With falling GDP and house prices, Spanish banks have been running the risk of failure. Indeed, the Spanish government has already had to agree to bail out Spain’s fourth biggest bank, Bankia.
On Saturday 9 June, at a crisis conference call, eurozone finance ministers agreed to lend the Spanish government up to €100 billion to provide credit to Spanish banks. The Spanish government is commissioning independent audits of the banks and, in the light of that, will specify just how much it needs to borrow.
Details of the nature of the loans will be made clear over the coming days, but they will funded either from the temporary rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), or from the new permanent fund that will replace it, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
But whilst the loans will remove the immediate pressure on Spanish banks, the underlying problems of the Spanish economy remain. Easy credit fuelled a property bubble which then burst. House prices have fallen by over 20% since the peak, and many Spanish people are in negative equity. Many construction companies have gone out of business.
What is more, the Spanish government is committed to reducing the budget deficit from 8.9% of GDP in 2011 to 5.3% in 2012 and 3% in 2013. To achieve this it has instituted tough austerity policies of government expenditure cuts and tax rises. (Click here for a link to a graph from the BBC of budget deficits in 18 EU countries.)
This has only aggravated the decline in GDP – at least in the short term. Spanish GDP is set to fall by around 2% this year and unemployment, at nearly 25% and rising, is the highest in Europe. Indeed the unemployment rate for those aged 15 to 25 is over 51%! This clearly has profound social and political consequences, with many young people seeing no prospect of gaining employment and thus feeling socially alienated. (For a PowerPoint of the above chart, click here.)
Markets on the Monday after the bailout was announced initially reacted positively. By the end of the day, however, the gains had been wiped out. Although no conditions were imposed on the Spanish government – the loan, although to the Spanish government, was to bail out the banks, not the government itself – worries remain that the Spanish economy is not set to recover for some time.
What is more, worries about other eurozone countries in difficulty have not gone away. Indeed, with the Spanish government being seen as having been dealt with more leniently than the Greek, Portuguese and Irish governments, investors are now worried that these countries may demand to renegotiate the terms of their bailout. And in the case of Greece, the Spanish bailout may make people more willing to vote in this coming Saturday’s election for parties that reject the Greek bailout terms. This may make it more likely that Greece will be forced to leave the euro, with all the chaos that is likely to ensue.
Webcasts and Podcasts
Spain: Simmering anger in Seville BBC News, Paul Mason (7/6/12)
Will Spain’s Bailout save Europe? CNBC Video, Martin Wolf (11/6/12)
Bailout boost evaporates Financial Times video, James Macintosh (11/6/12)
Spain’s bailout may not be enough Financial Times video, Nikki Tait (11/6/12)
Eurozone: ‘Italy will be next’ BBC Today Programme, Robert Peston (11/6/12)
Eurozone agrees to lend Spain up to 100 billion euros MSN Money, Jan Strupczewski and Julien Toyer (12/6/12)
Hurried Spanish banking bailout fails to calm market nerves Guardian, Giles Tremlett (11/6/12)
Fears that Spain’s bailout relief may be short-live Independent, Alasdair Fotheringham and Tom Bawden (11/6/12)
Spanish banks deal: Market concerns remain BBC News (11/6/12)
Q&A: Spanish bank deal BBC News (11/6/12)
Debt crisis: Market euphoria evaporates over Spain’s €100bn bank bailout The Telegraph, Emma Rowley and Bruno Waterfield (11/6/12)
Why bondholders are scared about Spain MarketWatch, Deborah Levine (11/6/12)
Krugman on another bank bailout Press-Telegram Paul Krugman (11/6/12)
Messy Spanish rescue BBC News, Robert Peston (10/6/12)
This latest euro fix will come apart in less than a month The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (11/6/12)
The consequences of Spain’s bank rescue Financial Times, Gavyn Davies (10/6/12)
Buy on the summit, sell on the communiqué Financial Times, Alan Beattie (11/6/12)
The vicious euro circle keeps turning BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (12/6/12)
Spanish banks need up to 62bn euros BBC News (21/6/12)
Eurozone crisis explained BBC News (19/6/12)
Spain formally requests a bailout for its banks BBC News (25/6/12)
Documents and press releases
IMF Says Spain’s Core Financial System is Resilient, but Important Vulnerabilities Remain IMF Press Release (8/6/12)
Spain and the IMF IMF links to various documents including: Spain – Financial System Stability Assessment (8/6/12)
Eurogroup statement on Spain Eurozone Portal, The Eurogroup (9/6/12)
- How does the Spanish bailout differ from those for Greece, Irelend and Portugal?
- What are the likely implications for Spanish borrowing costs of the loans coming from the ESM?
- To what extent does the plan to bail out Spanish banks involve a moral hazard?
- What is likely to be the effect of the Spanish bailout on Greece, Ireland and Portugal?
- How bad is Spanish public-sector debt compared with other countries? What is the likely effect of the bailout on Spanish public-sector debt?
- What is meant by a banking union in the eurozone and how would it work? What would be the implication of a eurozone banking union for the UK?
Original post (19/9/11)
The Independent Commission on Banking (ICB), led by Sir John Vickers, has just delivered its report. Central to its remit was to investigate ways of making retail banking safer and avoid another bailout by the government, as was necessary in 2007/8.
The report recommended the ‘ringfencing’ of retail banking from the more risky investment banking, often dubbed ‘casino banking’. In other words, if the investment arm of a universal bank made a loss, or even faced collapse, this would not affect the retail arm. The ringfenced operations would include banking services to households and small businesses. Wholesale and investment banking would be outside the ringfence. As far as retail banking services to big business are concerned, these could be inside the ringfence, but details would need to be worked out about precisely which banking services to big business would be inside and which would be outside the ringfence.
The ICB was keen to stress that the ringfence should be high and that the retail arm should be both operationally and legally separate from the wholesale/investment arm. The ringfenced part of the bank should have a capital adequacy ratio of up to 20% (above the Basel III recommendations), with at least 10% of liabilities in the form of equity. Capital could only be moved from the ringfenced arm to the investment arm of the bank if this did not breach the 10% ratio.
The ICB report also recommends measures to increase competition in banking, including making it easier to switch accounts, greater transparency about the terms of accounts and a referral of the banking industry for a competition investigation in 2015. The cost to the banking industry of the measures, if fully implemented, is estimated to be between £4m and £7m.
Because of the requirement in the report for banks to build up their capital and the danger that a too rapid process here would jeopardise the expansion of lending necessary to underpin the recovery, banks would be given until 2019 to complete the recommendations. Moves towards this, however, would need to start soon.
In December 2011, the government announced that it would accept most of the ICB report, including separating retail and investment banking. It would not, however, demand such stringent capital requirements as those recommended in the report.
The following articles examine the details of the proposals and their likely effectiveness. The later articles examine the government’s response.
Original articles (some with videos)
Vickers report: main points The Telegraph (12/9/11)
Bank reforms aim to get taxpayers off the hook Money Marketing, Natalie Holt, Steve Tolley (15/9/11)
Vickers report: key point Guardian, Jill Treanor (12/9/11)
Vickers report: banks get until 2019 to ringfence high street operation Guardian, Jill Treanor (12/9/11)
Bank reform: To rip asunder The Economist (17/9/11)
Banking reforms: Good fences The Economist (17/9/11)
Banks barred from putting depositors’ money at risk as Vickers’ reforms increases costs by up to £7 billion The Telegraph, Harry Wilson (12/9/11)
Vickers report: Q&A The Telegraph (12/9/11)
Vickers report: reaction The Telegraph (12/9/11)
ICB bank reforms could cost UK banks £7bn a year The Telegraph, Harry Wilson (12/9/11)
Money Insider: Will reforms really shake up the high street? Independent, Andrew Hagger (17/9/11)
Bank reforms bring quick improvements Financial Times, Elaine Moore (16/9/11)
Vickers’ critics are missing the point Financial Times, Diane Coyle and Jonathan Haskel (12/9/11)
The Business podcast: The Vickers report Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty, Jill Treanor and Nils Pratley (13/9/11)
Vickers: Bank reforms ‘will get taxpayers off the hook’ BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, Sir John Vickers (12/9/11)
‘Enormous dilemma’ for UK’s biggest banks BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, Robert Peston (12/9/11)
ICB report and press conference
Press Conference: Vickers: Banks ‘must be ring-fenced’ BBC News (12/9/11)
Portal to Full Report and Transcript of Opening Remarks by Sir John Vickers at Press Conference. Independent Commission on Banking
Later articles and webcasts
Chancellor George Osborne to announce banking split BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (19/12/11)
Osborne to address MPs on Vickers’ report into banking BBC News (19/12/11)
Bank break-up law by 2015 BBC News. Robert Peston (18/12/11)
Osborne to Pledge U.K. Bank Legislation by 2015 Bloomberg, Gonzalo Vina and Jennifer Ryan (19/12/11)
In bank reform, ‘in full’ must mean exactly that Independent (19/12/11)
How far and how fast is key to the reforms Independent, Ben Chu (19/12/11)
George Osborne poised to bring in full banking reforms The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead and Harry Wilson (18/12/11)
EU will not impede Vickers reforms Financial Times, George Parker and Sharlene Goff (18/12/11)
- Explain the difference between a capital adequacy ratio and a liquidity ratio. Will the Vickers proposals help to increase the liquidity of the retail banking arm of universal banks?
- Does it matter if equity capital in excess of the 10% requirement for retail banking is transferred to a bank’s investment arm?
- What risks are there for a bank in retail banking?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of bringing in the measures gradually over an 8-year period?
- Does it matter that the capital adequacy requirements are higher than under the internationally accepted standards in Basel III?
- Assume that there is another global financial crisis. Will the proposals in the report mean that the UK taxpayer will not have to provide a bailout?
At its meeting on 26 October, the eurozone countries agreed on a deal to tackle the three problems identified in Part A of this blog:
1. Making the Greek debt burden sustainable
2. Increasing the size of the eurozone bailout fund to persuade markets that there would be sufficient funding to support other eurozone countries which were having difficulties in servicing their debt.
3. Recapitalising various European banks to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults.
The following were agreed:
1. Banks would be required to take a loss of 50% in converting existing Greek bonds into new ones. This swap will take place in January 2012. Note that Greek debt to other countries and the ECB would be unaffected and thus total Greek debt would be cut by considerably less than 50%.2. The bailout fund (EFSF) would increase to between €1 trillion and €1.4 trillion, although this would be achieved not by direct contributions by Member States or the ECB, but by encouraging non-eurozone countries (such as China, Russia, India and Brazil) to buy eurozone debt in return for risk insurance. These purchases would the form the base on which the size of the fund could be multiplied (leveraged). There would also be backing from the IMF. Details would be firmed up in November.
3. Recapitalising various European banks to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults. About 70 banks will be required to raise an additional €106.4 billion by increasing their Tier 1 capital ratio by 9% by June 2012 (this compares with the Basel III requirement of 6% Tier 1 by 2015).
On the longer-term issue of closer fiscal union, the agreement was in favour of achieving this, along with tight constraints on the levels of government deficits and debt – a return to something akin to the Stability and Growth Pact.
On the issue of economic growth, whilst constraining sovereign debt may be an important element of a long-term growth strategy, the agreement has not got to grips with the short-term problem of a lack of aggregate demand – unless, of course, the relief in markets at seeing a solution to the debt problem may boost business and consumer confidence. This, in turn, may provide the boost to aggregate demand that has been sadly lacking over the past few months.
Certainly if the reaction of stock markets around the world are anything to go by, the recovery in confidence may be under way. The day following the agreement, the German stock market index, the Dax, rose by 6.3% and the French Cac index rose by 5.4%.
Eurozone crisis explained BBC News (27/10/11)
Leaders agree eurozone debt plan in Brussels BBC News, Matthew Price (27/10/11)
Eurozone agreement – the detail BBC News, Hugh Pym (27/10/11)
10 key questions on the eurozone bailout Citywire Money, Caelainn Barr (27/10/11)
European debt crisis: ‘Europe is going to have a very tough winter’ – video analysis Guardian, Larry Elliott (27/10/11)
Eurozone crisis: banks agree 50% reduction on Greece’s debt Guardian, David Gow (27/10/11)
The euro deal: No big bazooka The Economist (29/10/11)
Europe’s rescue plan The Economist (29/10/11)
European banks given just eight months to raise €106bn The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (26/10/11)
EU reaches agreement on Greek bonds Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Stanley Pignal and Alex Barker (27/10/11)
Unlike politicians, the markets are seeing sense Independent, Hamish McRae (27/10/11)
Market view: Eurozone rescue deal buys time FT Adviser, Michael Trudeau (27/10/11)
Greece vows to build on EU deal, people sceptical Reuters, Renee Maltezou and Daniel Flynn (27/10/11)
Markets boosted by eurozone deal Independent, Peter Cripps, Jamie Grierson (27/10/11)
Has Germany been prudent or short-sighted? BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (27/10/11)
Germany’s Fiscal union with a capital F BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (27/10/11)
- What are the key features of the deal reached in Brussels on 26 October?
- What details still need to be worked out?
- How will the EFSF be boosted some 4 or 5 times without extra contributions fron eurozone governments?
- Why, if banks are to take a 50% haircut on their holdings of Greek debt, will Greek debt fall only to 120% per cent by 2020 from just over 160% currently?
- On balance, is this a good deal?
As European leaders gather for an emergency summit in Brussels to tackle the eurozone debt crisis, we consider the issues and possible solutions. In Part B we’ll consider the actual agreement.
There are three key short-term issues that the leaders are addressing.
1. The problem of Greek debt
With fears that the Greek debt crisis could spread to other eurozone countries, such as Italy and Spain, it is vital to have a solution to the unsustainability of Greek debt. Either banks must be willing to write off a proportion of Greek debt owed to them or governments must give a fiscal transfer to Greece to allow it to continue servicing the debt. Simply lending Greece even more provides no long-term solution as this will simply make the debt even harder to service. Writing off a given percentage of debt is known as a ‘haircut’. The haircut on offer before the summit was 21%. Leaders are reportedly considering increasing this to around 60%.
2. The size of the eurozone bailout fund
The bailout fund, the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), stood at €440 billion. This is considered totally inadequate to provide loans to Italy and Spain, should they need a bailout. France and other countries want the ECB to provide extra loans to the EFSF, to increase its funds to somewhere between €2 trillion and €3 trillion. Germany before the meeting was strongly against this, seeing it as undermining the rectitude of the ECB. A compromise would be for the EFSF to provide partial guarantees to investors and banks which are willing to lend more to countries in debt crisis.
3. Recapitalising various European banks
Several European banks are heavily exposed to sovereign debt in countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain. It is estimated that they would need to raise an extra €100 billion to shield them against possible losses from haircuts and defaults.
But there is the key longer-term issue as well.
Achieving long-term economic growth
Without economic growth, debt servicing becomes much more difficult. The austerity measures imposed on highly indebted countries amount to strongly contractionary fiscal policies, as government expenditure is cut and taxes are increased. But as the economies contract, so automatic fiscal stabilisers come into play. As incomes and expenditure decline, so people pay less income tax and less VAT and other expenditure taxes; as incomes decline and unemployment rises, so government welfare payments and payments of unemployment benefits increase. These compound public-sector deficits and bring the possibility of even stronger austerity measures. A downward spiral of decline and rising debt can occur.
The answer is more rapid growth. But how is that to be achieved when governments are trying to reduce debt? That is the hardest and ultimately the most important question.
Brussels summit: the main issues to be resolved The Telegraph (25/10/11)
EU crisis talks in limbo after crucial summit is cancelled The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (25/10/11)
Euro zone summit likely to give few numbers on crisis response Reuters, Jan Strupczewski (25/10/11)
Factbox: What EU leaders must decide at crisis summit Reuters (24/10/11)
Hopes low ahead of EU summit Euronews on YouTube (25/10/11)
Euro crisis: EU leaders hope to reach debt plan BBC News (26/10/11)
The deadline Europe cannot afford to miss BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (26/10/11)
Why EU summit is crunch day for the eurozone BBC News, Paul Mason (26/10/11)
Southern European banks need most capital BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (23/10/11)
Will Germany insure Italy against default? BBC News blogs, Robert Peston (26/10/11)
Plan B for the eurozone? BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (26/10/11)
‘No such thing as Europe’ BBC Today Programme, Stephanie Flanders and Martin Wolf (26/10/11)
Markets to eurozone: It’s the growth, stupid BBC News blogs, Stephanie Flanders (24/10/11)
Fears euro summit could miss final deal Financial Times, Peter Spiegel, Gerrit Wiesmann and Matt Steinglass (26/10/11)
Time to unleash financial firepower or face euro breakup Guardian, Larry Elliott (25/10/11)
The Business podcast: eurozone crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott, David Gow and Jill Treanor (25/10/11)
Why is Germany refusing to budge on the eurozone debt crisis? Guardian blogs, Phillip Inman (26/10/11)
- In terms of the three short-term problems identified above, compare alternative measures for dealing with each one.
- To what extent would the ECB creating enough money to recapitalise European banks be inflationary? On what factors does this depend?
- Does bailing out countries create a moral hazard? Explain.
- What possible ways are there of achieving economic growth while reducing countries sovereign debt?
- Would you agree that the problem facing eurozone countries at the moment is more of a political one than an economic one? Explain.
- What are the arguments for and against greater fiscal integration in the eurozone?
The International Monetary Fund published a report on banking, ahead of the G20 meeting of ministers on 23 April. The IMF states that banks should now pay for the bailout they received from governments during the credit crunch of 2008/9. As the first Guardian article states:
It is payback time for the banks. Widely blamed for causing the worst recession in the global economy since the 1930s, castigated for using taxpayer bailouts to fund big bonuses, and accused of starving businesses and households of credit, the message from the International Monetary Fund is clear: the day of reckoning is at hand.
The Washington-based fund puts the direct cost of saving the banking sector from collapse at a staggering $862bn (£559bn) – a bill that has put the public finances of many of the world’s biggest economies, including Britain and the United States, in a parlous state. Charged with coming up with a way of ensuring taxpayers will not have to dig deep a second time, the top economists at the IMF have drawn up an even more draconian blueprint than the banks had been expecting.
The IMF proposes two new taxes. The first had been expected. This would be a levy on banks’ liabilities and would provide a fund that governments could use to finance any future bailouts. It would be worth around $1500bn: some 2.5% of world GDP, and a higher percentage than that for countries, such as the UK, with a large banking sector.
The second was more surprising to commentators. This would be a financial activities tax (FAT). This would essentially be a tax on the value added by banks, and hence would be a way of taxing profits and pay. Currently, for technical reasons, many of banks’ activities are exempt from VAT (or the equivalent tax in countries outside the EU). The IMF thus regards them as under-taxed relative to other sectors. If such a tax were levied at a rate of 17.5% (the current rate of VAT in the UK), this could raise over 1% of GDP. In the UK this could be as much as £20bn – which would make a substantial contribution to reducing the government’s structural deficit of around £100bn
Meanwhile, in the USA, President Obama has been seeking to push legislation through Congress that would tighten up the regulation of banks. On 20 May, the Senate passed the bill, which now has to be merged with a version in the House of Representatives to become law. A key part of the measures involve splitting off the trading activities of banks in derivatives and other instruments from banks’ regular retail lending and deposit-taking activities with the public and firms. At the same time, there would be much closer regulation of the derivatives market. These complex financial instruments, whose value is ‘derived’ from the value of other assets, would have to be traded in an open market, not in private deals. A new financial regulatory agency will be created with the Federal Reserve having regulatory oversight of the whole of the financial markets
The measures would also give the government the power to break up financial institutions that were failing and rescue solvent parts without having to resort to a full-scale bailout. There is also a proposal to set up a nine-member Council of Regulators to keep a close watch on banking activities and to identify excessive risks. Banks would also be more closely supervised.
So is this payback time for banks? Or will higher taxes simply be passed on to customers, with pay and bonuses remaining at staggering levels? And will tougher regulation simply see ingenious methods being invented of getting round the regulation? Will the measures reduce moral hazard, or is the genie out of the bottle, with banks knowing that they will always be seen as too important to fail?
Press Briefing by IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn IMF Webcasts (22/4/10)
Transcript of the above Press Briefing
The IMF tax proposals
IMF proposes two taxes for world’s banks Guardian, Jill Treanor and Larry Elliott (21/4/10)
IMF gets tough on banks with ‘FAT’ levy Guardian, Linda Yueh (21/4/10)
Q&A: IMF proposals to shape G20 thinking Financial Times, Brooke Masters (21/4/10)
The challenge of halting the financial doomsday machine Financial Times, Martin Wolf (20/4/10)
IMF’s ‘punishment tax’ draws fire from banking industry Financial Times, Sharlene Goff, Brooke Masters and Scheherazade Daneshkhu (21/4/10)
Squeezing the piggy-banks Economist (21/4/10)
IMF, part two Economist, ‘Buttonwood’ (21/4/10)
IMF proposes tax on financial industry as economic safeguard Washington Post, Howard Schneider (20/4/10)
IMF wants two big new taxes on banks BBC News blogs, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (20/4/10)
Obama pleas for Wall Street support on reforms Channel 4 News, Job Rabkin (22/4/10)
Q&A: Obama’s bank regulation aims BBC News (22/4/10)
US banks may not bend to Barack Obama’s demands Guardian, Nils Pratley (22/4/10)
President Obama attacks critics of bank reform bill BBC News (23/4/10)
US Senate passes biggest overhaul of big banks since Depression Telegraph (21/5/10)
Finance-Overhaul Bill Would Reshape Wall Street, Washington Bloomberg Businessweek (21/5/10)
US Senate approves sweeping reforms of Wall Street (including video) BBC News (21/5/10)
Obama gets his big bank reforms BBC News blogs: Pestons’s Picks, Robert Peston (21/5/10)
- What would be the incentive effects on bank behaviour of the two taxes proposed by the IMF?
- What is meant by ‘moral hazard’ in the context of bank bailouts? Would (a) the IMF proposals and (b) President Obama’s proposals increase or decrease moral hazard?
- Why may the proposed FAT tax simply generate revenue rather than deter excessive risk-taking behaviour?
- What market conditions (a) encourage and (b) discourage large pay and bonuses of bankers? Will any of the proposals change these market conditions?
- What do you understand by the meaning of ‘excess profits’ in the context of the banks and what are the sources of such excess profits?
- Criticise the proposed IMF and US measures from the perspective of the banks.