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.

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