European Banks Face Second Stress Wave

One of the Sultans of Doom, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard actually has something positive to say about U.S. banks today. Mind you, it comes via a comparison with the sad plight of European banks, but, hey, we’ll take small positives anywhere we find them.

In the he points out that the European banks like the American ones are going to get hit with a second wave of stress this year. The first wave was centered in securities, particularly securities tied to mortgages and the one coming down the pike is centered in good old fashioned loans. The European banks more heavily invested in loans than most of the big U.S. banks and less well-reserved for the onslaught.

Deutsche Bank has reserves to cover a default rate of 0.7pc, against non-performing assets (NPAs) of 1.67pc; RBS has 1.23pc against NPAs of 2.43pc, and Credit Agricole has 2.63pc against NPAs 3.64pc. None have put aside enough money.

By contrast, Citigroup has reserves of 4pc against NPAs of 3.22pc; and JP Morgan has 3.11pc against NPAs of 1.95pc.

“The Americans are ahead of the curve. European banks are exposed to US commercial real estate and to problems in Eastern Europe and Spain, where the situation is turning dramatic. We think the Spanish savings banks are basically bust and will need a government bail-out,” said Mr Jeggli.

The IMF said European banks have so far written down $154bn (£105bn) of bad debts, or just 17pc of likely losses of $900bn by 2010. US banks have written down $510bn, 48pc of the expected damage.

Analysts say America’s quicker response has given the impression that US banks are in worse shape, but this is a matter of timing and “transparency illusion”. Europe risks repeating the errors made by Japan in the 1990s when banks concealed losses, delaying a recovery.

It’s been said many times both here and elsewhere that most European countries are going to be hard pressed to deal with truly catastrophic banking problems. Their banks are in many cases larger than their yearly GDP. 

I don’t think this information implies that U.S. banks are out of the woods by any means. It’s just nice to know that maybe our guys have been doing something at least somewhat right.

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