Wednesday, October 12, 2011

12/10/2011: Starting on the right footing

Two longer-term points to start the day (and renewing the EFSF debate) right, folks.

Point 1 - Global macro and long term - excellent posts today from the Guardian (here) and from barry Eichengreen for Project Syndicate (here) both dealing with EFSF as a non-solution to the crisis, regardless of the size. Both post, just as all other analysis I've read so far can benefit from one additional reality check. What happens if/when the EFSF in its enlarged form gets implemented?

The focus of everyone's analysis so far has been the banks and the sovereign yields/ratings. Let's take a peek further ahead, to say 2014. With EFSF in place, some €500bn+ of liquidity has been pumped into the markets. The banks have taken some significant share of recapitalization funds and dumped these into Government bonds, EFSF bonds, and risky assets around the world. The Governments, having received a boost from the sovereign bond markets via their own banks are back on track to 'stimulating' the economy and the households are now fully pricing in not only their still intact gargantuan debt levels, but also future Government-assumed liabilities in EFSF. The ECB balancesheet is loaded with EFSF paper and short-term lending is rampant, implying that unwinding short term liquidity supply becomes impossible for the ECB without risking a massive liquidity crisis in the banking system. Next trace of post-EFSF world is... stagflation in the Euro land:

  • Banks rising capital means margins on loans will rise, while private investment capital is now being courted by the banks at the same time as the corporates go for more debt and equity.
  • Governments borrowing resumed means rates are pressured up to sustain euro valuations, which means policy rates are supported to the upside.
  • ECB coffers full of EFSF paper means policy rates are supported to further upside.
  • States-supported banking sector in Europe means lending supply down, compounded by higher capital calls.
  • Taxes on ordinary income and wealth up, means no growth, compounding interest rates effects, despite Government 'stimulus'.
With European economy bifurcated into state-dependent sectors kept alive via debt issuance and private sector economy still on the death bed, as rates creep up to (retail levels) double digits for prime borrowers,wat takes place?
  1. Heavily indebted households are being squeezed on both ends of their budget constraint;
  2. Heavily debt-dependent European corporates are desperately trying to raise funding via equity issuance which runs against banks looking for more equity investors. Resulting capital crunch puts any hope for recovery on ice.
  3. ECB, unable to unwind short-term funding to the banks and holding vast supply of EFSF-linked paper keeps the rates higher than Taylor rule would imply.
The problem, is that absent a direct and robust writedown of private debts and some sovereign debts, and restructuring of the banking sector, EFSF or any other similar measure, no matter how large it will be, will not be able to break the dilemma of "either banks go bust or economy goes bust".

Which brings us to Point 2: What needs to be done in restoring the banking sector to health?

Instead of focusing on immediate funding and capital issues, we need to focus on the actual causes of the disease:
Cause 1: too much debt in the system (real economy) highlighted here.
Cause 2: insolvent banking institutions nursing massive losses going forward.

To deal with both we need a systematic approach to restructuring the banking sector and household balancesheets. The latter is a tough call - expensive and hard to structure. But it will be impossible without the former and via netting of balancesheets it can be aided by the former. So here's the broadly outlined roadmap for restructuring Europe's banking sector:

Resolving Euro area banking crisis requires bold and immediate action. An independent panel, under the aegis of ECB and EBA should review the operational, capital and risk positions of top 250 banks across the Euro area and independently stress-test the banks based on mid-range assumed scenarios of sovereign bonds haircuts of 75% loss on Greek bonds, 40% loss on Portuguese bonds, 20% loss on Irish bonds, and 10% loss on Italian and Spanish bonds. In addition, risk weightings must reflect specific bank's dependency on ECB / Central Banks funding. 

The banks should be divided into 3 categories based on this stress test assessment: Solvent and Liquid banks (SL), with post-stress capital ratios of 8% and above and ECB/CB funding covering no more than 15-20% of the assets, Solvent but Illiquid banks (SI) with capital ratios of 6-8% and ECB/CB funding covering no more than 30% of the assets, and Insolvent and Illiquid banks (II) with capital ratios below 6% and ECB/CB funding covering more than 31% of the assets base.

SL banks should be required to raise additional funding in the private markets and de-leverage post capital raising to Loans to Deposits ratio (LDR) of no more than 110% over the next 5 years. 

SI banks are to be restructured, stripping back some of the non-performing assets, reducing LDRs to 100% over the next 2 years and recapitalizing them through public injection of funds from the EFSF-styled vehicle warehoused within the ECB with a mandate to unwind the vehicle through a 50% writedown of liabilities to EFSF (debt write-offs via cancelation of some of the real economic debts held by these banks - debts of households and non-financial corporations) and 50% recoverable from the banks over the period of 15 years. Public funding for recapitalization must follow full writedown of equity and non-senior debt and partial haircuts on senior debt.

II banks are to be wound down via liquidation - their performing assets and deposits sold and non-performing assets written down against capital and lenders' liabilities (bonds). 

If followed, this approach will deliver, within 12-18 months a fully cleansed banking sector for the Euro zone and improve debt overhang in the real economy, while encouraging new banks formation and competition.

1 comment:

AL said...

I remember Dexia was at the top of the last "stress test" results... im not sure having more tests will prove anything!

perhaps we can just bring back mark-to market accounting for banks the same as for corporations, instead of mark to fantasy!??!