Two Italian Zombie Banks Toppled Friday Night
ECB shuts down Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza.
When banks fail and regulators decide to liquidate them, it happens on Friday evening so that there is a weekend to clean up the mess. And this is what happened in Italy – with two banks!
It’s over for the two banks that have been prominent zombies in the Italian banking crisis: Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza, in northeastern Italy.
The banks have combined assets of €60 billion, a good part of which are toxic and no one wanted to touch them. They already received a bailout but more would have been required, and given the uncertainty and the messiness of their books, nothing was forthcoming, and the ECB which regulates them lost its patience.
In a tersely worded statement, the ECB’s office of Banking Supervision ordered the banks to be wound up because they “were failing or likely to fail as the two banks repeatedly breached supervisory capital requirements.”
“Failing or likely to fail” is the key phrase that banking supervisors use for banks that “should be put in resolution or wound up under normal insolvency proceedings,” the statement said. This is the first Italian bank liquidation under Europe’s new Single Resolution Mechanism Regulation. The ECB explained:
The ECB had given the banks time to present capital plans, but the banks had been unable to offer credible solutions going forward.
Consequently, the ECB deemed that both banks were failing or likely to fail and duly informed the Single Resolution Board (SRB), which concluded that the conditions for a resolution action in relation to the two banks had not been met. The banks will be wound up under Italian insolvency procedures.
And the ECB provides a little history of its failed efforts to put these banks on the right track:
ECB Banking Supervision has closely monitored the two banks since capital shortfalls were identified by the comprehensive assessment in 2014. Since then, the two banks have struggled to overcome high levels of non-performing loans and underlying challenges to their business models, which resulted in further deterioration of their financial position.
In 2016, the Atlante fund [Italy’s government-sponsored “bad bank” set up in Luxembourg to take toxic assets off Italian banks books] invested approximately €3.5 billion in Veneto Banca and Banca Popolare di Vicenza. However, the financial position of the two banks deteriorated further in 2017.
The ECB had therefore asked the banks to provide a capital plan to ensure compliance with capital requirements. Both banks presented business plans which were deemed not to be credible by the ECB.
So nothing worked. Private sector money stayed away in droves. JP Morgan, which had been recruited to save the Italian banks, threw in the towel. These banks had been zombies for too long. Everybody knew it. But the government kept denying it.
Just weeks ago, Italy’s Minister of Economy Pier Carlo Padoan insisted that the two banks would not be wound down. Last year, to dispel the mountain of evidence to the contrary, he insisted that that there would be no need of any future bail outs; and that, furthermore, Italy did not even have a banking problem.
In early June, the two banks were instructed by the European Commission to raise an additional €1.25 billion in private capital. No one bit. Italy’s government then tried to persuade the European Commission and the ECB to water down the requirement to €600-800 million, and it urged Italian banks to chip in to the bank rescue fund.
All that failed. So this weekend, the Italian government gets to sit down together for a friendly chat to enact the necessary measures to protect depositors and senior bondholders in those two banks. Stockholders will be crushed. Junior bondholders will likely get slammed hard. And the Italian taxpayer might face some additional pain – all of it caused by many years of terrible and reckless bank management. The saga of the long-festering banking crisis has thus moved on to the next chapter.
A new era has begun in Europe. And it started in Spain. Many Banco Popular investors were wiped out. Taxpayers are off the hook. Read… “Bail-In” Era for Europe’s Banking Crisis Begins