July 29, 2016

Banks, to get out of their dead-end street, must make a convincing case they can prosper holding much more capital.

Sir, James Shotter, Laura Noonan and Martin Arnold write: “At yesterday’s close, investors were implying that the biggest bank in Europe’s most stable economy [Deutsche Bank] is worth €17.7bn, just a quarter of the book value of its assets.” And then we read of efforts to better that by reducing operations and cutting down on risk weighted assets. In other words being placed in an Incredible Shrinking Machine. “Big Read: Deutsche Bank: Problems of scale” July 29.

Because of the risk weighted capital requirements, banks were set on a road of increasing returns on equity by diminishing the capital they needed. And, on that road they lost many opportunities, like lending to “risky” SMEs and entrepreneurs. And they also ended up in dangerously over-populated safe-havens that, when compared to the “risky”, suddenly offer lower real-risk adjusted returns. They now are in a dead-end street.

So, if it was me, I would try to make the strongest case possible to my shareholders that there are good and safe returns on equity to be obtained by ignoring Basel regulations. “Give us 12 percent in equity, against all assets, so as to allow us pursue the undistorted highest risk-adjusted returns out there.”

Sir, I have of course no idea if that is a viable strategy for any individual bank, such as Deutsche Bank. Most banks are caught between a rock and a hard place. They need to ask for much capital, but that much capital might be so much, that they could scare away everyone. Anyhow, I would not like to work in a bank that is going to stretch out the suffering by asking for more capital, again and again, little by little. To get it all and get over it would benefit everyone, including current shareholders.

Is that impossible? Not really, here “one of the bank’s top 20 investors” is quoted with “The problem for Deutsche is that it has got to the stage where if it continues to cut assets, it is going to lose a significant amount of revenues”.

And on a different issue, the litigations and fines banks face, I repeat what I said over the years. 

When we all know that for the banks’ good and for our economies’ good banks need more capital, to extract fines paid in cash is irresponsible and masochistic. All those fines should be paid in shares.

@PerKurowski ©