Capital Punishment: Why It’s ‘Live, Debt, Repeat’ for Europe’s Banks

Last year’s Tom Cruise movie “Edge of Tomorrow” also sports the tagline “Live, Die, Repeat,” and its time-loop plot mirrors “Groundhog Day,” where weatherman Bill Murray gets to repeat each day.

But in the Cruise film, the story is darker and requires him to battle aliens, each day learning from the experience and getting a little further towards the last scene where the conflict is finally won.

Step forward Europe’s banks. They have been struggling to adjust their legacy business models to the “new normal” of lower interest rate margins and weak economic activity since 2008. For Europe’s bankers, the ghosts of the Great Financial Crisis of 2008 are yet to be vanquished. Rebuilding business models, capital levels, and deleveraging and paying fines for misdeeds has been an annual preoccupation since the crisis seven years ago.

Unfortunately, just like the “Edge of Tomorrow,” 2016 will be a replay of this year with the same disappointing conclusions for investors. And for those waiting for a credit-led, bank-driven, growth recovery in Europe – don’t hold your breath. In two important respects, 2016 could actually get quite a bit worse for the bankers.

The first problem is capital. The regulator’s desire to prevent further bank failures continues to raise the bar for capital levels banks must hold. A recent JPMorgan Cazenove report estimated a €26 billion ($27.5 billion) shortfall by 2018 in 35 major European lenders if proposed Common Equity Tier 1 capital ratio levels are implemented. This would require banks to dispose of or relabel some of their assets to meet the targets.

While the European Central Bank (ECB) has suggested new rules due for completion next year should not result in higher capital needs for euro zone banks, there is still uncertainty about the outcome of the Basel III deliberations on capital adequacy, stress-testing and market liquidity risk for banks.

The ECB is also pushing forward its new definitions of capital to 2018, which would have an effect on how banks use deferred tax assets and holdings in insurance subsidiaries to meet capital requirements.

Astonishingly, 7 years after the global financial crisis European banks are still sitting on a trillion euros of non-performing loans. The European Banking Authority says these represent 7.3 percent of the European Union’s gross domestic product. These debts are a dead weight, like handicapping a horse in a Derby, they limit the pace at which credit can be extended to new businesses and hamper the accumulation of growth capital. Under-capitalised banks do not lend money readily, or pay dividends, and management concerns about regulation will encourage them to be conservative in their approach.


Craig Erlam
Based in London, England, Craig Erlam joined OANDA in 2015 as a Market Analyst. With more than five years' experience as a financial market analyst and trader, he focuses on both fundamental and technical analysis while conducting macroeconomic commentary. He has been published by The Financial Times, Reuters, the BBC and The Telegraph, and he also appears regularly as a guest commentator on Bloomberg TV, CNBC, FOX Business and BNN. Craig holds a full membership to the Society of Technical Analysts and he is recognized as a Certified Financial Technician by the International Federation of Technical Analysts.