The Next Italian Bank Threatens to Topple

Sharp Dose of Deja Vu for Italy’s Teetering Banks.

By Don Quijones, Spain, UK, & Mexico, editor at WOLF STREET.

In a speech that did little to calm investors’ nerves, Italy’s finance minister said yesterday that he was “strangely optimistic” about Italy’s economic outlook. Senior eurocrats in Brussels are far from convinced. “Italy’s accounts are not improving,” blasted European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen at a press conference yesterday.

The financial situation in Italy, according to Katainen, is due to get worse with Italy’s deficit in 2018 now predicted to be €3.5 billion more than previously stated by Paolo Gentiloni’s administration in the spring. “The only thing I can say in my name is that all Italians should know what the real economic situation in Italy is,” he said.

That real economic situation includes the fragile health of the nation’s banking system which continues to teeter on the edge despite the controversial rescue last summer of Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) and the resolution of the Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, which left over 40,000 businesses in Italy’s wealthy Veneto region starved of credit.

It’s pretty clear that investor concerns about the health of Italy’s toxic debt-laden banking system have not been put to rest. Today’s developments will hardly have helped steady nerves after mid-sized lender Carige, with assets of €26 billion, scuttled a capital increase demanded by European authorities when it failed to get the backing of a banking consortium led by Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, and Barclays to underwrite the deal.

In a statement, Carige said it had called a board meeting on Thursday morning to discuss “the next steps.” The shares of Genoa-based Carige, which had already lost roughly half its value over the past year, were suspended on Milan’s stock exchange. They closed on Wednesday at €0.17 a piece. The board had fixed a price of €0.10 euro per share for a capital hike of €560 million demanded by regulators.

The proposed cash call is over four times the bank’s current market value. What’s more, Carige has already gone through a capital expansion worth €800 million in 2014 and another one worth €850 million just a year later. Just as happened with MPS last year, investors appear to have finally cottoned on to the fact that pouring money into a bank saddled with huge amounts of suspect assets and non-performing loans in a country gripped by a systemic banking crisis is unlikely to pay off.

Now, just months after Italy’s government bent EU bank resolution rules out of all recognition to bail out MPS, it seems that another resolution could be in the offing.

“Given current market conditions, we do not rule out Banca Carige will be put under resolution,” Milan broker Akros said. There are, it seems, other options such as the postponement of its expansion, the sale of the group, or the segregation of a ‘bad bank’ with the support of the Italian Government.

The prospect of another bank resolution triggered a panicked sell-off of other mid-sized banking shares. Rival Creval, which has just announced plans to raise €700 million — or 4.4 times its market value — via a share issue, closed down 19%. MPS saw its shares extend a seven-day losing streak after tumbling 4.1% today. In the last five days alone the stock is down over 20%.

If there is another bank resolution or taxpayer-funded bailout, there’s a huge risk that what little confidence remains in Italy’s banking system could crumble, especially given the sheer scale of the rot. As we reported in March this year, almost all of Italy’s largest banking groups, with the exception of Unicredit, Intesa Sao Paolo and the investment bank Mediobanca, have Texas Ratios well in excess of 100%, meaning that the total value of their non-performing loans is greater than their tangible book value plus reserves. Banks tend to fail when the ratio surpasses 100%. In Italy there are 114 of them. Of them, 24 have ratios of over 200%.

Granted, many of the banks in question are small local or regional savings banks with tens or hundreds of millions of euros in assets. But the list also includes much bigger fish such as Banco Popolare (€120 billion in assets; TR: 217%), UBI Banca (€117 billion in assets; TR: 117%), Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (€77 billion in assets; TR: 113%) and of course, Carige (€26 billion in assets; TR: 165%).

As long as banks like these continue to languish in their current zombified state, they will continue to drag down the two bigger banks. And if either Unicredit or Intesa begin to wobble, the bets are off. By Don Quijones.

Wishful thinking may not be enough. Read…  Financial Storm Clouds Gather Over Italy

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  43 comments for “The Next Italian Bank Threatens to Topple

  1. nick kelly says:

    So there are 114 banks in bad shape and 24 that are terminal.

    What is the point of dealing with one every two to three weeks, a kind of dance of the 24 veils, as if to prolong the pleasure / ordeal?

    Why not have a version of TARP where all 24 are either wound up or consolidated? At one time not over years.

    The key thing in any banking crisis is to restore confidence. At the present rate this won’t happen for years if ever.

    • Haus-targaryen says:

      While I cannot speak for everyone, I can say that for many — our hope is not the restoration of confidence and the continuation of the current economic system but rather it’s respective end.

      Especially as a millennial — the current financial system merely acts as a wealth transfer from “us” to the boomers.

      I hope for the loss of confidence and the collapse of the current system, taking onboard all negative externalities that goes along with it.

      • Don’t be a fool. The demographics support greater wealth for millennials who inherit the wealth the boomers have accumulated. As each family iteration gets smaller the wealth funnels down to fewer individuals. And like the French Revolution, once heads start to roll a lot of decent people get caught up in the melee. Call in that bad loan and you lose jobs and meaningful economic activity and replace it with nothing.

        • Ed says:

          I wonder. I suspect the boomers are not as thrifty as their parents were and so the *median* inheritance may not be better than the boomers received.

          Anybody knows, I would be interested in your take.

        • Jason says:

          Yeah as has been pointed out, you are assuming wealthy baby boomers intend to die with their assets largely intact and unspent. I believe that’s a faulty assumption. I believe many boomers have the attitude “I worked bloody hard for all this, and I saved etc so I’m going to enjoy it all before I go. The kids get little or nothing. They can make their own way like we did.” Which is desperately sad and ignorant of the blessings of huge population growth and other factors that caused the properties bought for peanuts by boomers many decades ago to explode in value to what they are now worth.

        • Haus-Targaryen says:

          My folks, boomers born mid to late 50s — have their houses paid for — but like most boomers will be completely dependent on SS and Medicaid in their old age — with the idea of selling their house should unexpected expenses (like a “credit event”) pop-up.

          Most boomers will find themselves either under a bridge somewhere or in their kid’s basements, or their kids living in theirs.

          Don’t confuse nominal wealth with real wealth. Most Boomers are nominally very well-off; their real wealth is essentially zero.

    • Dan Romig says:

      On the other hand, why not let these 24 terminal banks get what they deserve? Can people have confidence in banks that are insolvent but propped up by free TARP bailouts? Will there ever be any return back to prudent business practices for these banks that terminal if they are bailed out, and can they be brought back to operating profitably?

      • nick kelly says:

        On the other hand? Which hand do you think I meant?
        I’m saying, if you can’t merge them with a solvent bank, shoot them.
        But do it NOW, not this steady drip, drip, drip…

        You are NOT propped up after a US Fed take-over of a bank. The bank ceases to exist. This is often done by merging the bank with a solvent bank, wiping out shareholders and most management.
        Lower level employees can apply to branches kept by new owner.

        But after nothing happened with Lehman. It wasn’t propped up or bailed out, it was put into bankruptcy.

        In their ignorance, US regulators thought it could continue to operate like an airline in C 13. But in the UK where it had tens of thousands of employees the law meant it had to cease ops right away. Anyone with money in Lehman was just a creditor.

        This was the starting gun for the Crisis, which to this day most people don’t realize almost crashed the entire system. This is especially true of Canadians who don’t realize the Fed lent hundreds of millions to their banks as a precaution.
        No bank can withstand a run on the bank. The C banks have about ten cents on hand for every dollar of liabilities.

        The fear put into the Fed by its failure to resolve Lehman no doubt led to kid- glove handling of bankers during crisis and no doubt more should have been canned. But that’s not the issue here.

        Sure, let’s give these banks what they deserve. Management fired. Where possible merged with solvent bank (this often requires
        sweetener from central bank) usually for a dollar or one euro.

        My only point is do it all at once instead of one every three weeks.

        • Dan Romig says:

          Thank you for that insightful answer Nick. My view is probably too simplistic, but I would like to see the terminal banks stop operating if they are insolvent.

        • Maximus Minimus says:

          A bank is only a solid as a confidence in it.

    • Maximus Minimus says:

      The Eurozone banks already had a couple rounds of TARP only bigger in size: LTRO.

      • nick kelly says:

        The ‘R’ in TARP stands for ‘resolution’. Nothing is ever resolved in Italy or Spain. The Spanish banks have never written down the value of their real estate, so it can be bought by new owners.

        That’s why the US RE crash was resolved but Spain has more empty homes than the US.

        • Pete in Toronto says:

          Technically, the “R” stands for “Relief”:

        • Maximus Minimus says:

          Nope. Troubled Asset Relief Program – TARP.

        • nick kelly says:

          True. I was thinking of the Resolution Trust that wound up the Savings and Loan mess. Both had the same goal only the RT had the name.
          In that case also the mess was resolved, there was end.
          In Spain and Italy there never is an end.

          So the names are sorted out, what about the suggestion that these two countries get on with it?

          It is absurd for Italy to have 500 independent banks. Consolidation is desperately needed, not the least because the regulators could focus. This is a war on too many fronts.

        • d says:

          “It is absurd for Italy to have 500 independent banks.”

          There are reasons why Italy and Particularly Sicily, has so many bank’s.

          Toto Riina just checked out, he was however the boss, of the street bosses. Not the Boss of the entire multilevel mafia entities in Italy.

          Those in entities like “P2” “Both Berlusconi and Draggi are members”. Are a higher society level, of the same basic organisation.

          The street bosses needed some banks to launder their money that’s why Sicily has more banks per capita than anywhere else in Italy.

          They were allowed to open and operate those banks, by their “Friend’s”, at the Bank of Italy.

          In a multi tiered Mafia system, favors and grease, flow both ways.

          Sometimes the Street Bosses, do things they cant be seen to get away with, forever.

        • Maximus Minimus says:

          About bank consolidation, you’re on the right page. Read MC01 comment about how banks are intertwined with local business and political establishment. No way is it going to voluntarily disappear.

    • Henry says:

      Unfortunately this is a global problem, with many commercial banks in the U.S, Australia and Europe with critical debt levels.

      Additionally, many of these banks now operate whilst technically insolvent within a global financial system equally indebted.

      Combine this with the after effects of QE and failed government monitory policy and you quickly see, we’re in for a wild ride!

  2. Jim Graham says:

    “”If there is another bank resolution or taxpayer-funded bailout””

    Where on earth is the money for a “taxpayer-funded” bailout going to come from??? The whole counyry is broke and probably has no one willing to loan them the money..

    • BoyfromTottenham says:

      Exactly, Jim! But it seems that the EU and ECB are masters at banking and financial smoke and mirrors games, so no doubt they will conjure up some new scheme to ‘pretend and extend’ the zombie lives of these banks until…later. Although I am greatly surprised that any EU resident individual would be silly / brave enough to invest a cent in any of these banks. Maybe they will just disappear from the stock market somehow?

  3. Maximus Minimus says:

    I am confident, they will keep the banks on an ECB life support until after the elections due next year. Otherwise, it could get a lot more interesting than it already is.

  4. Gershon says:

    I doubt if anyone knows or can say with any degree of accuracy what the true state of the Italian banking system is. It seems evident that there has been systemic misreporting of financial data and misrepresentation of non-performing loans and other liabilities. As is the case in the United States, the regulators are either complicit in the banking sector deception, or are criminally negligent in failing to root out financial malfeasance and risks to the public. The officials charged with ensuring the integrity of the banking system are manifestly dishonest, untrustworthy, and seem to be acting in collusion with the banks rather than ensuring the basic soundness of the financial system. It’s also unclear how Italian taxpayers, themselves hard pressed, will react to being forced yet again to involuntarily bail out a deeply corrupt banking system, especially if “bail-ins” see another officially-sanctioned theft of depositor accounts.

    • walter map says:

      The goal is to bankrupt Italy, allowing the hyperrich to plunder its historic and artistic treasures. That’s what’s happening in Greece and will eventually happen in every country possessing anything that wealthy egoists would consider trophies.

      • Michael Brown says:

        Isn’t that what they are doing with us all right now, Greece and Italy are visions of what we are to become?

        The ECB will keep buying Italian debt in the hope that the time they’ve bought will somehow bring them the miracle solution they hope for.

        It will take the collapse of the Euro, and the ensuing pain to right the wrongs I’m afraid.

      • BillS says:

        I suspect you are both right. Both a plunder of public assets and expropriation of savings via “bail-ins” are likely. Italy is not broke once you factor in the savings and property of its citizens. Italy has always suffered at the hands of its managerial class: “La Casta.”

      • MC01 says:

        Italian bankers only need to look at themselves in the mirror to find a culprit, but they don’t care.
        The deaths of Pietro Calvi and Michele Sindona are in the distant past and these days they have their own people in the government, the EU and the ECB to guarantee not merely a bailout but complete impunity.
        That’s why 2008 taught them absolutely nothing and they continue to do as they have always done.

        My mother sent me a newspaper clip about a new supermarket to be opened in the valley right next to the one I was born in and where she still lives. What’s so exceptional about a new supermarket as to warrant a newspaper article?
        The county in which this supermarket is being built has 1,900 inhabitants and already has three supermarkets within walking distance of one another. This one is being built the other side of the road of an existing one. Let that sink for a moment.
        Somewhere somebody had this bright idea and somewhere else, most likely in an office belonging to one of those local banks which sit at the heart of the rot, somebody else greenlighted lending a big pile of cash for this highly questionable scheme.
        How long can a county of 1,900 mostly aged persons sustain four supermarkets? How long before competition will start decimating them? And how long before that loan becomes “non-performing”?

        Of course Italian banks have long mastered the heart of hiding NPL’s, often in plain sight. That’s why Gershon above wisely said nobody has an idea of how rotten the Italian banking system is: nobody, often not even the banks themselves, have an idea of how many of their loans are worth exactly zero because the firms they lent money to have long gone bankrupt or “disappeared” in one of those scams so common in countries like Greece, Romania and Italy.

        Italy’s economy has grown completely dependent on rampant real estate speculation to produce “growth”, and you cannot have real estate speculation if banks ask too many questions.
        Differently from other countries, Italy has managed to keep values inflated in face of an anemic market for years, but now the chicken are coming home to roost as local markets buckle and break one by one under the strain of unsold stock.
        Yet banks keep on lending to questionable real estate schemes backed by municipalities with 24 oz appetites but Big Mac budgets, until they get cold feet and cut funding, leaving the country dotted with half-finished real estate. I should really make some pictures during my next trip there…

        • walter map says:

          “How long can a county of 1,900 mostly aged persons sustain four supermarkets?”

          Interesting, isn’t it, that these banks are nearly insolvent but still have the money to piss away on investments they know are bad – with the full knowledge that it’s all risk-free because they are sure to get bailed out and bailed in when the music stops.

          Still, the hyperrich are more or less compelled to do something with their piles of money (despite the insolvencies), so they put it into retail – with returns guaranteed by governments promising that the struggling middle class will make up any losses. Better a phony investment scam than no investment at all.

          You know you’re in trouble when the government has been corrupted into serving the racketeers.

        • MC01 says:

          There are chiefly three reasons on why Italian banks throw money at crazy schemes that make the mid 90’s Thai real estate bubble a paragon of sound investments.

          1) Yield. Like everyone of us banks need yield, any yield, especially since they operate in an environment that has killed off even junk bonds. The average mortgage in Italy has 2.76% interests, and it has risen from last year when it stood at a minuscule 2.44%. As an Italian bank manager told me “We’d need the housing market to be at least three times what is right now to make any money on it”.
          That’s why crackpot retail schemes, which carry far higher interest rates, are so palatable. Call them the junk bond of the junk bonds.
          2) Politics. Italian banks are among the most politicized in Europe, meaning if some politician or mandarin intervenes, banks will lend money, even the schemes are patently harebrained or bound to fail. There’s no need to dwell into the sordid details as politics are depressingly similar all over the world.
          3) Politics 33 1/3: Just for the Record. Municipalities and local governments such as the supermarket county above have grown highly dependent upon land sales, property taxes and assorted impact and junk fees, not so much to discharge their duties but to fuel the usual deadly (and expensive) mixture of boundless ambitions, well connected firms, small scale lobbyists and political clients.
          Again, common all over the world, but few countries are so brazen about it as Italy.

      • Crysangle says:

        Yes. Small local banks are part of a countries social structure. My experience is of Spain, where the local Cajas and regional banks were pseudo social-political entities. There was much to criticize on their behaviour, especially (caps and italics) after joining the Euro low rate feast, after national management and form was sold down river, but they were (italics) the hierarchical reach of traditional values.

        Now? Well you know the story and how m&a has reduced, ground down, the panorama to a few big banks… a process funded by tax payer, and/or his/her guarantee. The cheap bailed stock gets parcelled off and sold cheap to high finance, prices for average person remain high as stock is kept off the market.

        If Italy passes this law it is done for

        as its citizens become territorial wards as opposed to lineal guardians . Other countries have Ius Soli as basis, UK France and many others. Switzerland, for example, does not.

        Do the Italians want their nationality watered down into what EU is? There are plenty of other ways to accommodate a migrant population, but once nationalised then… chao.

        For some reason this topic is not being discussed widely, probably because most of us just take nationality for granted, and do not want to question how our own is handled.

    • Red tomato says:

      Another factor to take into account is that NPL in Italy doesn’t necessarily mean the same as elsewhere. Putting loans into a degree of default or stop servicing them for a while is a fairly common manoeuvre in Italy to coerce a company’s lenders to contribute to a restructuring, at least for smaller and non-listed businesses. The rules are laxer and so is the application of them, making consequences of defaulting on a loan far less severe. This contrasts with other regimes e.g. US where defaulting is the very last resort and a clear sign of trouble.

      • Stevedcfc72 says:

        Hi Red tomato,

        Hope you’re well.

        That maybe true ref NPL’s in Italy but as we speak Carige is sitting on 30% of its total loan book is NPL.

        Is that why Italian Banks split their NPL’s by:

        Sofferenze (Bad Debts)

        Unlikely to pay

        Past Due

        As DQ put above aside off three or so main players, the rest have gone just playing the game of drip feeding the bad news.

  5. Alessio Calcagno says:

    EU commission is affairs of next year election. Italy not having a stable government and Draghi ending QE next year could spell troubles for the country. Ray Dalio is big on shoring Italian banking system.
    The ECB is the only reason why the country is still afloat. The true reason of Draghi whatever it takes and massive QE.

    • Gershon says:

      Funny how all these “former” Goldmanites like Draghi are working off the same script, at the expense of formerly sovereign countries and peoples.

  6. d says:

    italy and spain seem to be deflecting for each others “rotten as pears” banking systems.

    They can keep this charade and slow resolution of a massive problem up, until somebody makes a mistake.

    The Spanish banking system has not seen the end of the fallout from the Catalonia issue yet.

    Some share prices of Spanish banks outside Catalonia, are becoming dangerously low.

    Club-med banking as a whole, need’s serious resolution. And as we know has for a very long time.

    the ECB particularly under “the dirty little mafiosi” will kick the can until it cant.

  7. Malthus says:

    Agree totally. Just one small correction. Loans, even non performing ones, are assets to a bank, not liabilities. A bank’s deposits are their liabilities, and because they can be withdrawn on very short notice leads to potential instability of any bank.

  8. Stevedcfc72 says:

    Hi DQ,

    Hope you’re well.

    As an extra to this story, I was reading an article where Italian Banks are falling over themselves to keep zombie businesses going in Italy by renegotiating their debts.

    In that way the Italian Banks don’t have to recognise the losses of when a company goes under.

    Is that true?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Renegotiating non-performing debt is standard procedure — either in bankruptcy court under the supervision of a judge, or in a debt restructuring outside of bankruptcy court, if there is anything or anyone left to renegotiate with. This is by far the better option than just having to write the whole thing off as a total loss. If a borrower cannot make the payments but is able to make 50% of the payments, the lender might agree to that, rather than a total loss.

      There are rules in place as to when and what needs to be written off when debt is being renegotiated, but banks might not follow those rules.

      In China, where corporate bad debt is a much bigger problem for banks than in Italy, they’re now converting bad debt to equity, and Chinese authorities are apparently allowing banks to carry that “equity” without having to write it off.

      Debt-to-equity swaps are also standard procedure in corporate bankruptcy proceedings and other debt restructurings.

      • d says:

        “In China, where corporate bad debt is a much bigger problem for banks than in Italy, they’re now converting bad debt to equity, and Chinese authorities are apparently allowing banks to carry that “equity” without having to write it off.”

        These conversions are frequently at the instruction of the CCP.

        The Banks are in fact instructed to carry the new Equity as asset by the CCP.

        The banks are also forbidden by the CCP to sell the Equity. Or write it off.

        The banks are also instructed by the CCP, to issue new loans to these companies whose existing NPLS they just converted into equity at CCP instruction.

        Most of these banks performing as outlined, under CCP instruction, are not state owned bank’s.

        This is one of the ways chian is “Reforming” its “Credit Markets”.

        Central command Economies, as part of a “Communism for the masses State” enable the CCP to do many things to its advantage.The west simply can not do.

        Communism is a wonderful thing, in china, it is for the masses and private enterprise.

        The CCP is the most capitalist and corrupt administration, china has ever seen.

        china is in fact a “Mafia state” where the rule of law and the judiciary are subservience to “CCP Political needs”, all the Mafia clansmen, are also, CCP members.

      • Stevedcfc72 says:

        Agreed wolf its standard practice to renegotiate on non-performing debt.

        The story coming out of Italy is that a lot of these companies are now just paying the interest on the loan and that’s it.

    • MC01 says:

      The Italian bankruptcy code was amended, and improved, in 2013, but it is still questionable for both the speed of the bankruptcy proceedings and especially the lack of something akin to Chapter 9 and 11 bankruptcies.

      Bankruptcies in Italy are very slow affairs. It may take up to a decade for senior creditors to see part of their money back, with seven years being the average in the real estate and construction sector, those accounting for abouth two thirds of Italy’s bad loans.
      This alone does not encourage banks and other senior creditors to push the issue, especially when they know the “quality” of underlying assets is not exactly high, meaning they will get a pittance when the bankruptcy court is done with the case.

      When a debtor goes under in Italy, well, it all depends on the bankruptcy itself. The law is very clear on the matter: junior creditors have to get in line and will get what is left after paying off the senior creditors, but this doesn’t stop them from making a racket and always trying to drag politicians into the matter, making proceedings even slower than they already are.
      Here I’d like to add that while the Italian law allows junior creditors to protect themselves before a bankruptcy (for example by demanding a deposit or stopping a contract until at least part of the outstanding debt is paid off) very few take these precautions. Some junior creditors can be exposed for as much if not more than a senior creditor, often leading to “domino bankruptcies”.

  9. Paul Morphy says:

    Our old pal, Mario Draghi head of the European Central Bank, used to be Governor of the Italian Central Bank, before he became head bottlewasher at the ECB.

    The entirely broken Italian banking system is Draghi’s legacy as Governor of the Italian Central Bank

  10. raxadian says:

    When people in the government say that things are going to be better or stay the same, they always lie. And Italian economy is basically a stone throw away from a huge crisis and maybe two stones away if default.

  11. Gershon says:

    The debt bombs created by the central bankers’ mad Keynesian monetary experiments are piling up worldwide, especially in China, creating fatal systemic risks to the interlocked global financial system.

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