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European banks stung by Greece

posted 23 Feb 2012, 09:43 by Mpelembe   [ updated 23 Feb 2012, 09:43 ]

Greece's debt problems led to a range of losses in the European banking sector, including Britain's RBS, France's Credit Agricole and Germany's Commerzbank. Banking bosses warned the euro zone crisis will continue to threaten earnings.

EUROPE-BANKS - Greece has been at the centre of concerns about the euro zone for some time, now its debt problems are being blamed for a range of heavy losses in the European banking sector.

Some of the region's biggest lenders, from Germany to France and from Britain to Belgium, have lost billions of euros through writedowns on Greek loans and a deal agreed this week with Greece's creditors will inflict losses of 74% on bondholders.

Credit Agricole reported a record quarterly net loss of over 3 billion euros, worse than expected.

The UK's state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland made a loss of £1.8 billion in the fourth quarter, it's fourth straight annual loss.

It was stung by Greece and Ireland and some costly restructuring.

But it still found room to pay bonuses, although less than in 2011.

The payouts have been criticised by many in Britain, and a small group of protesters demonstrated outside an RBS branch in London.

The bank's CEO Stephen Hester, turned down his own bonus in the face of public opposition, but says staff have to be paid a competitive rate.

Stephen Hester, Royal Bank of Scotland CEO, saying (English):

"We reduced bonuses in the investment bank by 58%, by more than anyone else, one pound of profit in our investment bank is generated by less bonuses than anywhere else and I think that's value for money."

Commerzbank in Germany was also hit by sovereign debt writedowns in the fourth quarter and needs to find 5.3 billion euros to meet the stringent new capital requirements set by Europe's banking regulator.

That's another problem European banks are facing says James Buckley from Barings Asset Management.

James Buckley, Head of Large-Cap European Equities, Barings Asset Management, saying (English):

"We have the French elections coming up in May which will attract attention towards the French banks and the capital positions, there's still uncertainty over the capital positions of a number of European banks, in an economy which, a euro zone economy which is facing contraction going forward."

Bank bosses themselves warn the outlook for 2012 is tense, and private bondholders could suffer more if Greece's economy fails to recover.

European governments hope they can avoid bailing out any more lenders, or limit the fallout of any future collapse.

One lender which is still in trouble is the Franco-Belgian bank Dexia.

It's already been rescued once but warned on Thursday Greek debt and toxic assets could still force it out of business.

Joanna Partridge, Reuters