Seven EU banks fail stress test

Seven of the 91 European banks that
underwent stress tests have failed the healthchecks, the Committee of European
Banking Supervisors (CEBS) has said.

They include five Spanish banks – Diada,
Espiga, Banca Civica, Unnim and Cajasur. The other two were Germany’s Hypo Real
Estate and Greece’s ATEbank.

The tests assessed banks’ ability to
survive future economic shocks.

The seven banks would need a total of
3.5bn euros of new capital to meet the standards required, CEBS said.

“[The failed banks] will have to
agree with their respective supervisors a plan over a given time period which
will explain how this weakness will be resolved,” CEBS chairman Giovanni
Carosio said.

BBC business editor Robert Peston said
that on the face of it, the results appeared to be “good news”, but
questioned how severe the tests were.

The weekend will be an anxious time for
banks, as they wait to learn whether it will become easier or harder for them
to borrow, when markets open on Monday, he added.

Some analysts are already arguing that
the tests were not strict enough.

“What seems to have occurred is a
compromise amongst European banking regulators, with many questioning if the
bar had been set way too low in testing the European banking sector,” said
Mark O’Sullivan of foreign exchange firm Currencies Direct.

“It seems the tests may have raised
more questions than they have answered and in the coming weeks, it will be the
interbank lending markets that will have the real answer as to whether real
confidence has returned to the European banks.”

But Vitor Constancio from the European
Central Bank said the tests were very extensive.

The stress tests were conducted on a
bank-by-bank basis, in a move designed to reassure investors over the health of
Europe’s financial sectors.

The most severe test looked at an
adverse scenario, assuming a “double-dip” recession over the next two
years, as well as a sovereign debt shock – some kind of financial crisis for
European governments such as Greece.

The seven banks failed because in this
scenario, it was deemed that their “tier one” capital ratios – the
strictest measure of capital – would fall below 6%, the threshold set for the
test.

In its report revealing the aggregate outcome of the tests, CEBS said that the
6% threshold was used as a “benchmark solely for the purpose of this
stress test exercise”.

“This threshold should by no means
be interpreted as a regulatory minimum… nor as a capital target reflecting
the risk profile of the institutions.”

Banks that are supervised in the EU need
to have a regulatory minimum of 4% tier one capital.

CEBS added that failing to meet the 6%
threshold did not mean a bank was insolvent.

‘Preparedness and resilience’

The UK’s four major banks – RBS, Lloyds,
HSBC and Barclays – were among the banks tested and all passed the tests, which
were carried out by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) on behalf of the EU.

“As expected, the outcomes of the
stresses demonstrate the preparedness and resilience of the UK banks under
unlikely adverse economic scenarios,” the FSA said.

“This resilience is a result of the
considerable work that has been undertaken to strengthen UK banks in recent
years.”

The British Bankers’ Association said:
“UK banks have already put in the work to rebuild their businesses and put
more money aside against future financial problems.

“It is no surprise to find they
have exceeded the standards set out by CEBS.”

‘Sound Spanish system’

The five Spanish banks that failed, out
of 27 tested, were regional savings banks, which racked up heavy losses
following the collapse of the Spanish property market.

Cajasur was bailed out by the Bank of
Spain in May.

Following publication of the stress test
results, the central bank said in a statement: “The exercise confirms that
the Spanish banking system is sound, and in turn substantiates the savings bank
restructuring and recapitalisation process pursued over the past twelve months
by the Bank of Spain.”

Meanwhile, 13 out of 14 German banks
passed the tests.

“The German banking system has
shown itself to be robust and proved its resilience even under very pessimistic
assumptions,” financial watchdog Bafin and central bank, the Bundesbank,
said in a statement.

It added that the only German bank that
failed, Hypo Real Estate, “is currently undergoing a far-reaching
restructuring process”.

ATEbank was the only one of the six
Greek banks that participated in the tests to fail.

Greek Finance Minister George
Papaconstantinou said the results were positive and showed that “the Greek
banking system can cope even in the extreme conditions of a stress test”.

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