By Brett Hurll
Eurozone Banks Face Rising Losses Amid High Interest Rates, ECB Warns
The European Central Bank (ECB) has issued a stark warning about increasing financial strains faced by banks in the Eurozone, as a result of surging interest rates impacting borrowers. ECB Vice-President Luis de Guindos has observed early indicators of stress in banking balance sheets, notably in the form of escalating loan defaults and delays in repayments.
De Guindos noted a rapid cooling in loan demand, coinciding with an uptick in losses, a departure from historically low levels. Despite initial benefits from rising interest rates on lending margins, banks are now encountering significant challenges.
The shift to remote working in Europe is exacerbating the situation, particularly affecting the commercial real estate sector due to increased borrowing costs. The ECB's Financial Stability Review highlights a marked decline in office space demand in the second quarter of 2023, with environmental concerns significantly influencing the non-prime segment.
The review also points to rising default rates in corporate and retail lending, alongside an increase in arrears under 90 days. The ECB anticipates further escalation in defaults, as missed repayments often foreshadow more severe financial difficulties.
Small businesses, more vulnerable to economic downturns, have shown a higher propensity to fall behind or stop repayments in recent quarters. Despite this, global bank profits have surged to the highest level since 2008, as reported by McKinsey & Company. With an expected surplus of $1.4 trillion for banks in the current year, there's growing criticism over their failure to adjust savings rates in line with increasing mortgage costs.
However, the ECB foresees these economic challenges as likely to dampen the banking sector's momentum. It predicts that growing vulnerabilities in the broader economy will gradually deteriorate banks' asset quality. This, combined with reduced lending volumes and rising funding costs, could significantly affect their profit outlook.
The ECB has raised concerns over the resilience of families, businesses, and governments in the Eurozone, already strained by the cost of living crisis. Lending to the private sector has nearly stalled, with banks imposing stringent lending criteria.
Moreover, the ECB warns of risks posed by non-banks, such as investment funds and hedge funds, which remain highly exposed to sectors sensitive to interest rates, like heavily indebted corporations and real estate. Failures in this sector could pose a threat to broader financial stability.
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