The Office: More tragedy than comedy for UK banks
With property markets stabilising and hopes that the worst of the financial crisis is behind us, Europe’s banks are now looking to resolve their next biggest problem: 225 billion pounds of loans backed by UK commercial property.
As Sinead Cruise and I wrote earlier today, banks are now organising to sort through this massive debt pile, picking the good from the bad, foreclosing on properties and selling off what they can.
“Lenders have long turned a blind eye to breaches of covenants as long as they met interest demands by collecting rents. But they are now abandoning this softly-softly approach as the British economy worsens, planning foreclosures on a scale not yet seen in this cycle.”
“Until now, banks have only repossessed as a last resort because they feared they would be unable to sell assets in the debt-starved investment market. But a flurry of fund launches and opportunistic rights issues has ratcheted up competition among buyers in the sector, stoking hopes for less costly exits.”
Real-estate investors are lining up for a rush of deals in the third and fourth quarters of the year, as many banks are waiting for the fine details of the government’s asset insurance scheme, due to be published in July, before they make final decisions on what to do with their loan books.
The consequences are big for the banks and serious for the British economy. Industry experts say that without a clear-out of their exposure to property banks are unlikely to start lending again on a large scale.