Europe has now officially become the Schrodinger continent, demanding both sides of the economic coin so to speak, and is stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place (or "a cake and eating it"). On one hand it wants to telegraph its financial system is getting stronger, and doesn't need trillions in implicit and explicit ECB backstops, on the other it needs a liquidity buffer against an economy that, especially in the periphary, is rapidly deteriorating (Spanish bad debt just hit a new all time high while Italian bad loans rose by 16.7% in one year as more and more assets become impaired). On one hand it wants a strong currency to avoid any doubt that there is redenomination risk, on the other it desperately needs a weak currency to spur exports out of the Eurozone (as Spain showed when the EUR plunged in 2012 , however that weak currency is now a distant memory and it is now seriously weighing on exports). On the one hand Europe wants to show its banks have solidarity with one another and will support each other, on the other those banks that are in a stronger position can't wait to shed the stigma of being associated with the weak banks (in this case by accepting LTRO bailouts).
It is the latest that is the most glaring dichotomy because as reported earlier, while some 278 banks, or about half of the original LTRO participants, voluntarily paid back some €137 billion to the ECB, it is none other than Moody's warning that European banks, especially those in the periphery, will need much more cash.
From Reuters :
Banks in Spain, Italy, Ireland and Britain need to set aside much more money to cover potentially bad loans, credit ratings agency Moody's said on Thursday, meaning European taxpayers may again be tapped for cash.
European banks have already raised hundreds of billions of euros to cover possible losses from loans that soured in property and financial market crises. Much of the funding has come from governments.
"We believe that many banks, in particular in Spain, Italy, Ireland, and the UK, require material amounts of additional provisions to fully clean up their balance sheets," Moody's said in its global banking outlook for 2013.
"Some banks have in recent years delayed full recognition of embedded loan losses, partly by restructuring loans," the report added. "This strategy of buying time (often tolerated by regulators) limits a bank's capacity for new lending and poses risks for creditors of European banks."
Moody's did not say how much extra money banks would need.
In this case Moody's is spot on, and what Europe certainly does not need, is giving the impression that the ECB is implicitly tightening, which is how the market is interpreting today's action and Nomura has already raising its forecast for total H1 LTRO repayment to €350 billion. Recall from Deutsche Bank :
However the market will likely continue to have some focus on the fact that the ECB balance sheet is likely to be steadily shrinking for a period at a time when the Fed is effectively increasing its by $85bn/month and where Japan is seen by many to be set to notably increase its interventions. So while the repayments are not a big deal in themselves the contrast between the ECB and many other central banks means that the Euro is probably biased to appreciate for the foreseeable future. This might provide an unwelcome headwind for growth in Europe later in the year. Despite the promise of the OMT, Europe is in danger as being seen as the least active in the near-term in the currency war skirmishes that are focusing investors minds at the moment. Maybe actions elsewhere and a higher Euro will eventually lead to the ECB balance sheet expanding again after some market stress but this is further down the road.
So what just happened in Europe? Well, remember when Jean Claude Trichet hiked rates in the middle of 2011 to, that's right, prove that Europe is fixed (and when inflation was rampant - everyone remember what happened next.
As for Europe's banks needing cash - they sure do, maybe not right now in this latest momentary monetary lull, but soon once it becomes clear that nothing has changed and that simply injecting even more liquidity into the market does nothing for actual capital quality, we will all be backt so quare one.