A rescue package of the world’s oldest bank has been announced after a health check of the biggest banks across the EU showed that Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena’s financial position would be wiped out if the global economy and financial markets came under strain.
The much-anticipated result of the stress tests – for which there was no pass or fail mark – of 51 banks showed that Italy’s third largest bank emerged weakest from the assessment.
But the test – which exposed banks to headwinds in the global economy and dramatic movements in currency markets – also underlined the drop in the capital position of bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland and the hit taken by Barclays observed under the imaginary scenarios. Banks from Italy, Ireland, Spain and Austria fared worst.
Regulators said that the tests showed that the bank sector was much stronger than it had been at the time of the 2008 financial crisis, which led to the introduction of the stress tests. Even so, the European Banking Authority (EBA), which conducted the tests on lenders, acknowledged that more needed to done.Under the latest stress test scenario, some €269bn (£227bn) would be wiped off the capital bases of the banks.
“The EBA’s 2016 stress test shows the benefits of capital strengthening done so far are reflected in the resilience of the EU banking sector to a severe shock,” said Andrea Enria, EBA chair.
“This stress test is a vital tool to assist supervisors in accelerating the process of repair of banks’ balance sheets, which is so important for restoring lending to households and businesses.
“The EBA’s stress test is not a pass [or] fail exercise. While we recognise the extensive capital raising done so far, this is not a clean bill of health. There remains work to do which supervisors will undertake.”
The bank that fared the worst was MPS, which suffered a dramatic 14 percentage point fall in its capital position. It had been expected to perform badly and talks had already been underway before the results of the stress tests were published to try to find a way to bolster its capital.
New EU regulations prevented the Italian government from pumping any taxpayer money into MPS so efforts were needed to try to stop of tens of thousands of ordinary Italians – who had bought its bonds – losing their savings. Italy’s banks are in the spotlight as they are weighed down by €360bn of bad debts.
Italy’s finance minister, Pier Carlo Padoan – who as recently as Sunday said there was no crisis in Italy – endorsed the deal put together to raise €5bn from private investors and sell €9.2bn of bad debts. “The government is greatly satisfied with the operation [the deal] launched … by Monte dei Paschi of Siena,” he said. “This is a market operation that will reinforce the capital position of the bank and free it completely of bad loans. The operation will allow the bank to develop a solid industrial plan, thanks to which it will boost its support for the real economy through lending to families and businesses.”
The Bank of England – referring to the impact of the tests on not just RBS and Barclays but also HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group – said it showed the UK sector was strong enough to cope with pressures in the global economy.
The banks involved in the test have raised €180bn since 2013, and €260bn since December 2010. “The outcome demonstrates resilience in the EU banking sector as a whole thanks to significant capital raising,” the EBA said in one of the documents.
The stress tests were previously conducted in 2011 and 2014. This time, only 51 banks were assessed for their ability to withstand economic and market shocks, rather than the 124 tested two years ago.
Marcus Evans, partner at KPMG, said: “Banks have broadly passed the EBA test, but will they pass the market’s test?”
Spain’s Banco Popular, Bank of Ireland and Austria’s Raiffeisen were also among the weakest performers. The result for Deutsche Bank – regarded by the IMF as the world’s most systemically risky bank – was being scrutinised.
No banks from Cyprus, Greece or Portugal were big enough to fall within the scope of the test, which looked at four main risks: a rise in bond yields; rising public and private sector debt; weak profits at banks; and stresses from outside the banking sector.