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Posts Tagged ‘bail-in’

Don’t bank on Italy’s economy

The Brexit vote has caused shockwaves throughout European economies. But there is a potentially larger economic and political problem facing the EU and the eurozone more specifically. And that is the state of the Italian banking system and the Italian economy.

Italy is the third largest economy in the eurozone after Germany and France. Any serious economic weaknesses could have profound consequences for the rest of the eurozone and beyond.

At 135% of GDP, Italy’s public-sector debt is one the highest in the world; its banks are undercapitalised with a high proportion of bad debt; and it is still struggling to recover from the crisis of 2008–9. The Economist article elaborates:

The adult employment rate is lower than in any EU country bar Greece. The economy has been moribund for years, suffocated by over-regulation and feeble productivity. Amid stagnation and deflation, Italy’s banks are in deep trouble, burdened by some €360 billion of souring loans, the equivalent of a fifth of the country’s GDP. Collectively they have provisioned for only 45% of that amount. At best, Italy’s weak banks will throttle the country’s growth; at worst, some will go bust.

Since 2007, the economy has shrunk by 10%. And potential output has fallen too, as firms have closed. Unemployment is over 11%, with youth unemployment around 40%.

Things seem to be coming to a head. As confidence in the Italian banking system plummets, the Italian government would like to bail out the banks to try to restore confidence and encourage deposits and lending. But under new eurozone rules designed to protect taxpayers, it requires that the first line of support should be from bondholders. Such support is known as a ‘bail-in’.

If bondholders were large institutional investors, this might not be such a problem, but a significant proportion of bank bonds in Italy are held by small investors, encouraged to do so by tax relief. Bailing in the banks by requiring bondholders to bear significant losses in the value of their bonds could undermine the savings of many Italians and cause them severe hardship, especially those who had saved for their retirement.

So what is the solution? Italian banks need recapitalising to restore confidence and prevent a more serious crisis. However, there is limited scope for bailing in, unless small investors can be protected. And eurozone rules provide little scope for government funding for the banks. These rules should be relaxed under extreme circumstances. At the same time, policy needs to focus on making Italian banking more efficient.

Meanwhile, the IMF is forecasting that Italian economic growth will be less than 1% this year and little better in 2017. Part of the problem, claims the IMF, is the Brexit vote. This has heightened financial market volatility and increasead the risks for Italy with its fragile banking system. But the problems of the Italian economy run deeper and will require various supply-side policies to tackle low productivity, corruption, public-sector inefficiency and a financial system not fit for purpose. What the mix of these policies should be – whether market based or interventionist – is not just a question of effectiveness, but of political viability and democratic support.

Articles
The Italian Job The Economist (9/7/16)
IMF warns Italy of two-decade-long recessionThe Guardian, Larry Elliott (11/7/16)
Italy economy: IMF says country has ‘two lost decades’ of growth BBC News (12/7/16)
What’s the problem with Italian banks? BBC News, Andrew Walker (10/7/16)
Why Italy’s banking crisis will shake the eurozone to its core The Telegraph, Tim Wallace Szu Ping Chan (16/8/16)
If You Thought Brexit Was Bad Wait Until The Italian Banks All Go Bust Forbes, Tim Worstall (17/7/16)
In the euro zone’s latest crisis, Italy is torn between saving the banks or saving its people Quartz, Cassie Werber (13/7/16)
Why Italy could be the next European country to face an economic crisis Vox, Timothy B. Lee (8/7/16)
Forget Brexit, Quitaly is Europe’s next worry The Guardian, Larry Elliott (26/7/16)

Report
Italy IMF Country Report No. 16/222 (July 2016)

Data
Economic Outlook OECD (June 2016) (select ‘By country’ from the left-hand panel and then choose ‘Italy’ from the pull-down menu and choose appropriate time series)

Questions

  1. Can changes in aggregate demand have supply-side consequences? Explain.
  2. Explain why there may be a downward spiral of asset sales by banks.
  3. How might the principle of bail-ins for undercapitalised Italian banks be pursued without being at the expense of the small saver?
  4. What lessons are there from Japan’s ‘three arrows’ for Italy? Does being in the eurozone constrain Italy’s ability to adopt any or all of these three categories of policy?
  5. Why may the Brexit vote have more serious consequences for Italy than many other European economies?
  6. Find out what reforms have already been adopted or are being pursued by the Italian government. How successful are they likely to be in increasing Italian growth and productivity?
  7. What external factors are currently (a) favourable, (b) unfavourable to improving Italian growth and productivity?
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A Co-operative or a plc?

Over the past few years, the term ‘bail-out’ has been a common phrase. But, what about the term ‘bail-in’? The latest bank to face financial ruin is the Co-operative Bank, but instead of turning to the tax-payer for a rescue, £1.5 billion will come from bond holders being offered shares in the bank. This will mean that the bank will become listed on the stock market.

Back in 2009, the Co-operative Bank bought Britannia Building Society and it seems that this was the start of its downfall. It took over many bad mortgage loans and loans to companies, and these played a large part in its current financial difficulties.

In order to rescue the bank and raise the capital needed to absorb current and future losses, without turning to the tax-payer, bond-holders of £1.3 billion of loans to the bank will be asked to swap them for shares and bonds, thus leading to significant losses for them. These bond-holders include 7000 private investors.

Since the financial crisis five years ago, the conventional banking model has seen much criticism and many suggested that the mutual structure of the Co-operative provided a better model, creating trust, due to its many stakeholders, who are not as focused on profitability and returns as those shareholders of a listed bank. However, the problems of the Co-operative seem to have put paid to that idea. The bail-in will mean that the bank is now listed on the stock market and thus will have shareholders expecting returns and profitability. This will undoubtedly change the focus of the bank. Euan Sutherland, the new Chief Executive said:

We are very clear that the bank will remain true to responsible and community-based banking and retain its ethical investment stance … Clearly there are lessons to learn and clearly there will be a time to look back and do that but, to be honest, in the last six weeks, where I have been involved with the Co-operative group, we have focused on driving a very solid future for this bank.

The good news is that the savings of those in the Co-operative are safe and taxpayers will not have to fork out any more money.

Yet, the co-operative structure of the bank has long been praised by customers and government alike. But is it perhaps this structure, which has led to its collapse? Furthermore, will the change in structure that will see it listed on the stock market, lead to a change in its approach to banking? The following articles consider the latest bank to run into difficulties.

Webcast
Co-op Bank unveils rescue plan to tackle the £1.5bn hole BBC News (17/6/13)

Articles
Co-op Bank travails show weakness of mutual model Financial Times, Sarah Gordon (21/6/13)
Co-operative Bank to list on stock market in rescue deal The Guardian, Jill Treanor (17/6/13)
Troubled Co-operative Bank unveils rescue plan to plug £1.5bn hole in balance sheet Independent, Nick Goodway (17/6/13)
Co-op Bank announces plan to plug £1.5bn hole Which? (17/6/13)
The Co-operative Bank and the challenge of finding co-op capital The Guardian, Andrew Bibby (13/6/13)
Co-op Bank seeks to fill £1.5bn capital hole Sky News (17/6/13)
Does Co-op Group deserve to keep control of Co-op Bank? BBC News, Robert Peston (9/7/13)

Questions

  1. Why did the Co-operative Bank move into financial trouble?
  2. What are the key characteristics of a Mutual? Are they disadvantages or advantages?
  3. What is a ‘bail-in’? Who will gain and who will lose?
  4. The Co-operative Bank will now be listed on the stock market. What does this mean?
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of floating a company on the stock market?
  6. Why are all banks required to hold capital to absorb losses?
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