Global Investing

EU stress tests: who knows, who cares?

The following is a guest post by Christopher Whalen, senior vice president and managing director of Institutional Risk Analytics. You can also follow him on twitter. The opinions expressed are his own.

Waiting for the results of the EU stress tests, one is reminded of the many times in the past century when the U.S. has rescued the Europeans from their tendency to wage war against one another and go broke in the process. Having now helped to sell the EU banks much of the subprime garbage that sank the likes of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, now the U.S. is offering a solution, namely to mimic the U.S. stress tests of 2009.

The U.S. stress tests, keep in mind, were about restoring confidence, not measuring financial soundness. The assumptions in the U.S. stress tests were soft and virtually all of the banks passed. The U.S. government had already guaranteed the liabilities of most U.S. banks, General Electric and General Motors, and a variety of other formerly non-bank companies. Thus the stress tests are properly seen as an exercise in managing expectations of the bond vigilantes.

The U.S. process was reasonably credible to investors because, despite their many failings, American regulators have a cohesive, if fragmented, approach to gathering data from regulated banks and disclosing same to investors. The data used in the stress tests actually bore some resemblance to public data available on these institutions.

In the EU, on the other hand, there is virtually no transparency on bank financial statements and thus no visibility for investors in terms of making the stress tests credible. There is no SEC in Europe, no EDGAR or FDIC portals on the internet with extensive financial data on banks. There is not even a common template for gathering financial data on European banks or even credit statistics for many EU consumers.

from MacroScope:

The nuclear option for financial crises

They finally realised how serious it was. With stock markets tumbling, bond yields on vulnerable debt blowing out and the euro in danger of failing its first big stress test,  the European Union and International Monetary Fund came out with a huge rescue plan.

At 750 billion euros (500 billion from the EU; 250 billion from the IMF), the rescue package is the equivalent of taking a huge mallet to a loose tent peg.  Add to that an agreement among central banks to help out and the actual purchase of euro zone bonds by Europe's central banks and you turn the mallet into a pile driver.

That tent is not going anywhere for now.

Does this remind anyone of anything? How about a lot of small attempts to stop the subprime/Lehman crisis failing, only to be followed by the  likes of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program in the United States?

from MacroScope:

Germany 1919, Greece 2010

Greece's decision to ask for help from its European Union partners and the International Monetary Fund has triggered a new wave of notes on where the country's debt crisis stands and what will happen next. For the most part, they have managed to avoid groan-inducing headlines referencing marathons, tragedies, Hellas having no fury or even Big Fat Greek Defaults.

Perhaps this is because the latest reports are pointed. They focus on the need to solve the Greek debt crisis before it spreads to bring down others and even shake Europe's monetary framework loose.

Barclays Capital reckons the 45 billion euros or so of aid Greece is being promised is a drop in the bucket and that twice that will be needed in a multi-year package. JPMorgan Asset Management, meanwhile, says that to bring its 130 percent debt to GDP ratio under control Greece will need the largest three-year fiscal adjustment in recent history.

Can the euro zone survive Greece?

Wolfgang Munchau, co-founder and president of Eurointelligence, has raised an uncomfortable prospect for investors in Greece. In a Financial Times column today, the long-time Europe commentator argues that Brussels may not be willing to bail Greece out if it were to default on its debt à la all-but sovereign Dubai World is about to.

The EU’s authorities, rightly or wrongly, are more afraid of the moral hazard of a bail-out than the possible spillover effect of a hypothetical Greek default to other eurozone countries. If faced with a choice between preserving the integrity of the stability pact and the integrity of Greece, they are currently minded to choose the former.

Munchau reckons that outright default is unlikely, but wonders whether the current spread between Greek and benchmark German bonds really reflects the risk that investors are taking.  It is currently around 178 basis points after recovering from a blow out on Dubai worries last week.

Falling on deaf ears

The European private equity industry today published its response to the proposed Alternative Investment Fund Managers directive that seeks to place controls on the industry.

In what it must hope will be seen as a carefully considered and constructed response to the European Commission’s hastily drafted and ill-thought-out proposed directive, the European Private Equity and Venture Capital Association — the voice for private equity in Europe — calls for the threshold for reporting on its companies’ activities to be lifted to 1 billion euros assets under management from 500 million.

It argues that private equity firms smaller than that specialise in managing small and medium-sized companies and should be subject to national legislation.

More than a nice-to-have, buy-side considers its actions

More than a “nice to have,” investor sentiment is running heavily on the side of environment, social and governance (ESG) factors, according to the latest Thomson Reuters Perception Snapshot.

Feedback from 25 global buy-side investors found that 84 percent evaluate ESG criteria to some degree when making an investment decision.

The remaining 16 percent say ESG issues are not considered until a company’s ability to generate high returns is hindered by these factors.

Will invasion of Georgia steel EU into kicking its addiction to Russian oil and gas?

As George Bush might say, the EU is addicted to Russian energy. While no member wants to kick the habit totally, Brussels would like the bloc to reduce its growing dependence.

Even before Moscow invaded Georgia, the main non-Russian route for exporting Central Asian and Azeri crude and gas to Europe, the EU watched Russia’s regular cuts in energy supplies to neighbours with concern.

But EU members have been reluctant to take the hard measures that would allow them to bypass Russia, so analysts think their reliance on Moscow will grow.