April 9, 2014 / 11:51 AM / in 4 years

ECB dismisses latest bank appeal over health-check deadlines

* Banks say they face logistical problems with data

* ECB indicated it won’t alter asset test schedule - sources

* ECB review will feed into EU-wide stress tests

* Exercises may force some banks to raise more cash

By Laura Noonan and Gianluca Semeraro

LONDON/MILAN, April 9 (Reuters) - The European Central Bank has dismissed the latest appeal by the region’s biggest lenders for concessions, including easier deadlines, to make rigorous health checks of their industry less logistically onerous, sources told Reuters.

ECB officials indicated to representatives of the European Banking Federation, an industry lobby group, that they would not alter the timetable of this year’s “asset quality review”, two sources familiar with a meeting between the two sides said.

The meeting, held in Frankfurt on Tuesday, marked the latest attempt by euro zone banks to get changes to the ECB exercise which will feed into stress tests across the European Union to ensure that lenders could survive a future crisis without needing taxpayer-funded bailouts.

“There was nothing new from the ECB on the ... process at (the) meeting and no indication of flexibility on timelines,” one source familiar with the discussions told Reuters.

The ECB declined comment while a Brussels-based spokesman for the EBF, which represents national banking associations from across Europe, said it did not comment on specific meetings.

Federico Ghizzoni, CEO of Italian bank UniCredit, said on Tuesday night that he did not know the outcome of the discussions, but his impression was that the ECB would not modify its requests for data.

“There was an operational meeting concerning the difficulties of meeting the deadlines to submit the data for the asset quality review, an issue raised not only by Italian but also by European banks,” he told reporters in Milan.

“It is a logistical difficulty arising from the amount of data and the time frame, it is not about contents,” he said.

Bankers say they do not want to water down the landmark review of whether the euro zone’s 128 largest lenders have properly valued their assets, but need more time in preparing for the complex process.

The ECB has repeatedly insisted there will be no slippage from its plan to complete the review by October, which would ensure any skeletons in the closet are dealt with before it takes over as the euro zone’s bank supervisor in November.

The stress tests could force some banks to raise more cash to prove they can withstand another downturn without the kind of state rescue a number needed during the financial crisis which exploded in 2008. The aim of both sets of tests is to restore confidence in European banks, whose shares remain valued at a significant discount to their U.S. rivals.

A 285 page manual setting out how assets will be examined was published on March 11. But banks say the ECB’s request for data, which can run to more than a hundred fields per loan file, are too onerous. Questions about some of the ECB’s methodology were also raised at an earlier meeting on March 26 between ECB officials and senior executives from the 128 banks.

One source said those issues were also raised at Tuesday’s EBF meeting, but no progress was made.

“They take their manual as the Bible,” said an attendee of the March 26 meeting. “There is no world beyond the manual.”

The EBF said it backs the overall exercise. “It is a challenging process that is an essential step towards the construction of the single supervisory and resolution mechanisms,” the spokesman said. “The EBF, as representative of European banks, fully supports this complex process.” (editing by David Stamp)

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