Recapitalizing European Banks

BCA Research, Recapitalizing European Banks

The tangible common equity to total assets measure of bank solvency suggests that French and German banking sectors are most in need of capital.

To measure the solvency of a bank in times of stress, it is vital to only count the simplest form of capital that can absorb losses – tangible common equity. In other words, goodwill and complex forms of capital should be excluded from the numerator of any capital adequacy ratio. Also, when Europe is experiencing a sovereign debt crisis it is ludicrous to treat government bonds held by a bank as zero-risk assets (as the Core Tier 1 Capital ratio does). In other words, government bonds should be included at full weight in the denominator of the solvency ratio. On this basis, it is easy to identify which individual banks and national banking sectors need the most capital. In addition to Dexia, which has a tangible common equity to total assets ratio of 1%, French and German banks stand out as the ones most in need of capital injections. Other euro area banking sectors are better capitalized, but have more exposure to their own distressed bond markets. Importantly, irrespective of how banks raise common equity, whether from the private sector, their governments or from the EFSF bailout fund, it is dilutive to existing shareholders and a drag on their share prices. Meanwhile, U.K. banks do not have such a domestic bond problem and are relatively well capitalized. What is more, they started raising capital over two years ago. Therefore, our European Investment Strategy continues to overweight U.K. bank stocks relative to their euro area peers.

U.S. Bank Stocks On Upgrade Watchlist

U.S. Bank Stocks On Upgrade Watch ListThe near-term picture for U.S. banks is especially uncertain.

Their bond spreads are soaring as their European peers are subjected to significant pressure. The majority of outstanding bank loans remain concentrated in commercial and residential real estate, and intensifying deflation pressures will inevitably raise questions about banks’ ability to manage through another economic downturn so soon after the last one. Profits are under pressure as headcount steadily climbs and banks remain under nearly constant political attack. Through it all, though, the TED spread has remained narrow, underscoring that perceived banking sector risk is much less than it was in 2008. Banks are better capitalized than they were before the crisis, as tangible equity and cash holdings have surged as a share of total assets. Bank deposits, the most stable source of funding, have grown sharply in recent months, while indicators of loan demand like the Fed Senior Loan Officer Survey are rising. And with the price/book ratio near its 2008 lows in relative terms, bank stocks have already discounted much of the bad earnings news in the pipeline.

Bottom line: Our U.S. Equity Strategy service is underweight the S&P bank index, partially in deference to the Euro area financial crisis. A resolution, coupled with an increase in economic confidence that would imply a boost in loan demand, would likely trigger an upgrade in our below-benchmark position.