Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Economics 20/7/10: EU test - have a Pass grade before you turn up for a check...

Per Bloomberg report today: “Hypo Real Estate Holding AG, the commercial-property and public-finance lender taken over by the German government, failed a Europe-wide banking stress test, two people familiar with the results said.” Crucially, however, “the Munich-based lender is probably the only German bank to fail the test, one person said.”

Makes you wonder – what kind of test is that if out of 91 not exactly rude-health institutions, only one is expected to fail? At an expected 99% success rate, the EU stress test is clearly designed to put a PR spin on banking sector shares, bonds and interbank credit markets.

The only sticky part is that if any of the ‘passed’ banks fail in the near future, the investors should be able to sue the EU for any losses incurred. You see, the EU stress test is designed – at least in theory – to provide important markets-relevant information to investors. If so, someone should be liable for the quality of the test. Had the EU authorities given this a thought?

The test is farcical. And you don’t need to see the results to know this much. European banks are set minimum requirement of 6% Tier 1 capital ratio. This is the number being tested. But the US banks had this requirement 2 years ago, and since then have beefed up their capital ratios to well in excess of 9%. UK banks are now in excess of 10%. Where does this put the Eurozone with its banking system ‘tested’ to 6%? In a circus terminology – with the clowns, large shoes, red noses and curly wigs in place. So the EU regulators’ decision to put some more powder over their mugs wont be doing much good.

FT blogs' Tracy Alloway reported today on what the markets think. The article (linked here) reports that there has been a 50% or more rise in the short positions held against a number of Eurozone banks. Ireland’s sick puppies – BofI and AIB are actually most active on long investors’ lists with long positions up ca 20%. But the two are also amongst the most expensive securities to borrow. In other words, it does seem like shorts are heavily on the side of Ireland Inc’s grand dames.

Funny thing, relating to the stress tests, is that a number of public officials – from Greece, to Belgium to Ireland – have already been leaking heavily the ‘news’ that stress tests will clear their banks’ names. One wonders if there is anything else the EU can do to make the whole exercise even more farcical?
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