The NordLB crisis and the problems of the German banks

Today what we are going to be taking the advice of the Jam and Going Underground. Specifically we are looking into the problems and travails of the German banking system. One factor in this is the deteriorating economic situation which the German IFO has kindly elaborated on this morning.

As you can see according to them the German economy has gone from strong boom to slight down swing and is now moving into down swing. That will not be good for the banking environment. Some wry humour can be provided by the comparison with Italy as a 0.1% fall for it put it in “deep recession” in the third quarter of last year but a 0.2% decline for Germany apparently only put it in a “slight down swing”! Also surely the French strong boom was in 2017 rather than last year, but we get the picture that generally there has been not only a slowing but an expectation of harder economic times across the Euro area which will affect international banking.

Landesbanken

The Frankfurt Rundschau looked at things back on the 24th of May last year.

Most of the Landesbanks belong to the federal states and savings banks associations, with the exception of Landesbank Berlin, which is the sole property of the savings banks.

The ownership structure is complicated by they are mainly owned by German states and cities. Also the credit crunch ending up crunching some of them.

Before the financial crisis, there were still eleven central institutes of the savings banks and the central savings bank fund provider Deka in Frankfurt. In the meantime there are only seven – after the privatization of HSH Nordbank six – and the Deka.

Even back then one of them was in particular trouble.

The capital base of Nord LB is rather modest. CEO Thomas Bürkle therefore stated in April that the bank and its owners – the states of Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt as well as three savings banks associations – were examining “various options” in order to get fresh money. This includes the inclusion of a private investor. For if the state owners inject capital, that would be an aid case and would call the European Commission on the plan.

I do not know if they meant outright modest or in comparison to the troubled loan book but we do know the situation was already worrying enough that a road to Damascus style move as in accepting private capital was looking likely.

So we move on with a reminder that whilst there were hopes that ownership structures might influence banking behaviour. But just like the hopes for the mutuals were dashed in the UK the state backed Landesbanken continue to be trouble.

NordLB

The particular case of Nord LB has gone from bad to worse in 2019. On January 3rd the Financial Times reported that a regular establishment gambit had come something of a cropper.

Frankfurt-based public lender Helaba has terminated merger talks with stricken state-owned rival NordLB, reducing the possibility of a public sector rescue of the Hanover-based lender that aims to raise €3.5bn in additional capital………A merger between Helaba and NordLB would have created a lender with about €320bn of assets and could have been a first step towards a wider consolidation of Germany’s Landesbanken — the regional lenders co-owned by federal states and local savings banks.

So as my late father would have put it, that would have muddied the accountancy picture for a couple of years. As to what they would have been trying to cover up and hide?

With €155bn in assets, Hanover-based NordLB is the fourth-largest German Landesbank and was singled out as the weakest link in Germany’s banking system in the European Banking Authority’s stress test in November. Its balance sheet is creaking under €7.3bn in toxic shipping loans.

The reminds us of how we got here which was via some disastrous lending to the shipping sector and also a reminder of the size of NordLB. This is a problem for the local area.

The state of Lower Saxony, which holds a 59 per cent stake in NordLB, is negotiating with three different private equity investors — including Cerberus and Apollo — over minority investments that would also include the state authority putting more money into the bank.

Apparently it is always just about to turn a corner, which is a familiar theme.

“I am confident that we will find a solution in January,” Lower Saxony’s finance minister Reinhold Hilbers said in a statement on Thursday. His initial plan was to fix the issue by the end of 2018.

Oh and whilst we are thinking in terms of groundhog days, the bits which aren’t losing money are always okay.

A person close to the bank stressed that all of NordLB’s units besides shipping finance are profitable,

What has happened now?

As ever big developments often happen at a weekend and the one just passed was one of those. From the Shipping Tribune.

Germany’s NordLB will be bailed out by public-sector savings banks and the state of Lower Saxony at a cost of as much as 3.7 billion euros ($4.2 billion), thwarting a bid by Cerberus Capital Management and Centerbridge Partners for a stake in the struggling lender.

The restructuring package, which Lower Saxony Premier Stephan Weil called “the best of all possible options,” involves as much as 1.2 billion euros from the savings banks group and up to 1.5 billion euros in capital from Lower Saxony. An additional contribution from the state — NordLB’s main shareholder — could add another 1 billion euros.

In this situations “could add” is invariably a done deal as the news is doled out in bite-sized chunks. As to the significance of this Johannes Borgen is on the case on Twitter.

That’s obviously state resources, but is it state aid ?

He sums up the case for it being state aid here.

Arguing for state aid is the fact that they are owned by the Lander, the cities etc. So fully public owned and this has been the case forever. It’s easy to argue that they serve a public policy goal.

But that is awkward for the German and Euro area establishments for this reason.

I honestly don’t know where this will end. But if the Sparkassen end up being consider public entities for state aid rules, it’s an enormous pack of worm because every single loan they grant could be considered state aid!

Thus there will be a large effort to avoid this is in the way that the ECB calls itself a “rules-based organisation” as it indulges in monetary policies which suggest it instead does “Whatever it takes”.

A possible route is to argue that this has taken place on market terms. That is not really true because the state has offered better terms than the two US hedge-fund alternatives but if we return to the Shipping Tribune maybe the effort has already begun.

The deal with the savings banks will, over time, cost the state less than if NordLB had accepted the offer from the private equity companies, said Reinhold Hilbers, the finance minister of Lower Saxony and head of the company’s supervisory board.

That is a familiar political strategy as by the time we catch up with this particular kicked can we my well have forgotten about this statement and its forecasts and anyway Herr Hilbers will probably have moved on. Oh and it is an implicit admittal that it is costing the state more now.

Comment

We see today that there is far more to the current German banking crisis than the decline or Deutsche Bank or to that matter Commerzbank. Also there are more similarities with the troubles in Italy than many would like to admit. But as we observe this from @macroymercados we are left wondering how the NordLB accounts have been approved for the last decade?

– Agreed to sell loans to Cerberus Capital Management, according to a person familiar with the transaction, while the German lender expects a loss of about €2.7b for 2018.

If we move to the states involved then the figures quoted today will be a minimum for their involvement but that may take some time to be revealed as the proposed cash injection will oil the wheels for some time.

As to whether this will turn out to be a bailout or bail-in only time will tell? This looks like a bailout thus breaking the spirit at least of EU banking rules but we will have to see. We could see some wild swings in the price of Nord LB bonds. As to Germany as a whole even if this gets added to the national debt then there is a clear difference with Italy as it has a 0.17% ten-year bond yield and has reduced its gross national debt by around 52 billion Euros over the past year. Real trouble there would need involvement in Deutsche Bank.

 

 

 

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Italy may be in a recession but more importantly its depression never ended

The last 24 hours have brought the economic problems and travails of Italy into a little sharper focus. More news has arrived this morning but before we get there I would like to take you back to early last October when the Italian government produced this.

Politics economy, reform action, good management of the PA and dialogue with businesses and citizens will therefore be directed towards achieving GDP growth of
at least 1.5 percent in 2019 and 1.6 percent in 2020, as indicated in new programmatic framework. On a longer horizon, Italy will have to grow faster than the rest of Europe, in order to recover the ground lost in the last
twenty years.

This was part of the presentation over the planned fiscal deficit increase and on the 26th of October I pointed out this.

If we look back we see that GDP growth has been on a quarterly basis 0.3% and then 0.2% so far this year and the Monthly Economic Report tells us this.

The leading indicator is going down slightly suggesting a moderate pace for the next months.

They mean moderate for Italy.So we could easily see 0% growth or even a contraction looking ahead as opposed some of the latest rhetoric suggesting 3%  per year is possible. Perhaps they meant in the next decade as you see that would be an improvement.

Political rhetoric suggesting 3% economic growth is a regular feature of fiscal debates because growth at that rate fixes most fiscal ills. The catch is that in line with the “Girlfriend in a Coma” theme Italy has struggled to maintain a growth rate above 1% for decades now. Also as we look back I recall pointing out that we have seen quarterly economic growth of 0.5% twice, 0.4% twice, then 0.3% twice in a clear trend. So we on here were doubtful to say the least about the fiscal forecasts and were already fearing a contraction.

Yesterday

All Italy’s troubles were not so far away as the statistics office produced this.

In the fourth quarter of 2018 the seasonally and calendar adjusted, chained volume measure of Gross
Domestic Product (GDP) decreased by 0.2 per cent with respect to the previous quarter and increased by
0.1 per cent over the same quarter of previous year.

Whilst much of the news concentrates on Italy now being in a recession the real truth is the way that growth of a mere 0.1% over the past year reminds us that it has never broken out of an ongoing depression. If we look at the chart provided we see that in 2008 GDP was a bit over 102 at 2010 prices but now it has fallen below 97. So a decade has passed in fact more like eleven years and the economy has shrunk. Also I see the Financial Times has caught onto a point I have been making for a while.

Brunello Rosa, chief executive of the consultancy Rosa and Roubini, has pointed out that, on a per capita basis, Italy’s real gross domestic product is lower than when the country adopted the euro in 1999. Over the same period Germany’s per capita real GDP has increased by more than 25 per cent, while even recession-ravaged Greece has performed better than Italy on the same basis.

On that basis Italy has been in a depression this century if not before. Indeed if you look at the detail it comes with something that challenges modern economic orthodoxy, so let me explain. In 1999 the Italian population was 56,909,000 whereas now it is just under 60.5 million. Much of the difference has been from net migration which we are so often told brings with it a list of benefits such as a more dynamic economic structure and higher economic growth. Except of course, sadly nothing like that has happened in Italy. As output has struggled it has been divided amongst a larger population and thus per head things have got worse.

Meanwhile this seems unlikely to help much.

Italy’s statistical institute will soon have a new president, the demographer Gian Carlo Blangiardo. He has recommended calculating life expectancy from conception – rather than birth – so as to include unborn babies. ()

Also population statistics in general have taken something of a knock this week.

Pretty interesting – New Zealand just found it has 45,000 fewer people than it thought. In a population of 4.9 million (maybe), that means economists might have to start revising things like productivity and GDP growth per capita. ( Tracy Alloway of Bloomberg).

Can I just say chapeau to whoever described it as Not So Crowded House.

The banks

I regularly point out the struggles of the Italian banks and say that this is a factor as they cannot be supporting the economy via business lending so thank you to the author of the Tweet below who has illustrated this.

As you can see whilst various Italian government’s have stuck their heads in the sand over the problems with so many of the Italian banks there has been a real cost in terms of supporting business and industry. This has become a vicious circle where businesses have also struggled creating more non-performing loans which weakens the banks as we see a doom loop in action.

What about now?

The GDP numbers gave us an idea of the areas involved on the contraction.

The quarter on quarter change is the result of a decrease of value added in agriculture, forestry and fishing
as well as in industry and a substantial stability in services. From the demand side, there is a negative
contribution by the domestic component (gross of change in inventories) and a positive one by the net
export component.

The latter part is a bit awkward for Prime Minister Conte who has taken the politically easy way out and blamed foreigners this morning. As to the industrial picture this morning;s PMI business survey suggests things got worse rather than better last month.

“January’s PMI data signalled another deterioration in Italian manufacturing conditions, with firms struggling in the face of a sixth consecutive monthly fall in new business. Decreases in output, purchasing activity and employment (the first in over four years) were recorded, marking a weak start to 2019.”

The spot number of 47.8 was another decline and is firmly in contraction territory.

Comment

This is as Elton John put it.

It’s sad, so sad (so sad)
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s getting more and more absurd

Italy has been in an economic depression for quite some time now but nothing ever seems to get done about it. Going back in time its political leadership were keen to lock it into monetary union with France and Germany but the hoped for convergence has merely led to yet more divergence.

One of the hopes is that the unofficial or what used to be called the black economy is helping out. I hope so in many ways but sadly even that is linked to the corruption problem which never seems to get sorted out either. Oh and whilst many blame the current government some of that is a cheap shot whilst it has had its faults so has pretty much every Italian government.

 

Podcast

A bond issue does little for the problem of plunging investment in Greece

Today brings a development which will no doubt be trumpeted across the media and it is explained by this from Reuters yesterday,

Greece will return to bond markets with a five-year issue “in the near future, subject to market conditions”, authorities said on Monday.

The sovereign has mandated BofA Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs International Bank, HSBC, J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley and SG CIB as joint lead managers for the transaction, according to a regulatory filing to the stock exchange.

The near future is today as we mull that in spite of its role in the Greek economic crisis Goldman Sachs is like the Barnacles in the writings of Charles Dickens as it is always on the scene where money is involved. As to why this is happening the Wall Street Journal explains.

Greece‘s borrowing costs have dropped to a four-month low, and Athens plans to raise up to $3.4 billion in a bond sale.

Although it is not turning out to be quite as cheap as the 3.5% hoped for.

Greece Opens Books For New 5 Year Bond, Initial Guidance For Yield 3.75-3.875% – RTRS Source ( @LiveSquawk)

Why are investors buying this?

The obvious objection is the default history of Greece but in these times of ultra low yields ~3.8% is not be sniffed at. This is added to by the Euro area slow down which could provoke more ECB QE and whilst Greece does not currently qualify it might as time passes. In the mean time you collect 3.8% per annum.

Why is Greece offering it?

This is much more awkward for the politicians and media who trumpet the deal because it is a bad deal in terms of financing for Greece. It has been able to borrow off the European Stability Mechanism at not much more than 1% yield for some time now. Actually its website suggests it has been even cheaper than that.

0.9992% Average interest rate charged by ESM on loans (Q1 2018)

Past borrowing was more expensive so the overall ESM average is according to it 1.62%. So Greece is paying a bit more than 2% on the average cost of borrowing from the ESM which is hardly a triumph. Even worse the money will have to be borrowed again in five years time whereas the average ESM maturity is 32 years ( and may yet be an example of To Infinity! And Beyond!).

So there is some grandstanding about this but the real reason is escaping from what used to be called the Troika and is now called the Institutions. The fact the name had to be changed is revealing in itself and I can understand why Greece would want to step away from that episode.
As we move on let me remind you that Greece has borrowed some 203.8 billion Euros from the ESM and its predecessor the EFSF.

The economy

We can see why the Greek government wants to establish its ability to issue debt and stay out of the grasp of the institutions as we note this from Kathimerini.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced an 11 percent increase in the minimum wage during a cabinet meeting on Monday, the first such wage hike in the country in almost a decade.

Actually the sums are small.

The hike will raise the minimum wage from 586 to 650 euros and is expected to affect 600,000 employees. He also said the government will scrap the so-called subminimum wage of 518 euros paid to young employees.

There are two catches here I think. Firstly in some ways Greece is competing with the Balkan nations which have much lower average wages than we are used to. Also this reverses the so-called internal competitiveness model.

The standard mimimum monthly wage was slashed by 22 percent to 586 euros in 2012, when Greece was struggling to emerge from a recession.

A deeper cut was imposed on workers below 25 years, as part of measures prescribed by international lenders to make the labour market more flexible and the economy more competitive.

Productivity

Here we find something really rather awkward which in some ways justifies the description of economics as the dismal science. Let me start with a welcome development which is the one below.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in October 2018 was 18.6% compared to 21.0% in October 2017 and 18.6% in September 2018 ( Greece Statistics Office)

But the improving labour market has not been matched by developments elsewhere as highlighted by this.

we documented that employment had started to lead output growth in the early days of the SYRIZA government. Since such a policy is unsustainable, we have to include in any consistent outlook that this process reverses and output starts leading employment again – hence restoring positive productivity growth. ( Kathimerini)

That led me to look at his numbers and productivity growth plunged to nearly -5% in 2015 and was still at an annual rate of -3% in early 2016. Whilst he says we “have to include” an improvement the reality is that it has not happened yet as this year has seen two better quarters and one weaker one. We have seen employment indicators be the first sign of a turn in an economy before but they normally take a year or so to be followed by the output indicator not three years plus. This reminds us that Greek economic growth is nothing to write home about.

The available seasonally adjusted data
indicate that in the 3rd quarter of 2018 the Gross Domestic
Product (GDP) in volume terms increased by 1.0% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018, while
in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2017, it increased by 2.2%.

If it could keep up a quarterly rate of 1% that would be something but the annual rate is in the circumstances disappointing. After all the decline was from a quarterly GDP of 62 billion Euros at the peak in 2009 whereas it is now 51.5 billion. So the depression has been followed by only a weak recovery.

More debt

I looked at the woes of the Greek banks yesterday but in terms of the nation here is the Governor of the central bank from a speech last week pointing to yet another cost on the way to repairing their balance sheets

An absolutely indicative example can assess the immediate impact of a transfer of about €40 billion of NPLs, namely all denounced loans and €7.4 billion of DTCs ( Deferred Tax Credits).

Comment

Whilst I welcome the fact that Greece has finally seen some economic growth the problem now is the outlook. The general Euro area background is not good and Greece has been helped by strong export growth currently running at 7.6%. There have to be questions about this heading forwards then there is the simply woeful investment record as shown by the latest national accounts.

Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) decreased by 23.2% in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2017.

The scale of the issue was explained by the Governor of the central bank in the speech I referred to earlier.

However, in order to increase the capital stock and thus the potential output of the Greek economy, positive net capital investment is indispensable. For this to happen, private investment must grow by about 50% within the next few years. In other words, the Greek economy needs an investment shock, with a focus on the most productive and extrovert business investment, to avoid output hysteresis and foster a rebalancing of the growth model in favour of tradeable goods and services.

Yet as we stand with the banks still handicapped how can that happen? Also if we return to the productivity discussion at best it will have one hand tied behind its back by as the lack of investment leads to an ageing capital stock. So whilst the annual rate of economic growth may pick up at the end of 2018 as last year quarterly growth was only 0.2% I am worried about the prospects for 2019.

It should not be this way and those who created this deserve more than a few sleepless nights in my opinion.

The banks continue to be trouble,trouble,trouble

The weekend just past has been full of banking news which has not been good. That is quite an anti achievement when we note that a decade or so ago when the banking crisis hit we were assured by politicians and central bankers that it would never be allowed to happen again and they would fix the problems. Whereas the reality has been represented by this from the Guardian this morning.

Under the new Lloyds Bank “Lend A Hand” deal, a first-time buyer will be able to borrow up to £500,000 for a new home, without putting down a penny of deposit.

Why is this necessary? It is because the establishment have played the same old song of higher house prices and telling people they are better off via wealth effects. Meanwhile the claims of no inflation are contradicted by the increasing inability of first-time buyers to afford housing even with ultra-low mortgage rates to help.

In this instance the mortgage is 100% of the loan for the people taking it out but payments are backed for 3 years by a family member or members.

The Lloyds deal requires that a member of the family – such as parent, grandparent or close relative – helps out. The bank will only grant the 100% mortgage if the family member puts a sum equal to 10% of the value of the property into a Lloyds savings account.

I have looked it up and their liability is limited to the first 3 years.

At the end of the 3 years, you will be able to take out your savings plus interest. That’s as long as the buyer hasn’t missed any payments or their home hasn’t been repossessed.

Frankly if payments are in danger of being missed it may suit the family member to fund them. But unless things go dreadfully wrong after 3 years we have what it a mortgage with only a little equity as not much is repaid in the first 3 years.

But as ever we see something of a round-tripping cycle between the central bank which pushes cheap liquidity to the banks who then pump up the housing market.

Vim Maru, group director of Lloyds Banking Group, which also controls Halifax, said: “We are committed to lending £30bn to first-time buyers by 2020 as part of our pledge to help people and communities across Britain prosper – and ‘Lend a Hand’ is one of the ways we will do this.

Mark Carney’s morning espresso will be tasting especially good today.

China

Let me hand you over to the People’s Bank of China which has issued a Q&A about its new (easing) policy and it starts with something very familiar.

Banks need to have adequate capital to guarantee sustainable financial support for the real economy.

When central banks state that what they in fact mean is the housing sector. For example the Bank of England claimed its Funding for Lending Scheme was for smaller businesses when in fact lending to them fell but mortgage lending picked up as mortgage rates plunged. So let us dig deeper.

The Central Bank Bills Swap (CBS) allows financial institutions holding banks’ perpetual bonds to have more collateral of high quality, improves market liquidity of such bonds, and increases market desire to buy them, thereby encouraging banks to replenish capital via perpetual bond issuance and creating favourable conditions for stepping up financial support for the real economy.

As we do so we see that what are finite organisations (banks) have debt forever which is troubling for starters. We also note that this is a type of debt for equity operation as we mull that there are some quite good reasons for not being keen on bank equity. So debt in this form ( perpetual) qualifies as capital and I believe Tier 1 capital in this case. The next move is that the perpetual bonds can be swapped for central bank bills meaning that the central bank now has the risk and the investor has none in return for a haircut depending on how much collateral is required. Thus we get.

increases market desire to buy them

because if you have worries you just accept the haircut and pass the rest of the risk to the PBOC.  As to improving market liquidity then the Bank of China was quick to back up that point.

Bank of China issued 40 billion yuan perpetual on Friday at a coupon rate of 4.5%, the first bank issuer of perpetualbond in . ( Yuan Talks)

The catch is that these sort of moves create liquidity for a time but later can drain it. That is because if things go wrong you end up with two very different markets which is the real one and the central bank supported one.

So the banks will get more capital and they will use it to raise lending and if history is any guide the “real economy” will be the housing market. This will then be presented as a surprise and we will learn what the Chinese word for counterfactual is.

Deutsche Bank

It is always there isn’t it? Let us start with what looked like some better news which was a 4% rally in the share price to 8.13 Euros on Friday. This looks like an early wire on this from @DeltaOne yesterday.

DEUTSCHE BANK GETS ADDITIONAL INVESTMENT FROM QATAR…….DISCUSSIONS ON QATAR INVESTMENT ARE ADVANCED BUT NO FINAL AGREEMENT TIMING AND SIZE OF INVESTMENT UNCLEAR

As they are already shareholders then this would be a case of doubling up or rather if we look at the price history doubling down. Of course this is not the only plan doing the rounds about DB.

Shareholders in Deutsche Bank have voiced deep concerns about the German lender’s mooted tie-up with domestic rival Commerzbank, saying the move would “paralyse” the country’s largest lender and destroy value for investors. ( Financial News)

Mind you it has been doing a pretty good job of destroying shareholder value all on its own.

Greece

Here we have seen massive sums used to pump up the banks at the cost of the national debt of Greece itself. But according to the IMF at the end of last week more is needed.

Restoring growth-enhancing bank lending will require swift, comprehensive, and well-coordinated actions to help repair balance sheets. Coordinated steps by key stakeholders are needed to support banks’ efforts to achieve a faster reduction of non-performing loans (NPL).

So all the bailouts have been to the tune of “Tantalize Me” by Jimmy the Hoover from back in the day.

Comment

The sad part of all of this is that we are observing yet another lost decade. As so often the hype and indeed hyperbole has not been matched by action. Central banks like to trumpet the improvement in bank capital ratios but if you look at bank share prices then there has been a shortage of investors willing to put their money where the central banks open mouth operations are.

In the case of Deutsche Bank as well as the Chinese and Greek banking systems we see that we are entering yet another phase of the crisis. With the problems recently at Metro Bank in the UK that had its risk model wrong in another “mistake” then the central banks will be on the case this time or maybe not.

This means we have not been processing most model change requests from internal model banks. ( Reserve Bank of New Zealand)

 

Bank Carige. Monte dei Paschi and their impact on the economy of Italy

The Italian banks have certainly kept us busy in the credit crunch era. We have found ourselves observing a litany of cash calls, bad debts, crises, and official claims that there is no problem. Of the latter the worst was probably the claim by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi that equity investors in Monte Paschi dei Siena had a good investment whereas it was soon clear they had anything but. Actually it is back in the news but behind another regular feature which is Bank Carige which you may recall we were looking at this development on the eighth of this month.

Italy’s Banca Carige said on Friday it had raised 544.4 million euros ($645 million) following its recently concluded new share issue, topping minimum regulatory demands. ( Reuters)

Ordinarily on a cash call that would be it but we have learnt from experience that with banks and Italian banks especially these sort of cash calls are not get in what you can to keep the ship afloat for now not for good as it should be. So we should have been expecting this.

Italy’s Banca Carige (CRGI.MI) needs 200 million euros ($227 million) of fresh capital to clean its balance sheet from soured loans and to attract a potential buyer in the future, daily Il Sole 24Ore reported in Tuesday.

There never seems to be any accounting for what has just taken place as in that the prospectus for the recent share issue can hardly have told the truth. This is not just an Italian problem as in my opinion the RBS ( Royal Bank of Scotland ) cash call as its crisis built was a scandal it is just that Italy keeps having more of them. Also my country is hardly Mr(s) Speedy in bringing any such matters to court.

The first criminal trial of senior UK banking executives in the wake of the financial crisis is due to begin on Wednesday.

The case against four former executives has been filed by the Serious Fraud Office over Barclays’ £11.8bn rescue.

The bank avoided a UK bailout in 2008 by raising funds from Middle Eastern investors.

The executives are charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. All four have pleaded not guilty. ( BBC)

Returning to the Italian banks the essential problem has been highlighted with thanks to @DS_Pepperstone.

Deutsche Bank confirms that ROTE or Return on Tangible Equity is lower than the Cost of Equity at all Italian banks – That is they pay more for capital than they make from it. DBK says that fact is already reflected in the Italian bank’s share prices.

You might think that Deutsche Bank has a bit of a cheek saying that about other banks! But the point is that funds poured into Italian banks are a case of good money after bad and repeat.

What now?

Let us return to Reuters.

Italy is considering merging troubled banks Monte dei Paschi (BMPS.MI) and Banca Carige (CRGI.MI) with healthier rivals such as UBI Banca (UBI.MI) as it scrambles to avert a new banking crisis, sources familiar with the matter said.

Shareholders in UBI Banca may immediately be fans of the Pet Shop Boys.

What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?
What have I, what have I, what have I done to deserve this?

It is not as if they have been having a good time of it as I note the share price of 2.3 Euros is down 43% over the past year. Looking back on my monthly chart it was over 20 Euros back in early 2007 which in the heavily depreciated world of bank shares I suppose is healthier in relative terms than the two other banks. But then almost anything is.

As we look for more detail there is yet another scandal in the offing.

Monte dei Paschi, rescued by the state in 2017, and Carige, recently put into special administration by the European Central Bank (ECB), are struggling with bad debts and the prospect of asset writedowns that would eat into their capital.

Their problems threaten to reignite a banking crisis that Rome thought it had ended two years ago and could further damage an economy already at risk of slipping back into recession.

That is the issue of Monte Paschi where the state took a 68% stake but the problems are on such a scale that even that has not fixed things as we wonder if anything has improved over the past two years? It sounds a little like the Novo Banco ( New Bank ) in Portugal that was supposed to be clean but ended up having to effectively wipe out some of its bonds.

Monte dei Paschi is still battling with high bad loan ratios and faces legal claims for over 1.5 billion euros, making it risky to take over without any support from the state.

This issue came back to prominence in the middle of this month when the European Central Bank (ECB) said it wanted banks to raise their covering of non-performing loans to 100% by 2027. It set three categories of bank and  think you have already guessed which category Monte Paschi was in.

As you can see the troubles just go on and on which moves me to the next issue. When states and central banks invest in banks it is a case of can kicking into a hopefully better future. But the economy of Italy hasn’t got much better and right now is heading in reverse again.

The economy

This week a review of the century has been produced by Eurostat and if you compare the European Union with Italy you see that the latter line for GDP growth is always below the former. It is this lack of economic growth that is a major driver in all of this. It started in 2001 where the EU grew by 2.2% and Italy by 1.8% but things have got worse as the weakest year relatively was 2012 where the EU economy shrank by 0.4% but Italy’s shrank by 2.8%.

Even the Bank of Italy has now been forced to admit that the future looks none to bright either.

The central projection for GDP growth is 0.6 per cent this year, 0.4 points lower than the previous projection. The downward revision was on account of three main considerations: new information pointing to a sharper cyclical slowdown in the last part of 2018, which reduced the carry-over effect on growth by 0.2 points; the cutback in firms’ investment plans, as confirmed by recent surveys; and the expected slowdown in global trade…… In the two years 2020-21, the central projection for growth is 0.9 and 1.0 per cent respectively.

The other issue which has tightened something of a noose around the necks of the Italian banks is higher funding costs. We can illustrate this by looking at the Italian bond ten-year yield of 2.73%. That is an improvement on the peaks we saw last year but Germany has one of 0.24% and the UK 1.33%.

Comment

There is an element of ennui here as the establishment playbook is used one more time. But there are costs such as the equity and bond capital which has been lost and even worse the way that the Italian banks have been unable to operate in their prime function. Yesterday’s credit standard survey from the ECB confirmed this if we recall who has the Non Performing Loan or NPL problem on the biggest scale.

 euro area banks reported that their NPL ratios had a tightening impact on their credit standards for loans to enterprises and housing loans over the past six months. Over the next six months, they expect a net tightening impact of their NPL ratio on credit standards across all loan categories. NPL ratios led to a tightening of euro area banks’ lending policies over the past six months in net terms mainly through banks’ access to market financing.

In the end that is the real problem as the Italian economy continues to weaken the banks and the Italian banks weaken the economy with a grip that shows no sign of loosening.

Moving wider I expect the ECB to help with liquidity ( another TLTRO) but if extra liquidity helped significantly we would not be here would we?

What will happen to Bank Carige of Italy?

One of the longest running themes of this site has been the ostrich like behaviour of Italy about its banks. The official view has been that a corner is just about to be turned on what keeps turning out to be a straight road. I still recall Prime Minster Renzi assuring investors that shares in the trouble Monte Paschi di Siena were a good purchase. Here is an example of this from him in Il Sole from January 2016 via Google Translate and the emphasis is mine.

“The recent turbulence around some Italian banks indicates that our credit system – solid and strong thanks to the extraordinarily high savings of Italian families – still needs consolidation, so that there are fewer but stronger banks (…) Today the bank it is healed, and investing is a bargain. On Mps has been knocked down speculation but it is a good deal, has gone through crazy vicissitudes but today is healed, it is a nice brand. Perhaps in this process that will last a few months must find partners because it must be with others “.

Since then the bank has seen the Italian state take a majority stake and the share price is a bit less than forty times lower than when Renzi made his statement. This has been a familiar theme of the crisis where investors have been encouraged to stump up more money for troubled banks with promises of a brighter future. But it kept turning out that the future was ever more troubled rather than bright as good money followed bad in being lost.

Even worse the whole sector was weakened by the way that other types of bailout were provided by the banking sector itself. For example via the Atlante or Atlas fund which saw banks investing to recapitalise other banks and to buy bad loans. Regular readers will recall that the establishment view was that the purchase of bad loans by this and other vehicles was something of a new dawn for the sector. The reality was that as things got worse there was Atlante 2 before the whole idea got forgotten. It is rude to point out that the subject of today Bank Carige was considered strong enough to put 20 million Euros into the first version of Atlante.

A deeper perspective can be provided by the fact that the Italian banking laws are called the “Draghi Laws” after the President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi. In his new role he has undertaken three policies which have helped the Italian banks. They have been particularly large beneficiaries of his liquidity operations called TLTROs which have provided cheap ( the deposit rate is -0.4%) for banks. Then the QE programme boosted the price of Italian government bonds benefiting the Italian banks large holdings. Then more opaquely at least in terms of media analysis it bought covered bonds ( mortgage bonds) in three phases and still holds around 271 billion Euros of them.

The catch of this from Mario’s point of view is that liquidity is only a short-term solution and soon falls short when the real questions are about solvency. Even worse the way this umbrella shielded the banks from the rain meant that the promised reforms never happened and the path was made worse rather than better. Also if we think of this from the point of Italy and its economy we see that we have part of the reason for its ongoing economic lost decade style troubles. The banks have helped suck it lower. Also and hat tip to Merryn Somerset Webb for this a letter to the FT today has on another topic covered the issue really rather well.

ECB can’t solve problems because to attempt to do so would be to admit that problems exist.

Carige

If we go back to 2017 we see that as well as a worrying departure of board directors and the beginning of an attempted asset sale which was to include bad loans there was this in December.

Italy’s Banca Carige said on Friday it had raised 544.4 million euros ($645 million) following its recently concluded new share issue, topping minimum regulatory demands. ( Reuters)

There were various features to this of which the first is that existing shareholders took a right caning or as the Italian regulator put it.

The Banca Carige capital increase has characteristics of hyperdilution.

In return there was the implication that the ECB had approved this and a corner had been turned. Less than a year later this all went sour as the ECB decided that Bank Carige needed yet another rights issue in yet another example of the themes described above. This time in spite of statements to the contrary no-one seemed silly enough to believe the official promises and this rumbled on until the New Year when the ECB decided that the first business day of 2019 was an opportune moment to do this.

The mass resignation of Carige directors that followed has given the ECB an opportunity to be creative. The central bank has used its powers of early intervention to step in to stabilise the bank’s governance. It has appointed three special administrators, including Innocenzi, tasked with restoring capital requirements. ( Reuters)

If you want some gallows humour this was described as “temporary” when it was pretty much certain to be anything but as a major shareholder ( Malaclaza) decided it had lost enough. It was hardly likely to believe the ECB again.

The Italian Government

This found itself in between a rock and a hard place as the Five-Star movement has consistently opposed both bailouts and bail-ins. Yet the government of which it is a member took I am told only 8 minutes to decide this last night.

The decree, signed off on Monday after a surprise cabinet meeting, will allow the bank to benefit from state-backed guarantees for new bond issues and funding from the Bank of Italy.

The lender, which last year failed to secure shareholder backing for a capital increase, will also be able to request access to state-backed precautionary recapitalization, if needed.

So yet again in a choice between the interests of the people and the interests of “the precious” we see that the same old status quo continues to play.

Whatever you want
Whatever you like
Whatever you say
You pay your money
You take your choice
Whatever you need
Whatever you use
Whatever you win
Whatever you lose

One of my longest-running themes of this website gets another tick in the box and we even get some Italian style humour.

EU rules permit such a scheme only if the bank is solvent.

So solvent in fact that they can no longer find anyone willing to put their own money into it. Also seeing as Bank Carige cannot even see its own nose I doubt this will be a barrier for long.

According to a financial source close to the matter, Carige would only consider a request for precautionary recapitalization if new and unforeseen problems arose.

Comment

The issue here is that on a generic basis the events described above are so familiar now that even the use of phrases like groundhog day does not do the situation justice. There are always going to be problems because regulators invariably end up being captured by the industry they regulate and banking is perhaps the worst example of this. But changes were promised so long ago and yet the Italian taxpayer will find him/herself on the hook in addition to the 320 million Euro hybrid bond that the deposit protection fund bought late last year. Even worse they may end up backing this enough for someone else to be willing to take it over and profit from. Oh and so much for hybrid!

Meanwhile in a land far, far, away I see that the Financial Times has interviewed the head of the Euro area banking resolution body.

Speaking to the FT to mark three years since the SRB became fully operational at the start of 2016, Ms König said a page had been turned in how the bloc handled bank failures — not least after its first intervention, at Spain’s Banco Popular in 2017 — but that the system remained a work in progress.

There is no mention of Italy at all which is really rather breathtaking, although there may be an implied hint.

Making sure that bank crises could be contained without resorting to taxpayer help was “an ongoing challenge”, she said.

Some claim the lack of contagion is progress, but you see there is a clear flaw in that as the problems here were evident as long ago as 2014 so what is called the “smart money” will have gone long ago. In some ways this makes things worse because in another shocking failure of regulation Italian retail depositors were encouraged to buy bank bonds.

 

Greece GDP growth is accompanied by weakening trade and falling investment

Let us take the opportunity to be able to look at some better news from Greece which came from its statistics office yesterday.

The available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 3
rd quarter of 2018 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms increased by 1.0% in comparison with the 2
nd quarter of 2018, while in comparison with the 3 rd quarter of 2017, it increased by 2.2%.

So Greece has achieved the economic growth level promised for 2012 in the original “shock and awe” plan of the spring of 2010. Or to be more specific regained it as the 1.3% growth of the second quarter of 2017 saw the annual growth rate rise to 2.5% at the opening of this year before falling to 1.7%. So far in 2018 Greece has bucked the Euro trend but in a good way as quarterly economic growth has gone 0.5%,0.4% and now 1%.

If we continue with the upbeat view there was this on Monday from the Markit PMI business survey of the manufacturing sector.

Greek manufacturing firms signalled renewed growth
momentum in November, with the PMI rising to a six month high. The solid overall improvement in operating
conditions was driven by stronger expansions in output and
new orders. That said, foreign demand was not as robust,
with new export order growth easing to a 14-month low.
Manufacturers increased their staffing numbers further
in November, buoyed by stronger production growth and
domestic client demand.

So starting from a basic level there is growth and it is better than the average for the Euro area with a reading of 54 compared to 51.8. Also there is hopeful news for an especially troubled area.

In line with stronger client demand, manufacturing firms
expanded their workforce numbers at the fastest pace for
three months. Moreover, the rate of job creation was one of
the quickest since data collection began in 1999

Concerns

If we move to the detail of the national accounts we see that even this level of growth comes with concerns.

Exports of goods and services increased by 2.8% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018. Exports of goods increased by 1.0% while exports of services increased by 3.8%.

This looks good at this point for what was called the “internal devaluation” method where the Greek economy would become more price competitive via lower real wages. But it got swamped by this.

Imports of goods and services increased by 7.5% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018. Imports of goods increased by 8.3% while imports of services increased by 2.2%.

If we look deeper we see that the picture over the past year is the same. We start with a story of increasing export growth looking good but it then gets swamped by import growth.

Exports of goods and services increased by 7.6% in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2017. Exports of goods increased by 7.9%, and exports of services increased by 8.0%…… Imports of goods and services increased by 15.0% in comparison with the 3 rd quarter of 2017. Imports of goods increased by 15.0%, and imports of services increased by 16.0%.

This is problematic on two counts and the first one is the simple fact that a fair bit of the Greek problem was a trade issue and now I fear that for all the rhetoric the same problem is back. Perhaps that is why we are hearing calls for reform again. Are those the same reforms we have been told have been happening. Also I note a lot of places saying Greek economic growth has been driven by exports which is misleading. This is because it is the trade figures which go in and they are a drag on GDP due to higher import growth. We can say that Greece has been both a good Euro area and world member as trade growth has been strong over the past year but it has weakened itself in so doing.

Investment

An economy that is turning around and striding forwards should have investment growth yet we see this.

Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) decreased by 14.5% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018.

Ouch! Time for the annual comparison.

Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) decreased by 23.2% in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2017.

Whilst those numbers are recessionary as a stand-alone they would be signals of a potential depression but for the fact Greece is still stuck in the middle of the current one. For comparison Bank of England Governor Mark Carney asserted that UK investment is 16% lower than it would have otherwise have been after the EU Leave vote so Greece is much worse than even that.

There are issues here around the level of public investment and the squeeze applied to it to hit the fiscal surplus targets. If this from National Bank of Greece in September is to turn out to be correct then it had better get a move on.

A back-loading of the public investment programme, along with positive confidence effects, should provide an additional boost to GDP growth in the H2:2018,

What did grow then?

Rather oddly the other sectoral breakdown we are provided with shows another fall.

Total final consumption expenditure decreased by 0.2% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018.

But the gang banger in all of this is the inventories category which grew by 1321 million Euros or if you prefer accounts for 2.4% quarterly GDP growth on its own. This is not exactly auspicious looking forwards as you can imagine unless there is about to be a surge in demand. The only caveat is that we do not get a chain-linked seasonally adjusted number.

Comment

As you can see there is plenty of food for thought in the latest GDP numbers for Greece.On the surface they look good but the detail is weaker and in some cases looks simply dreadful. That is before we get to the impact of the wider Euro area slow down. The problem with all of this is that of we look back rather than the 2.1% economic growth promised for 2012 Greece saw economic growth plunge into minus territory peaking twice at an annual rate of 10.2%. Or the previous GDP peak of 60.4 billlion Euros of the spring of 2009 has been replaced by 48 billion in the autumn of 2018.

Meanwhile after the claimed triumphs and reform and of course extra cash the banks look woeful. So of course out comes the magic wand. From the Bank of Greece.

The proposed scheme envisages the transfer
of a significant part of non-performing exposures
(NPEs) along with part of the deferred
tax credits (DTCs), which are booked on bank
balance sheets, to a Special Purpose Vehicle
(SPV). value (net of loan loss provisions). The
amount of the deferred tax asset to be transferred
will match additional loss, so that the
valuations of these loans will approach market
prices. Subsequently, legislation will be
introduced enabling to transform the transferred
deferred tax credit into an irrevocable
claim of the SPV on the Greek State with a
predetermined repayment schedule (according
to the maturity of the transaction).

More socialisation of losses?