Stress testing European and UK banks

The US bank stress tests are finally over and markets are breathing a massive sign of relief. 10 out of the 19 banks tested will have to raise $74.6bn in equity but none of the 19 banks will become insolvent, with additional capital requirements deemed as “manageable”.

It hardly seemed worth getting all stressed up over the stress tests but the results are likely to prompt much debate about the methodology used and will not put to bed the issue of the health of the US financial sector and potential for even more capital raising in the future. This should be the theme of another post but for now I want to discuss what this means for European and UK banks.

The stress tests raise questions about whether the European and UK banking sector should follow the US.  The US administration has used the ratio of tangible common equity to total assets for its stress tests on US banks. This measure has been labeled as old fashioned but one that investors currently prefer. This is also the measure the IMF has used in its recent calculations to work our additional capital requirements for banks globally.

The IMF financial stability report estimated additional credit related writedowns in 2009 and 2010 at $550bn in the US, $750bn in the eurozone, and $200bn in the UK. The IMF estimates that the ratio of tangible common equity to total assets was 3.7% in the US at end 2008 but only 2.5% in the eurozone and 2.1% in the UK. It concludes that the extra capital needed to increase this ratio to 6% would be $500bn in the US, $725bn in the eurozone and $250 billion in the UK.

So will be there similar stress tests in Europe and the UK? The increased transparency that the stress test results have brought about in the US is good news for investors even if no bank was ever going to fail them but they raise a potentially worrying comparison with European and UK  banks which appear to have been far less forthcoming. The figures have been disputed by eurozone and UK officials but assuming the IMF is right the estimates raise some disturbing questions about financial sector health outside the US.

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