It was about an hour before the market close, which means it was time for the latest FT rumor. Only this time, unlike the 3 or so times before, the bazooka was not only a dud, it caused the inverse reaction of that intended, and led to a broad market selloff. The reason: according to the FT (and certainly take this with a salt shaker if previous experience is any indication) is that European banks have balked at the prospect of recapitalizing at current levels ("Why should we raise capital at these [depressed share price] levels?” said one eurozone bank boss. The average European bank’s equity is trading at only about 60 per cent of its book value.) and instead will opt for asset liquidations. Now, whether they won't, or, as we have claimed since the first day we heard of the ludicrous "recap" rumors, they can't, simply because absent a massively dilutive rights offering, nobody in their right mind would lend to an industry which continues to be locked out of short-term funding markets for the 4th month in a row, is largely irrelevant. As a result no new money can come in: a key prerequisite to any European recapitalization plans. Of course, it is one for a "blog" to say that, it is something else for the FT to confirm it, even if it is a rumor. So what will banks do instead: why proceed with all out asset liquidation, and sell anything that is not nailed down. The strawman is that this is capital needed to fund the banks' requirements for higher capital ratios per Basel III and what not. The truth is that banks desperately need any capital just to operate as a going concern, forget some Basel Tier 1 ratio that will only be relevant in 2016. So yes: the bitter truth comes out - recap out; liquidations in, especially of USD-denominated assets. Next step: the realization that he who sells first, sells best. So yes, the "hope, idiocy and #mathfail" induced rally was fun while it lasted. And now it is back to reality.
This radical approach, led by French banks BNP Paribas and Société Générale, would be copied by lenders across Italy, Spain and Germany, bankers said. “Why should we raise capital at these [depressed share price] levels?” said one eurozone bank boss. The average European bank’s equity is trading at only about 60 per cent of its book value.
However, the banks’ “shrinkage” strategy is likely to prove controversial with politicians and regulators if it led to bankers lending less money to customers, jeopardising the eurozone’s fragile recovery, analysts warned.
As was reported earlier, it was Barroso who had a massively disappointing session earlier today, in which not only did he not announce any of the specifics on the EU bank recap plan (because they do not exist!), but demanded that banks scramble to raise their capital ratio, in essence undoing everything that had been done to the moment.
Mr Barroso stopped short of specifying the target ratio, but people close to the process told the Financial Times on Tuesday that the European Banking Authority, the regulator, is poised to set a higher bar than expected – a 9 per cent ratio of core tier one capital to risk-weighted assets – for banks across the continent. A deadline of six to nine months would be set for forceable recapitalisation by governments, if banks have not reached the ratio under their own steam.
But that, as noted, is merely the strawman to give banks cover before investors who demand to know the reason why banks are now scrambling to sell anything not nailed down.
Banks and their advisers said their scope to raise fresh capital from investors was all but non-existent. “I don’t think anyone has access to the markets now,” said one senior European investment banker. Investors are loath to commit to fresh equity injections, in the knowledge that the new money would simply be soaked up by sovereign debt writedowns, bankers said.
But by shrinking assets – the denominator of capital ratios – many banks believe they can reach the targets without resorting to government recapitalisation. In recent weeks, both BNP and SocGen have signalled plans to offload a combined €150bn of risk-weighted assets. Further businesses could now be sold. Italy’s Unicredit and Germany’s Commerzbank were likely to find themselves under most pressure to deleverage and divest assets, bankers said
The FT then proceeds with details about the latest, greatest and fakest stress test about to be unleashed which nobody will care about, as well as what the targeted cap ratio is. That is all irrelevant.
All that is relevant is that suddenly everyone will start wondering what USD-assets do European banks have in inventory that are about to hit any bid in the market. Some hints: stocks, CMBX and, you guessed, Prime-X.