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
Seven European Union banks failed the region’s stress tests with a combined capital shortfall of 3.5 billion euros ($4.5 billion), according to the Committee of European Banking Supervisors, which coordinated the initiative. “National authorities are in close contact with these banks to assess the results of the test and their implications, in particular in terms of need for recapitalization,” the committee said in a statement on its website today. EU regulators scrutinized 91 of the bloc’s banks to assess whether they have enough capital to withstand a recession and sovereign-debt crisis, with a Tier 1 capital ratio of 6 percent as a floor. Governments are seeking to reassure investors about the health of financial institutions after the debt crisis pummeled the bonds of Greece, Spain and Portugal.
“If no one fails, everyone would question the legitimacy,” said Florian Esterer, who helps manage about 60 billion Swiss francs at Zurich-based Swisscanto Asset Management. “I’m pessimistic about the results boosting confidence in the markets,” he said before publication of the tests. The evaluations took into account potential losses only on government bonds the banks trade, rather than those they are holding to maturity, according to CEBS. That means the tests are set to ignore the majority of banks’ holdings of sovereign debt, investors said. “The tests need to be across the board,” said Andrea Williams, who manages about 1.1 billion pounds ($1.69 billion), including ‘BNP Paribas SA and Credit Suisse Group AG shares’, at Royal London Asset Management in London. “It does undermine the whole credibility of the tests.”