Europe's EUR 500 Billion Ticking NPLTime Bomb

Europe’s non-performing loan problem is such an issue that there is increasing bluster that the ECB may take this garbage on to its balance sheet since policymakers realize that bad debts and non-performing loans (NPLs) reduce the capacity of banks to lend, hindering the monetary policy transmission mechanism. Bad debts consume capital and make banks more risk averse, especially with respect to lending to higher risk borrowers such as SMEs. With Italy (NPLs 13.4%) now following the same dismal trajectory of Spain’s bad debts, the situation is rapidly escalating (at an average of around 2.5% increase per year).

As we discussed in detail here, the bottom line is that at its core, it is all simply a bad-debt problem, and the more the bad debt, the greater the ultimate liability impairments become, including deposits. As we answered at the time – the real question in Europe is: how much impairment capacity is there in the various European nations before deposits have to be haircut? With Periphery non-performing loans totaling EUR 720bn across the whole of the Euro area in 2012 and EUR 500bn of which were with Peripheral banks, it seems the Cyprus deposit haircut non-template may indeed become the key template.

Simply put, the greater the unemployment the more the strain on banks to generate “profits” by any means possible (GGBS?) to cover the capitalization shortfall from NPLs until at some point liability haircuts have to begin…

Non-performing loans as % of total loans across the Euro area

Unemployment rates across Euro area countries

Via JPMorgan:

It is not surprising that the periphery is exhibiting a rising pattern in terms of NPL ratios. What is worrying is the speed of increase, at 2.5% per year. Within the periphery, Greece is the outlier with a NPL ratio of 25%, and no signs of abating yet. Ireland follows with a NPL ratio of 19%. Italy (at 13.4%) is above Spain and Portugal (at close to 10%)…


The German divergence is making the task of the ECB very difficult both in terms of setting monetary policy for the whole region, but also in terms of dealing with an impaired transmission outside Germany. Draghi clarified in its latest press conference that it is not the ECB’s role to clean up banks’ balance sheets, meaning that the ECB is unlikely to deal itself with the €500bn large non-performing loan problem in periphery.


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