Reuters | Sat Jul 24, 2010 | 11:31am IST
Valuations on Europe’s banking sector may look cheap on paper but don’t expect U.S.-based portfolio managers to scoop them up even after stress tests showed a vast majority have sufficient capital. The results of Friday’s assessment, criticized for not being tough enough, found that just seven out of 91 European banks would need to bolster their balance sheets by a total of 3.5 billion euros ($4.5 billion) to withstand another recession. "To us the bank stress test results came out as a non-event. When you look at the results they didn’t look very stressful," said Scott Snyder, portfolio manager of the ICON Advisers Europe fund. The method of the stress test has drawn scrutiny particularly because of the way the tests treated European government debt. Even so, U.S. investors had already shown distaste for the European banking sector as data reveal the massive net selling that has occurred over the last two years.
U.S. mutual funds cut their holdings of publicly traded European banks identified in the tests to just $12.1 billion from $29.8 billion, a whopping 59.2 percent decline in the last two years through May, according to Lipper, a Thomson Reuters company. The bulk of the sell-off was between 2008 and 2009. However even after the U.S. government conducted its own stress tests in May of last year — widely believed to have put a floor underneath U.S. financial shares — holdings in Europe’s banks continued to decline. "It stands to reason the most visible banks in Europe are the most scorned, perhaps because we know more about them. The holdings of ING, Bank of Ireland, Commerzbank, and Royal Bank of Scotland used to account for $4.4 billion in account assets. Now they are less than $800 million," said Jeff Tjornehoj, U.S. and Canada research manager at Lipper. By comparison, U.S. bank shares, as measured by Standard & Poor’s financial index, have risen 13.57 percent since the U.S. government announced its stress test results on May 7, 2009, through Thursday.
Bloomberg | Jul 23, 2010
The success of the European Union’s bank stress tests hinges on how much detail regulators provide about the basis for their conclusions, not on the number of lenders that fail, investors said. “The more transparency, the more important that the results will be,” said Peter Braendle, who helps manage $51 billion at Swisscanto Asset Management in Zurich. “If the methodology is a black box and we just get some results that will not be very helpful.” Regulators are scrutinizing banks to assess if they have enough capital, defined as a Tier 1 capital ratio of at least 6 percent, to withstand a recession and sovereign debt crisis, according to a document from the Committee of European Banking Supervisors. Lenders that fail the trials will be made to raise additional capital. The results will be published by CEBS and national regulators starting at 6 p.m. Brussels time today.
The assessors haven’t so far provided full details of their criteria raising concern among investors they will not be stringent enough. U.S. regulators published the metrics they used to test their banks before they released their results last year. U.S. bank stocks rallied 36 percent in the seven months following the trials. Governments are publishing the results of the region’s first coordinated stress tests as they seek to end concerns about the health of the banking system almost three years after the subprime crisis roiled global financial markets. The 54- member Bloomberg Europe Banks and Financial Services Index has risen 9.3 percent this month, boosted by optimism that lenders will pass. By comparison, the U.S. Standard & Poor’s Financials Index has gained about 4.7 percent.
‘Create Your Own’
“It’s pretty clear that a lot of banks will pass this test,” said Lutz Roehmeyer, who helps manage about $15 billion at Landesbank Berlin Investment, including bank shares. “It will be more important to see what raw data will be published. With that you can create your own, more stringent scenarios.” Ten of the 91 banks being tested are likely to fail, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts said in a note to clients today, citing their own survey. Analysts’ estimates for the amount of capital European banks will need to raise range from 30 billion euros ($38.7 billion), according to Nomura Holdings Inc., to as much as 85 billion euros at Barclays Capital. Investors have criticized the tests, saying they may not be rigorous enough. In particular, they are questioning to what extent regulators are examining banks’ sovereign-debt holdings, including how government bonds in the trading and banking books will be valued in the event of a sovereign debt crisis.