Tuesday, March 3, 2009
More leverage in Europe
In Europe, unlike in the US, it is only risk-weighted assets which matter to the regulators, not the total leverage ratio. European banks can therefore apply a lot more leverage than their US counterparties, provided they load their balance sheets with higher rated assets, and that is precisely what they have been doing. That is fine as long as you buy what it says on the tin. But AAA is not always AAA as we have learned over the past 18 months. Asset securitisations such as CLOs proved very popular amongst European banks, partly because they offered very attractive returns and partly because Standard & Poors and Moodys were kind enough to rate many of them AAA despite the questionable quality of the underlying assets. Now, as long as the economy chugs along, everything is dandy and the AAA-rated assets turn out to be precisely that. But we are not in dandy territory. Many asset securitisation programmes are in horse manure to their necks, so don't be at all surprised if European banks have to swallow further losses once the full effect of the recession is felt across Europe. The two largest sources of asset securitisation programmes are corporate loans and credit cards. Senior secured loans are still marked at or close to par on many balance sheets despite the fact they trade around 70 in the markets. The credit card cycle is only beginning to turn now with significant losses expected later this year and in 2010-11.