Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank will soon be telling us bigger is best

by Shaun Richards

The weekend just gone has seen a surge in speculation about a matter we have been expecting for some time. It is this issue of solving the problem of a bank that is too big to fail by making it even bigger! Why might this be? Well let us go back a little more than two years to February 2nd 2017.

The bank’s net loss narrowed to 1.89 billion euros in the three months through December, from a loss of 2.12 billion euros a year earlier. Analysts had expected a shortfall of 1.32 billion euros.

As I pointed out it was not supposed to be like that as the background for banking was good.

As I look at this there is the simple issue of yet another loss. After all the German economy is doing rather well with economic growth of 1.9% in 2016 and the unemployment rate falling to 5.9% with employment rising. So why can’t Deutsche Bank make any money?

It has continually blamed “legacy issues” but we find if we advance two years and a bit in time that it is still in something of a morass. Actually in terms of those willing to back its future with their money things look much worse as the share price in February 2017 was 16.6 Euros according to my monthly chart as opposed to the 7.85 Euros as I type this. So one option which is a(nother) rights issue faces the problem that to do any good existing shareholders would be diluted substantially.

What is happening?

From Reuters.

Berlin is so worried about the health of Deutsche Bank that it pushed for a merger with rival Commerzbank even though it could open up a huge financial shortfall, a German official told Reuters.

As we wonder how huge is “huge”? Let us remind ourselves that the German public finances are in strong shape. Germany is running a fiscal surplus and has been reducing its national debt in both absolute and relative terms. Indeed as the last relative number of 61% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was for the third quarter of last year Germany may now qualify under the Maastricht Treaty rules. So it could borrow more to cover even a “huge” amount and as we stand can do so very cheaply with the ten-year bund yield a mere 0.07%.

I cannot say I have much faith in the explanation for the losses though as the QE bond buying of Mario Draghi and the ECB has created large profits for most European sovereign bondholders.

The German official said that any tie-up would likely result in a multi-billion-euro hole because a switch in bank ownership legally triggers a revaluation of assets such as government bonds.

They would be revalued at a market price which is typically lower than the one registered on the accounts. A second source, who is familiar with the talks, said they also expected a shortfall after the potential merger.

I think we will find it is other assets which will be causing the trouble and the explanation is something of a smokescreen. It also looks like there has been some “mark to fantasy” going on in the accounts which seems most likely to have taken place in illiquid bonds and derivatives.

As we continue our look don’t they mean 2008 (and maybe 2011/12) as well as 2016?

“In 2016 … Deutsche went to the brink,” said the first official. “They haven’t really got out of that hole…It’s legitimate to ask:… how dangerous is that with systematic relevance?”

This contrasts with the official rhetoric.

Deutsche Bank has said it is stable. Last month, as it announced a return to profit in 2018, its chief executive Christian Sewing said it was “on the right track” for growth and lower costs.

It would appear that Herr Sewing is unaware of the meaning of the phrase “the right track” provided by the Greek crisis where it led to people singing along to AC/DC.

I’m on the highway to hell
On the highway to hell
Highway to hell
I’m on the highway to hell.

Also as a reminder the IMF ( International Monetary Fund ) reported this back in the summer of 2016.

Among the G-SIBs, Deutsche Bank appears to be the most important net contributor to systemic risks, followed by HSBC (HSBA.L) and Credit Suisse (CSGN.S)………..The relative importance of Deutsche Bank underscores the importance of risk management, intense supervision of G-SIBs and the close monitoring of their cross-border exposures.

The story of the last decade is that the problems of Deutsche Bank have never really gone away and in fact have got worse when the economy got better. Should the present period of economic weakness continue then the heat will be not only be turned up a notch or two. As to the legality of all this then surely it should be blocked on competition grounds but when “the precious” is involved matters like that seem to disappear in a puff of smoke.

Meanwhile as Johannes Borgen pointed out at the end of last week maybe the ground has been tilled a little.

I have just realised that Germany passed a law to make redundancies easier for high earners. Those fat cat bankers at Deutsche must feel slightly nervous. How bad must the government want this deal, to make a law only to facilitate it…

The economy

This morning has brought more information on the ongoing economic slow down. From Germany Statistics.

 In January 2019, production in industry was down by 0.8% from the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis and -3.3% on the same month a year earlier.

December was revised higher but in return January saw another fall meaning that the word temporary is being stretched again. As to the cause well here is a brake on things.

Automobile production fell by 9.2 percent on the month in January, separate data from the Economy Ministry showed. ( Reuters)

Also whilst the world economy will welcome a reduction in one of its imbalances the German one will be slowing because of this.

The foreign trade balance showed a surplus of 14.5 billion euros in January 2019. In January 2018, the surplus amounted to 17.2 billion euros.

According to BreakingTheNews this is hitting official forecasts.

Germany’s government lowered its gross domestic product (GDP) projections for the country in 2019 to 0.8%, Handelsblatt reported on Monday, quoting a confidential note sent by the Ministry of Finance.

Comment

This year has seen more than a few zombie banks return to the news like a financial version of hammer house of horror. We have seen Novo Banco ( Portugal) leaching from the state and a row of Italian banks as well as NordLB of Germany. But Deutsche Bank has returned and the situation is in many ways dominated by this from Reuters BreakingViews.

Lastly, how will a combined bank achieve a 10 percent return on its capital? Deutsche made a piddling 0.5 percent return in 2018 and Commerzbank a paltry 3.4 percent.

Putting it simply Deutsche Bank has not only lost its mojo it lacks any real form of business model. Commerzbank has made a little progress but only by escaping the supermassive black hole of investment banking as we note that a merger would bring it back within that area’s event horizon.

Or to put it another way it is hard to keep a straight face when this is presented as a way of helping with the issue of too big to fail

Deutsche Bank’s chairman Paul Achleitner is also an advocate for a merger that would create the eurozone’s second-largest bank with close to €1.9tn in assets. ( Financial Times)

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