In preparation for assuming supervisory responsibility under the SSM, the ECB conducted a comprehensive assessment of the resilience and positions of the 130 largest banks in the Eurozone. The comprehensive assessment consisted of:
- an asset quality review (AQR) which examined whether assets were properly valued on banks’ balance sheets as on 31 December 2013; and
- a stress test which involved a forward looking examination of the resilience of banks’ solvency to two hypothetical scenarios. A novel element of the stress test was that information acquired from the AQR was incorporated in banks’ balance sheet starting points and in related stress test projections.
On 26 October 2014, the ECB published the results of the comprehensive assessment which found a capital shortfall of €25 billion at 25 banks. Twelve of the 25 banks have already covered their capital shortfall by increasing their capital whilst the remainder have nine months in which to cover the shortfall. The AQR uncovered a number of important issues including that banks’ assets need to be adjusted by €48 billion, which will be reflected in their accounts or prudential requirements. In addition, using a standard definition for non-performing exposures (any obligations that are 90 days overdue, or that are impaired or in default), the ECB found that banks’ non-performing exposures increased by €136 billion to a total of €879 billion.
The comprehensive review also found that a severe scenario would deplete the banks’ top quality, loss-absorbing common equity tier 1 (CET1) capital by about €263 billion. This would result in the banks’ median CET1 ratio decreasing by 4 percentage points from 12.4% to 8.3%. This reduction is higher than in previous similar exercises and is a measure of the rigorous nature of the exercise.
On 18 November 2014, the ECB published a speech by Sabine Lautenschläger (Member of the Executive Board of the ECB) entitled Start of the Single Supervisory Mechanism: from the comprehensive assessment to day-to-day supervision.
At the beginning of her speech Ms Lautenschläger stated that the comprehensive assessment was an “important milestone” that had provided the ECB with an immense amount of information on the banks that will be subject to direct ECB supervision. Having concluded this major project the ECB is now focusing on its daily supervisory role under the SSM, building on its findings and incorporating them into the broader range of its supervisory activities.
In relation to the ECB’s next steps Ms Lautenschläger mentioned that the immediate task is to incorporate the full spectrum of the review’s findings into its regular supervisory activities. In particular, as an example of its prudential follow up work the ECB expects banks to incorporate the additional non-performing exposures identified in the AQR in their supervisory reporting of financial data. Banks and their auditors should also carefully assess how this should be reflected in the level of provisioning.
Turning to the qualitative findings of the review, Ms Lautenschläger noted that the AQR has in a number of cases revealed structural weaknesses in banks’ data systems, particularly where banks had recently merged with or acquired other banks. Ms Lautenschläger stated that there is an urgent need to improve those systems and that banks will be required to do so.
Another issue that Ms Lautenschläger raised was that there were strong divergences in the degree to which individual banks currently benefit from transitional adjustments in their CET1 calculation. She added that the drivers of such divergences will be carefully examined as will banks’ overall capital situation.