‘Often, the banking problems do not arise from the liability side, but from a protracted deterioration in asset quality, be it from a collapse in real estate prices or increased bankruptcies in the nonfinancial sector’’ (Kaminsky and Reinhart, 1999).
How true this sounds today. Take Euro area banks:
1) Collapse in US and European real estate valuations in recent years has triggered fall off in the value of linked assets held on the banks balance sheets
2) Collapse in the European bonds valuations has triggered a precipitous decline in core assets, including capital-linked assets
3) General recession have further undermined core assets on the loans side in corporate, SME and household lending.
A recent IMF paper: “Nonperforming Loans and Macrofinancial Vulnerabilities in Advanced Economies” by Mwanza Nkusu (2011) (IMF WP/11/161, July 2011) looks into the asset-focused linkages between financial and macroeconomic shocks, aiming “to uncover macro-financial vulnerabilities from the linkages between nonperforming loans (NPL) and macroeconomic performance in advanced economies”.
Based on a sample of 26 advanced countries from 1998 to 2009, the paper deals with two empirical questions on NPL and macrofinancial vulnerabilities:
1) the determinants of NPL and
2) the interactions between NPL and economic performance.
With respect of the first question, the literature suggests that the determinants of NPL can be macroeconomic, financial, or purely institutional. In addressing the second question, the paper investigated “the extent to which falling asset prices and credit constraints facing borrowers may backfire and lead to an extra round of financial system stress and subdued economic activity”.
The findings show that “NPL play a central role in the linkages between credit markets frictions and macroeconomic vulnerabilities. The results confirm that a sharp increase in NPL weakens macroeconomic performance, activating a vicious spiral that exacerbates macrofinancial vulnerabilities. …The broad policy implication is that, while NPL remain a permanent feature of banks’ balance sheets, policies and reforms should be geared to avoiding sharp increases that set into motion the adverse feedback loop between macroeconomic and financial shocks.”
Per authors: “empirical regularities …shape the modeling of NPL, …include the cyclical nature of bank credit, NPL, and loan loss provisions. In particular, in upturns, contemporaneous NPL ratios tend to be low and loan loss provisioning subdued. Also, competitive pressure and optimism about the macroeconomic outlook lead to a loosening of lending standards and strong credit growth, sowing the seeds of borrowers’ and lenders’ financial distress down the road. The loosening of lending standards in upturns depends on the existing regulatory and supervisory framework. In downturns, higher-than-expected NPL ratios, coupled with the decline in the value of collaterals, engenders greater caution among lenders and lead to a tightening of credit extension, with adverse impacts on domestic demand.”
In other words, first order effects of ‘positive’ pressures on lending expansion are reinforced by ‘positive’ second order effects of reduced risk management provisions, regulatory slackening and counter-cyclical capital buffers. Once things blow, however, the same effects again reinforce each other. The bubble acceleration is supported by both moments as well as the bubble explosion – yielding higher peaks and deeper troughs.
Thus, the determinants of NPL “are both institutional/structural and macroeconomic”.
The institutional / structural determinants are found in financial regulation and supervision and the lending incentive structure. “Intuitively, disparities in financial regulation and supervision affect banks’ behavior and risk management practices and are important in explaining cross-country differences in NPL.”
The macroeconomic environment drivers work by altering “borrowers’ balance sheets and their debt servicing capacity. The set of macroeconomic variables [includes]… broad indicators of macroeconomic performance, such as GDP growth and unemployment...”
The core findings of the study are:
- “A sharp increase in NPL triggers long-lived tailwinds that cripple macroeconomic performance from several fronts. …of all the variables included in the model, NPL is the only one that has both a statistically significant response to- and predictive power on- every single [macroeconomic performance] variable over a 4-year forecast period. …Regardless of the factors behind the deterioration in loan quality, the evidence suggests that a sharp increase in aggregate NPL feeds on itself leading to an almost linear incremental response that continues into the fourth year after the initial shock.”
- “The confluence of adverse responses in key indicators of macroeconomic performance—GDP growth and unemployment—leads to a downward spiral in which banking system distress and the deterioration in economic activity reinforce each other.”
- “The broad policy implication [is that] …policies and reforms should be geared to avoiding sharp increases that set into motion the adverse feedback loop between macroeconomic and financial shocks. … preventing excessive risk-taking during upturns through adequate macroprudential regulations is the first best.”
In other words, folks, you can’t ignore the macroeconomic effects of Non Performing Loans, as Ireland’s Government is implicitly doing by refusing to focus on repairing household debt overhang here. And, via a link between negative equity and NPL (the study cites evidence that house prices have direct negative effect on NPL – with house prices collapse leading to increased NPLs), we can’t ignore negative equity effects either.