Barings would have to act,

      The irony on a personal level was that I was part of the futures team ( 4 of us) who left because we thought the Warrant Book held some nasties ( $30 million felt a lot back then). But we never really found out if Barings Bank would cut Baring Securities adrift because the scale of the future problem wiped them out.

  4. You mentioned the word convergence. One thing that I’ve never understood is why (excepting artificial financial transfers to prop up the weak) anyone expected economic convergence. Did anyone really think that putting Greece and Germany into a union and the euro would close the gap?

    • Hi James

      Back at the genesis of the Euro project there were claims hat there would be economic convergence. What they either did not know or simply ignored was that the same interest-rate and currency would not have the same economic effects in each country.

  5. ” It also involves a challenge to democracy . . . ”
    The ECB was ‘always’ a challenge to democracy?
    “84:19 The ECB could have prevented these bubbles,
    84:22 just as it could have ended the ensuing banking and economic crises.
    84:27 But it refused to do so
    84:29 until major political concessions had been made,
    84:32 such as the transfer of fiscal and budgeting powers
    84:35 from each sovereign state to the European Union.
    84:42 In both Spain and Greece
    84:43 youth unemployment has been pushed up to 50%,
    84:47 forcing many youths to seek employment abroad.
    84:51 Greek doctors, for whose education Greek taxpayers have paid,
    84:55 now work in Germany.
    85:00 The deliberations of the ECB’s decision-making bodies are secret.
    85:05 The mere attempt at influencing the ECB,
    85:08 for instance through democratic debate and discussion,
    85:11 is forbidden according to the Maastricht Treaty.
    85:17 The ECB is an international organisation
    85:20 that is above and outside the laws and jurisdictions
    85:23 of any individual nation.
    85:27 Its senior staff carry diplomatic passports
    85:30 and the files and documents inside the European Central Bank
    85:34 cannot be searched or impounded
    85:36 by any police force or public prosecutor.
    85:43 The ECB is well known among economists
    85:46 as one of the world’s most powerful and least transparent central banks,
    85:52 yet its former president, Jean-Claude Trichet,
    85:56 dealt with this problem
    85:57 by merely asserting that there was no problem: . . . “

  6. “Monetary Policy 3.0” … what are your views on MMT? Your podcast seemed to be touching on the edges of it too, with the CBs owning everything.

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