December 22, 2016

Italy Announces Sketchy Plan to Bail Out Monte dei Paschi

To no one’s surprise, the private sector effort to rescue Italy’s third largest bank, Monte dei Paschi, officially failed yesterday. Recognizing an end game was nigh, the Italian government announced that it would raise its debt levels by up to €20 billion to shore up failing banks.1

It does not take much in the way of mathematical skills to see that €20 billion will not go very far in plugging a hole of €360 billion in bad loans, particularly given that the total equity of Italian banks is only €225 billion. In fairness, not all of the loans are total losers; many would be viable if restructured. However, €200 billion are non-performing. So it’s probably generous (to the Italian government) to assume that write downs would be at least half the total amount, or €180 billion.

So why were some sites, like Business Insider, saying that an Italian rescue might cost “as much as” €52 billion? That’s a lot lower than the hole in the banks’ balance sheets. That is because the bail in rules require 80% of the losses come out of the hides of equity holders and subordinated creditors; the state provides the rest. However, the bail-in rules also stipulate that a bank not be failing.2 Keep in mind that Monte dei Paschi (and no doubt some other Italian banks) are so far gone that they should be resolved, as in nationalized, as the 5 Star Movement is demanding. But the Italian government can’t begin to pretend it can borrow enough under Eurozone rules to provide that level of funding, and the Germans have been incredibly hard-nosed about cutting Italy any slack with respect to its banking mess.

As the very thin press details of the Monte dei Paschi bailout make clear, it’s going to be done at least to some degree in conformity with the new bank bailout rules, which are actually “bail-in” rules. Equity holders, and then creditors are to be wiped out.

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