Arab Today, arab today european banks back in focus after painful 2011
Last Updated : GMT 21:53:08
Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

European banks back in focus after painful 2011

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today European banks back in focus after painful 2011

Paris - AFP

European banks paid a heavy price for their Greek exposure in 2011 but for some at least the worst of the debt problems appear over, leaving them better placed to cope now with a eurozone recession. Nearly all took large charges to cover a historic Greek government bond writedown worth some 107 billion euros ($172 billion) included in a second massive debt bailout just agreed for Athens. At the same time, they have had to prepare for tougher capital rules which require the banks to increase readily available reserves to ensure they can survive any new financial crisis. Then there were the accidents -- British banks took a huge hit after running foul of the regulators on sales of Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) while public opinion bashed all lenders as more interested in huge bonus payouts than in providing credit to get business going again. Governments too got frustrated at the banks\' reluctance to lend despite massive liquidity provided by the European Central Bank and with the eurozone forecast to be in mild recession this year, that pressure will likely grow. Despite the drawbacks, bank shares have attracted increasing attention in recent months as investors buy into a sector which has been in the doldrums since the height of the global financial crisis in 2008. Some analysts believe the stocks are so beaten down that they are cheap enough now to be worth the risk. \"Banks have enjoyed a very strong start to the year (with large share price gains) as the European banking sector is benefiting from the huge boost of liquidity from the ECB,\" said Simon Denham, head of Capital Spreads trading group in London. \"Their balance sheets are being restored and the threat of a new credit crunch (has been) recently averted,\" Denham said, referring to the ECB action. Deutsche Bank, the biggest in European powerhouse Germany, did better than most of its peers, even if it failed to meet its 2011 profit targets as the second half of the year deteriorated. \"Following the favourable development of the markets in the first six months, we had to face extremely adverse external circumstances in the second half of 2011,\" chief executive Josef Ackermann said. \"The sovereign debt crisis in Europe led to mounting uncertainty on the markets around the world and to reticence among clients -- above all in Europe,\" he said. Deutsche Bank\'s 2011 net profit was still up 87 percent at 4.3 billion euros as revenues rose 16 percent to 33.2 billion euros, buoyed by its core traditional banking business. Ackermann said that \"both politically and economically, it will be another very challenging year.\" Commerzbank, ranked number two in Germany, saw its 2011 earnings sink more than 55 percent as the eurozone debt crisis and losses on its Greece investments hit home. \"2011 was characterised for Commerzbank by a successful first six months and difficult market conditions in the second half,\" chief executive Martin Blessing said. Commerzbank said it was making \"very good progress\" on bolstering its reserves but hit market sentiment by announcing a 10 percent capital increase. In Britain, bailed-out Lloyds Banking Group saw its losses soar nine-fold to £2.78 billion (3.27 billion euros, $4.38 billion) as it took PPI provisions of £3.2 billion. Royal Bank of Scotland, 82-percent government owned, said its losses jumped to £1.99 billion from £1.12 billion after a £1.1 billion hit on the value of its Greek government bonds. \"Our job is to defuse the biggest-ever time bomb in banking balance sheets. In this respect, we are making progress,\" chief executive Stephen Hester said. In France, Dexia stole the bad headlines, chalking up a record annual loss of 11.6 billion euros as the already bailed out lender sought more government help after yet more damage from its huge holdings of Greek government bonds. At the end of 2011, the Franco-Belgian bank had to ask for state funding as the financial markets turned against it and is now in the process of being wound up. Meanwhile, top French bank Societe Generale reported a 39-percent slump, reflecting a radical balance sheet clearout of bad debt from Greece and the US subprime home loan crisis. The bank wrote-down its Greek government bond holdings by 75 percent, a level that turned out to be about in line with the final level agreed. France\'s biggest bank BNP Paribas suffered similarly, taking a similar loss on its Greek bonds as net profit dropped 23 percent. On Monday, Europe\'s biggest bank HSBC reports its 2011 earnings.  

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