After AQR and stress tests – where next for banking in the Eurozone?
Thorsten Beck10 November 2014
The ECB has published the results of its asset quality review and stress tests of Eurozone banks. This column argues that, while this process had clear shortcomings, it still constitutes a huge improvement over the three previous exercises in the EU. Nevertheless, the banking union is far from complete, and the biggest risk now is complacency. A long-term reform agenda awaits Europe.
The ECB has concluded and published the results of a year-long painstaking process to go through the books of the 130 largest and most important banks of the Eurozone, adjusting balance sheets and testing the sensitivity of their capital position to two different scenarios, one of which includes a severe economic downturn. This exercise constitutes the entry point to the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), where the ECB has direct supervisory responsibility for most of these 130 banks and indirect responsibility for the rest of the banks in countries that are members of the SSM.
Agnès Benassy-Quéré, Alain Trannoy, Guntram Wolff22 July 2014
Tax harmonisation has been controversial since the establishment of the European Economic Community, and corporation tax proposals are currently on the table in the EU. Although tax competition can be beneficial, tax harmonisation could curb tax competition that leads to the under-provision of public goods or to burden-shifting from mobile to immobile tax bases. As yet, no agreement has been reached on any ambitious harmonisation plan for mobile tax bases. This column explores the possibility of implementing partial tax harmonisation for corporate taxation and the taxation of the banking sector.
Michael P. Devereux, Albert van der Horst, Simon Loretz, Leon Bettendorf
The issue of tax harmonisation has been repeatedly debated in the EU since the European Economic Community was established. Substantial tax harmonisation exists in the area of indirect taxation, and proposals regarding corporations are on the table, such as the project of Common Consolidated Corporate Income Tax (CCCTB, see European Commission 2011a). According to widely accepted economic theory (Zodrow and Mieszkowski 1986), tax harmonisation is a way to curb tax competition that leads to either the under-provision of public goods or to burden-shifting from mobile to immobile tax bases.
Lacklustre investment in the Eurozone: Is there a puzzle?
Marco Buti, Philipp Mohl04 June 2014
Investment in the Eurozone is forecast to remain below trend until 2015, with a particularly large shortfall in the periphery. Low investment reduces aggregate demand, thus lowering short-term growth, and it also hampers medium-term growth through its effect on the capital stock. This column highlights three causes of low Eurozone investment – reduced public investment, financial fragmentation, and heightened uncertainty – and proposes a series of remedies.
On the importance of investment for the Eurozone economy
According to the European Commission’s most recent forecast, real economic activity in the Eurozone is expected to recover at a moderate pace until 2015, and to remain significantly weaker than in the US (European Commission 2014a).
Marco Buti, Maria Demertzis, João Nogueira Martins30 March 2014
Although progress has been made on resolving the Eurozone crisis – vulnerable countries have reduced their current-account deficits and implemented some reforms – more still needs to be done. This column argues for a ‘consistent trinity’ of policies: structural reforms within countries, more symmetric macroeconomic adjustment across countries, and a banking union for the Eurozone.
As argued in an earlier commentary, the financial crisis exposed important economic inconsistencies in the way that EMU operated.1 Although progress has been made, the reality is that more needs to be done. A number of countries still need to consolidate their public finances further, and also implement structural reforms to promote growth and sustain satisfactory welfare systems. At the same time, there is a need for vulnerable countries to ensure consistency between regaining competitiveness and the sustainability of private and public debts.
Viral Acharya talks to Viv Davies about his recent work with Sascha Steffen that, using publicly available data and a series of shortfall measures, estimates the capital shortfalls of EZ banks that will be stress-tested under the proposed Asset Quality Review. They also discuss the difference in accounting rules between US and EZ banks and the future potential for banking union in the Eurozone. The interview was recorded by phone on 25 February 2014.
The limits to partial banking unions: A political economy approach
Octavia Foarta02 February 2014
Banking union is a vital project for the future of the Eurozone. Under the current proposal, bank supervision will be centralised but national authorities will remain responsible for recapitalising troubled banks. This leaves the system susceptible to domestic political economy constraints. This column argues that such a system can fail to be welfare improving. The inefficiencies can be mitigated, however, if the banking union is accompanied by greater electoral accountability and fiscal rules that constrain debt accumulation by national governments.
A key concern of policymakers following the Eurozone banking crises has been how to design common rules for public interventions in the banking sector. Recent proposals aim at creating a banking union to complement the Eurozone monetary union, and reduce the risk of contagion generated by cross-border spillovers from bank failures (Bolton and Jeanne 2013). The presence of spillovers suggests that a banking union may be welfare-improving for all member countries.
Falling short of expectations? Stress-testing the European banking system
Viral Acharya, Sascha Steffen17 January 2014
The Single Supervisory Mechanism – a key pillar of the Eurozone banking union – will transfer supervision of Europe’s largest banks to the ECB. Before taking over this role, the ECB will conduct an Asset Quality Review to identify these banks’ capital shortfalls. This column discusses recent estimates of these shortfalls based on publicly available data. Estimates such as these can defend against political efforts to blunt the AQR’s effectiveness. The results suggest that many banks’ capital needs can be met with common equity issuance and bail-ins, but that public backstops might still be necessary in some cases.
The Eurozone is mired in a recession. In 2013, the GDP of the 17 Eurozone countries fell by an average of 0.5%, and the outlook for 2014 shows considerable risks across the region. To stabilise the common currency area and its (partly insolvent) financial system, a Eurozone banking union is being established. An important part of the banking union is the Single Supervisory Mechanism, which will transfer the oversight of Europe’s largest banks to the ECB (Beck 2013).
Fiscal sustainability has become a hot topic as a result of the European sovereign debt crisis, but it matters in normal times, too. This column argues that financial sector reforms are essential to ensure fiscal sustainability in the future. Although emerging market reforms undertaken in the aftermath of the financial crises of the 1990s were beneficial, complacency is not warranted. In the US, political gridlock must be overcome to reform entitlements and the tax system. In the Eurozone, creating a sovereign debt restructuring mechanism should be a priority.
Single supervision and resolution rules: Is ECB independence at risk?
Donato Masciandaro, Francesco Passarelli21 December 2013
During the Great Moderation, central banks focused on price stability, and independence was seen as crucial to limit inflation bias. Since the Global Financial Crisis, emergency support measures for banks, and central banks’ increasing involvement in supervision, have called central bank independence into question. This column argues that the literature has overlooked the distributional effects of the tradeoff between monetary and financial stability. In a political economy framework, heterogeneity in voters’ portfolios can cause the degree of central bank independence to differ from the social optimum.
Lucia Dalla Pellegrina, Donato Masciandaro, Rosaria Vega Pansini
A successful transition to a European Banking Union requires robust and credible ‘Chinese walls’ between the ECB’s role as monetary authority and any responsibility in the Single Supervisory Mechanism or in the resolution rules. Otherwise, the ECB’s independence would be at risk, given that monetary policy would likely have larger distributional effects.
The new Single Bank Resolution Mechanism of the European Union
Stefano Micossi30 November 2013
Of the three pillars of the nascent European banking union, establishing a unified bank-resolution mechanism is the most pressing issue. This column suggests some changes to the existing Single Resolution Mechanism proposals. The decision to initiate resolution should be left to the ECB and national resolution authorities. Debt automatically convertible into equity when capital thresholds are violated could partially replace liabilities subject to bail-in. The Single Bank Resolution Fund must be supranational to ensure the credibility of the mechanism.