Saturday, September 11, 2010

OECD Paper: "The EU Stress Test and Sovereign Debt Exposures"

by Bill McBride on 9/11/2010 07:52:00 PM

Here is a new paper on EU Sovereign debt exposures. (ht Mark Whitehouse at the WSJ: Number of the Week: Hiding Europe’s Unpleasant Details)

From Blundell-Wignall, A. and P. Slovik (2010), “The EU Stress Test and Sovereign Debt Exposures

The EU-wide stress test did not include haircuts for sovereign debt held in the banking books of banks on the grounds that over the 2 years considered default is virtually impossible in the presence of the EFSF [European Financial Stability Facility Special Purpose Vehicle], which is certainly large enough to meet funding needs of the main countries of concern over that period.

The haircuts applied to the trading book in the stress test are shown in the first block of Table 1. The trading book exposures (not reported in the stress test paper) are also shown. The EU wide loss from the haircut is around €26. bn. The contribution of the 5 countries where most of the market focus has been (Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain) is only €14.4bn.
Sovereign Debt OECD Table 1 Click on table for larger image in new window.
A different picture emerges when we consider the banking book. First it is important to note that the EU banking book sovereign exposures are very much larger than those of the trading book—around 83% of the total. If the same haircuts are applied to these exposures the loss amounts to €139bn, or 12% of the Tier 1 capital of the EU banks at the end of 2009 (and €165bn and over 14% of Tier 1 if trading book losses are added in). The haircuts of the 5 countries of market focus amount to €75.8bn in the banking book, and €90.2bn if the trading book amount is added in. This is around 8% of EU Tier 1 capital of stress tested banks.
This study has shown that most of the sovereign debt is held on the banking books of banks, whereas the EU stress test only considered their small trading book exposures. Sovereign debt held in the banking book cannot be ignored however. First, individual bank failures would see latent losses on the trading book realized, a fact that creditors and equity investors need to take into account. Second, and more importantly, the market is not prepared to give a zero probability to debt restructurings beyond the period of the stress test and/or the period after which the role of the EFSF SPV comes to an end. The main reasons for this are: the very large job ahead for fiscal consolidation in a period of weak economic growth; and the apparent difficulty of achieving structural/competitiveness reforms in some countries in a short period of time. The paper also showed that excessively exposed banks in principle can reduce their exposure by not re-financing maturing sovereign debt, with the government funding gap being met instead by the SPV. This would have the effect of transferring sovereign risk from the bank concerned to the public sector.
What happens in less than 2 years when the European Financial Stability Facility Special Purpose Vehicle is no longer providing funding?