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EU tells banks to be flexible over loan losses rule during epidemic

European banks have the flexibility to avoid a huge rise in provisioning for non-payment of loans during the coronavirus outbreak, the European Union’s securities and banking watchdogs said today. 

Banks have warned they face mounting provisions as businesses and households they lent money to struggle to repay loans during the outbreak. 

EU states have approved measures to offer some relief to businesses such as repayment holidays on loans. 

But lenders have been unsure whether a payment holiday would technically constitute a failure to pay and therefore trigger increased provisioning as required under a global accounting rule known as IFRS 9. 

Higher provisioning would eat into a bank’s capital. 

“In ESMA’s view, the principles-based nature of IFRS 9 includes sufficient flexibility to faithfully reflect the specific circumstances of the Covid-19 outbreak and the associated public policy measures,” the European Securities and Markets Authority said in a statement. 

ESMA’s banking counterpart, the European Banking Authority (EBA) also sought to reassure lenders today. 

“The EBA calls for flexibility and pragmatism in the application of the prudential framework and clarifies that, in case of debt moratoria, there is no automatic classification in default, forborne, or IFRS9 status,” EBA said in a separate statement.

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Banks urge EU to ease capital rules to fight coronavirus fallout

Europe’s banks have called on European Union authorities to ease capital rules and other regulatory barriers to helping businesses struggling because of the coronavirus epidemic. 

The European Banking Federation (EBF) comprises national banking industry bodies from across Europe.

It has set out a three-stage plan in a letter to the European Union, European Central Bank and the European Banking Authority. 

It asks regulators “for assistance to be able to work constructively with borrowers… which will require flexibility to stem the regulatory-enforced barriers to finance borrowers in temporary struggle.” 

The industry body proposed a set of “immediate decisions” to avoid the flow of cash or liquidity to businesses and households drying up in coming weeks. 

These could be followed by a set of medium-term actions and other measures to “smooth” prudential or capital rule effects on lenders in the next year, the letter said. 

The ECB is due to meet today and faces pressure to take action to ease the impact of coronavirus on the economy after founding EU member Italy went into lockdown due to the epidemic. 

The Bank of England and the Federal Reserve have both made emergency interest rate cuts. 

EU authorities should enable a “moratorium tool” to help keep cash flowing to sound borrowers facing temporary challenges due to coronavirus, the EBF said. 

Regulators in the bloc could also improve the ability of banks to lend by easing the so-called counter cyclical buffer which is built up in good times for use during market shocks or downturns.

The Bank of England cut this buffer to 0% yesterday. 

The EBF said that other types of buffers imposed by national regulators on top of EU minimum requirements could also be eased. 

Regulators should also allow banks to divert the excess liquidity they hold above minimum requirements to non-financial businesses on a temporary basis, the EBF said. 

The ECB should also extend its long term funding to banks, known as the Targeted Longer-Term Refinancing Operations or TLTRO programmes, in time and scope, it added. 

“In the meantime, the EBF is working on a wider set of measures in more detail for the next months which we look forward to sending to you soon,” the letter said.

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Fee increases will be critical for Irish banks – S&P

Fee increases will be critical for Irish banks – S&P

Increasing fees and commissions will be critical for Irish banks in the coming years, in order to offset pressure on the difference between the amount of interest they earn versus what they pay out to those lending them money.

That’s according to ratings agency S&P Global Ratings, which says it does not expect banks here to be able to expand their net interest margins further, given competitive movement in the markets, low interest rates, and gradual build up in banks’ stock capital buffers.

In a research note on the Irish banking system, the agency says the concentration in real estate and extent of existing tracker mortgages means the quality of the sector’s loan book is typically weaker than in many other EU states.

It says the use of money set aside for losses has in the past helped to support losses, but this benefit is not likely to continue.

It also cautions that it does not expect a material improvement in earnings this year, because of limited revenue diversification and high cost bases

S&P says capitalization remains at levels that are relatively strong.

However, the agency says capital is set to decline a little as loan books expand and dividend distribution policies remain the same..

Overall though Irish banks have demonstrated stability, the organisation claims, despite internal and external challenges.

Their credit profiles have improved materially in recent years, it says, as a result of better economic conditions, placing them in a stronger position to absorb future shocks, like Brexit.

Non-performing loans will continue to fall this year, it predicts, and near-term profitability to remain stable.

As a result, it says short term upgrades to Irish banks are most likely to be based on their improved additional loss-absorbing capacity, it says.

It claims Bank of Ireland has demonstrated a superior track record around the quality of its assets compared with other peers in the market here.

As a result, it says, the positive outlook for the bank suggests it may change the rating on Bank of Ireland to bring it in line with the higher ratings on its international peers.

On Ulster Bank, it says, the positive outlook reflects that of its parent company, the Royal Bank of Scotland.

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