Painting a brighter picture than had been expected, the ECB found
the biggest problems in Italy, Cyprus and Greece but concluded that
banks' capital holes had since chiefly been plugged, leaving only a
modest 10 billion euros ($12.7 billion) to be raised.
Italy faces the biggest challenge with nine of its banks falling
short and two still needing to raise funds.
The test, designed to mark a clean start before the ECB takes on
supervision of the banks next month, said Monte dei Paschi <BMPS.MI>
had the largest capital hole to fill at 2.1 billion euros.
The exercise provides the clearest picture yet of the health of the
euro zone's banks more than seven years after the eruption of a
financial crisis that almost bankrupted a handful of countries and
threatened to fracture the currency bloc.
While 25 of the euro zone's 130 biggest banks failed the health
check at the end of last year with a total capital shortfall of 25
billion euros, a dozen have already raised 15 billion euros this
year to make repairs.
A recent investor survey by Goldman Sachs found they believed the
ECB ought to ask lenders to raise an additional 51 billion euros of
capital for the tests to be credible.
Although investors may take heart, it remains to be seen whether the
exercise can spur banks to lend more as the region's economic growth
stutters to a virtual halt.
European Central Bank Vice President Vitor Constancio said the
results could encourage banks to lend.
"There is some pick up (in demand), but it is still slight,"
Constancio told Reuters. "All this now can really start to change
the environment and we hope it will also change the reality."
Alongside Italy, regulators said three Greek banks, three Cypriots,
two from both Belgium and Slovenia, and one each from France,
Germany, Austria, Ireland and Portugal had also missed the grade as
Analysts generally gave the results a cautious welcome, saying they
marked the beginning rather than the end of a banking clean-up in
"I consider the stress test as an important partial success, which
will help reduce uncertainty," said Marcel Fratzscher, president of
Germany's DIW economic institute.
"However, important challenges remain unsolved. The stress test
alone will not end the credit crunch for small and mid-sized
companies in Southern Europe."
Some were more critical. "This seems as if it has been pretty
unstressful," said Karl Whelan, an economist with University College
"The real issue is the size of the capital shortfall and that is
very, very small. I don't feel a whole lot more reassured about the
health of the banking system today than last week."
The exercise nonetheless provided a snapshot of banks' vital
statistics and forced them, for example, to revise the amount of
risky loans - which have not been serviced in 90 days - upwards by
136 billion euros to 879 billion.
The exercise, which saw officials trawl through more than 40 million
individual bank figures, had two parts – a strict review by the ECB
of assets such as loans, followed by a wider test of how banks would
cope with a new economic crash.
It is the fourth attempt by Europe to clean the stables of its
financial sector and has been billed as much the most rigorous.
Previous efforts failed to spot problems, giving lenders in Ireland
a clean bill of health shortly before a banking crash drove the
country to the brink of financial collapse.
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"It is credible," said Nicolas Veron of Brussels think tank Bruegel.
"But it is only the start of a longer sequence of cleanup that will
extend well into 2015."
The ECB's passmark was for banks to have high-quality capital of at
least 8 percent of their risk-weighted assets, a measure of the
riskiness of a banks' loans and other assets, if the economy grows
as expected over the next three years, and capital of at least 5.5
percent if it slides into recession.
Banks with a capital shortfall will have to say within two weeks how
they intend to close the gap. They will then be given up to nine
months to do so.
The ECB staked its reputation on delivering a thorough assessment in
an attempt to draw a line under years of financial and economic
strife in the bloc.
For many banks, the biggest impact of the tests was not in
identifying capital holes but in finding that their assets, such as
loans, had been overvalued.
In total, the ECB said banks had been valuing their loans and assets
at 48 billion euros more than they are really worth. This was
because they had not recognised 136 billion euros of bad loans.
That accounted for 11 billion of the 25 billion euros banks were
collectively short of at the end of last year. It also eroded 37
billion euros of capital amongst the banks that passed.
Among the major listed banks, the biggest hits were to Greece's
Piraeus bank, whose core capital fell by 3.7 percentage points after
the ECB adjusted the bank's capital to reflect the new asset
Monte dei Paschi's capital was reduced by almost a third. There was
also a big impact on Austria's Erste Bank.
The adjustments put many banks in an uncomfortable position.
Thirty-one had core capital below the 10 percent mark viewed by
investors as a safety threshold, while a further 28 were had ratios
just 1 percentage point above.
The ECB will not immediately force lenders with overvalued assets to
take remedial action but they will have to hold more capital
eventually, leaving less room to expand, lend or pay dividends.
For overall lending, the more fundamental question is whether the
demand for credit is there in a moribund euro zone economy.
(Additional reporting by John O'Donnell and Paul Carrel in
Frankfurt, Huw Jones, Steve Slater and Clare Hutchison in London,
Carmel Crimmins in Dublin and Michelle Martin in Berlin. Writing by
Mike Peacock and John O'Donnell, editing by Alexander Smith and
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