Confidence in European banks slides again as profit outlook dims

FILE PHOTO: The Credit Suisse logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the NYSE in New York
The Credit Suisse logo in New York City, U.S., March 16, 2023. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
  • European banks, bonds, CDS sell off
  • Deutsche Bank CDS rise to highest since late 2018
  • Confidence hurt, outlook dims

LONDON, March 24 (Reuters) - Confidence in European banks deteriorated further on Friday, with the cost of insuring against a debt default rising sharply as the profit outlook for the sector dimmed.

Global banking shares and broader markets have been rocked since the sudden collapse this month of two U.S. regional banks and a forced merger between Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) and UBS (UBSG.S).

Policymakers have stressed the turmoil is different from the global financial crisis 15 years ago because banks are better capitalised and funds more easily available.

But this has failed to stem a selloff in bank shares and bonds, with rising funding costs in fixed income markets adding to the banking sector's woes and clouding their profit outlook.

Deutsche Bank's (DBKGn.DE) five-year credit default swaps (CDS) jumped 19 basis points (bps) from Thursday's close to 222 bps, rising to their highest since late 2018, data from S&P Global Market Intelligence showed. They later eased back to 208 bps.

UBS's (UBSG.S) five-year CDS shot up 23 bps from Thursday's close to 139 bps, S&P data showed, before retracing slightly to 135 bps. CDS prices move up when the default risk is seen to be rising.

"We'll probably see regulators look to act to restore confidence because what we do know is that confidence is key to the whole concept of banking and it is hard to win and it's easy to lose," said Mark Dowding, chief investment officer at BlueBay Asset Management.

In the United States, the support could mean guaranteeing more bank deposits, Dowding said.

European Union leaders and the ECB sought to calm market jitters by presenting a united front on the banking sector on Friday, saying EU lenders are well capitalised and liquid thanks to lessons drawn after the 2008 Lehman Brothers collapse.

Banking stocks fell sharply across Europe, with heavyweights Deutsche Bank and UBS hit hard.

The prospect that interest rates may be close to peaking, as financial markets are signalling, would also curb banks' profit margins on lending.

"It seems that today’s sell-off is largely triggered by fear than by fundamentals," said Joost Beaumont, head of bank research at ABN AMRO.


European banks' Additional Tier 1 (AT1) debt came under fresh selling pressure, with Deutsche AT1 prices down 7 cents, according to Tradeweb data.

UBS and Barclays AT1s fell roughly 2.5 and 2.7 cents in price, respectively, Tradeweb data showed.

The selloff in AT1s highlighted concerns about rising funding costs for European banks and helped explain why the sector was facing renewed pressure on Friday, analysts said.

With AT1 bond yields sitting at 12%, far exceeding the return on equity, the AT1 market was no longer a "viable funding source" for banks, said Saxo's head of equity strategy Peter Garnry.

The implication is that banks would potentially have to issue new shares to raise cash.

"The banking crisis is far from over and the impact on credit conditions and the economy will likely be felt over the next six months," said Garnry.

Federal Reserve chief Jerome Powell on Wednesday said banking industry stress could trigger a credit crunch with "significant" implications for the economy.

Markets are also pricing in U.S. rate cuts and a chance of easing in the euro area by year-end -- moves that would also eat into banking margins.

AT1s meanwhile have been hurt since the Swiss regulator ordered 16 billion Swiss francs ($17.5 billion) of Credit Suisse's AT1 debt to be wiped out as part of its rescue takeover by UBS last weekend.

Shareholders, who usually rank below debt investors when a company becomes insolvent, will receive $3.23 billion.

Authorities in Europe and Asia said this week they would continue to impose losses on shareholders before bondholders - unlike the treatment of bondholders at Credit Suisse - but unease has lingered.

Reporting by Chiara Elisei and Amanda Cooper; Additional reporting and writing by Dhara Ranasinghe; Editing by Susan Fenton and Louise Heavens

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Chiara reports on the European credit markets, spanning different countries, sectors and asset classes from investment grade bonds all the way to distressed debt. She previously worked at Debtwire as Managing Editor, heading up a team of reporters and analysts specialized on sub-investment grade debt. Chiara holds a PhD in Classics from Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, Italy. Contact:+447944118552