Is The ECB's Collateral Pool Expansion A €7.1 Trillion Imminent "Trash To Cash" Increase In Its Balance Sheet?

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While a lot of the just completed Draghi press conference was mostly fluff, the one notable exception was the announcement that the European central bank would "approve eligibility criteria for additional credit claims" (see below). While purposefully vague on the topic, Draghi noted that the step is one of onboarding even more risk: "Sure, it's going to be more risky. Does that mean that we take more risk? Yes, it means we take more risk. Does it mean this risk is being unmanaged? No, it is being managed. And it's being - it's going to be managed very well because really there will be a strong overcollateralization for the additional credit claims. The conditions will be very stringent." While it remains to be seen just how stringent the conditions will be, but a bigger question is what is the total pool of eligible claims that can be used to flood the ECB in exchange for freshly printed cash. For that we go to Goldman, whose Jernej Omahen a month ago calculated the impact of the expanded collateral pool which was formally confirmed today. To wit: "Scarcity of collateral was becoming an evident problem for a large number of banks, especially smaller and medium sized. In our view, the ECB’s collateral pool expansion was therefore a critical decision. Select corporate loans – which form over >€7 tn, or >30% of total balance sheets – will now be admissible for refinancing operations, through national central banks. Criteria on eligibility have yet to be determined – we are therefore not able to quantify the actual expansion of collateral pool at this stage. That said, the €7 tn starting points suggests it will be significant." In other words, and this is excluding anything to do with the LTRO, the ECB just greenlighted a potential expansion to its balance sheet all the way up to €7 trillion. Will banks use this capacity to convert "trash to cash" - why of course they will, and this goes to the very heart of the biggest problem with Europe: the fact that there are virtually no money good assets left as collateral, which requires the implicit rehypothecation of bank "assets" back to the ECB, to procure cash, to pay out cash on very real liabilities. How much will they do - we don't know yet. We will find out very soon. What we do know is that the ECB's €2.7 trillion balance sheet is about to expand dramatically, pushing the European central bank even further into bad bank status. And this is excluding the upcoming new usage of the Discount Window known as the LTRO in three weeks. Trade accordingly.

From the ECB:

9 February 2012 - ECB’s Governing Council approves eligibility criteria for additional credit claims

 

The Governing Council of the European Central Bank (ECB) has approved, for the seven national central banks (NCBs) that have put forward relevant proposals, specific national eligibility criteria and risk control measures for the temporary acceptance of additional credit claims as collateral in Eurosystem credit operations. Details of these specific national measures will be made available on the websites of the respective NCBs: Central Bank of Ireland, Banco de España, Banque de France, Banca d’Italia, Central Bank of Cyprus, Oesterreichische Nationalbank and Banco de Portugal.

 

These developments follow up on the decision of the Governing Council of 8 December 2011 to increase collateral availability by allowing Eurosystem NCBs, as a temporary solution, to accept additional performing credit claims as collateral.

 

Eurosystem NCBs continue to work on developing specific national eligibility criteria for additional credit claims. Any further Governing Council decisions in this respect will be communicated through the monthly publication “Decisions taken by the Governing Council of the ECB (in addition to decisions setting interest rates)” and announcements made by the respective NCBs. Eurosystem counterparties are invited to contact their respective NCBs to obtain further details on the specific national eligibility criteria for additional credit claims. The general Eurosystem eligibility criteria for credit claims, as stipulated in the publication “The implementation of monetary policy in the euro area: General documentation on Eurosystem monetary policy instruments and procedures” remain unchanged.

And this is what Goldman, apropos the firm from which Mario Draghi graduated, said on the question of credit claim expansion vis-a-vis the ECB:

Expanded collateral pool: A necessary measure

 

Scarcity of collateral was becoming an evident problem for a large number of banks, especially smaller and medium sized. In our view, the ECB’s collateral pool expansion was therefore a critical decision. Select corporate loans – which form over >€7 tn, or >30% of total balance sheets – will now be admissible for refinancing operations, through national central banks. Criteria on eligibility have yet to be determined – we are therefore not able to quantify the actual expansion of collateral pool at this stage. That said, the €7 tn starting points suggests it will be significant. The collateral pool expansion has two elements.

 

(1) Bank loans will be temporarily accepted as collateral. This will be done via the respective national central banks, after the relevant legal acts are published. We note:

  • 65 of the largest European banks have exposure at default (EAD, a balance sheet proxy) of €22.5 tn. Of this amount, €6.4 tn are corporate loans and a further €691 bn are SME loans. Together, they account for €7.1 tn or 31% of the EAD total. For banks in Italy, this proportion is highest (43%).
  • It is unclear how much of this €7.1 tn will ultimately qualify as collateral. That depends primarily on the size threshold (for individual loans) and the minimum IRB rating. The responsibility for setting these will be with individual central banks. But preliminary expectations are for some 20%-50% of corporate loans qualifying as collateral, before the haircuts are applied.

We also note that a new source of collateral is likely to encourage banks to fully pledge their existing collateral amounts, in our view. Currently, banks hold meaningful portions of ECB collateral on the sidelines, as a precautionary measure.