Blog Post

Europe needs to drop its resistance to non-bank credit

The financial systems in the United States and Europe have long differed on an important aspect. In Europe, most of the credit flows through the banks. In the US the bank channel is less dominant, and borrowers gain access to capital directly by issuing bonds or through “non-bank” intermediaries that do not take deposits and […]

By: Date: April 15, 2012 Topic: Banking and capital markets

The financial systems in the United States and Europe have long differed on an important aspect. In Europe, most of the credit flows through the banks. In the US the bank channel is less dominant, and borrowers gain access to capital directly by issuing bonds or through “non-bank” intermediaries that do not take deposits and are not regulated as banks. An oft-quoted measure is that in Europe banks represent more than two-thirds of total credit, whereas in the US the proportion is less than one-third.  In the past few years of crisis, this difference has mattered decisively.  

To begin with, the securitization of residential mortgages in the US went wild in the mid-2000s and was the initial trigger of market turmoil in the summer of 2007. Many continental Europeans have concluded that their bank-based system was less risky or more virtuous. But the subprime securitization debacle, severe as it was, has been one part of a more complex story. Many European banks have made risk-management mistakes just as massive as the reviled originators of US securitization deals. Spanish or Irish banks anticipating a never-ending property boom, or failures such as Dexia in France and Belgium, Hypo Real Estate or WestLB in Germany, or RBS in the UK, are sad reminders that Europeans have no grounds to feel complacent about their own system.

Another less visible point is at least as important. Systemic banking crises are almost inevitably followed by a scaling-back of many credit activities by most banks, a process known as bank deleveraging. In the US, this process has not been traumatic largely thanks to the flexibility and versatility of the system: while banks reduced their exposure, other channels of credit stayed active or expanded, and the credit squeeze was mitigated. By contrast, in many European countries, when banks started applying more restrictive lending standards, there were few substitutes to help even to creditworthy borrowers. Thus, in much of Europe credit provision is impaired, and the situation is likely to worsen further in the near future.

To some extent, governments can intervene to provide incentives via targeted guarantee schemes or to extend credit with direct lending. The UK is creating a Business Finance Partnership to lend to medium-sized enterprises, and both leading French presidential candidates want to create new public banks. But this kind of intervention also entails big drawbacks. Not only are many sovereign balance sheets strained; past experiences of government-directed lending have generally been sobering, as the process tends to be prone to capture by politically-connected special interests, resulting in large misallocations of capital. Therefore, encouraging non-bank credit provided through the private sector should be a major public policy objective.

Unfortunately, in much of Europe and at the EU level, policymakers seem unaware of this need. Instead, the European Commission has frequently appeared to take a punitive approach to non-bank credit channels, particularly in its regulation of investment funds and its latest project to regulate credit rating agencies, which play an enabling role in corporate bond issuance. The Commission also wants to tighten the regulatory screws on “shadow banking,” which the Financial Stability Board has defined as “the system of credit intermediation that involves entities and activities outside the regular banking system.” Some aspects of shadow banking, including securitization but also other types of entities or transactions, can contribute to systemic risk. But that risk does not justify repressing shadow banking in general. Some segments need to be regulated through rules of business conduct rather than of capital or liquidity. Other segments simply need better transparency and monitoring.  In some cases, existing regulations should be dismantled: it makes no  sense, for example, for several EU countries to prohibit leasing services offered by non-banks.

Making the transition from a bank-dominated system to a more diverse one in which non-bank credit plays a bigger role is difficult. Issuing bonds or other fixed-income securities requires high standards of financial disclosure, which is resisted by the culture of many medium-sized companies or banks in a number of European countries. Legal and regulatory differences across borders inside the EU also do not help because they contribute to fragmentation of some financial market segments.

But such legacies must be overcome if the goal is to minimize the risk of credit crunches in large parts of Europe, particularly the struggling southern Eurozone periphery. Incumbent banks are skillful at opposing diversification of credit channels as unfair or dangerous, but their lobbying should be seen as merely self-serving. After all, the financial crisis has been primarily a banking problem, and private equity or hedge funds have been proven to pose less systemic risk than was feared before 2007. The majority of European policymakers who still see finance and financial regulation through the prism of traditional banks need to expand their horizon, so that non-bank credit channels stop being unduly repressed. This is not about financial doctrine, but about long-term growth and jobs.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

External Publication

Country case studies on resolving problem loans in Europe: Crises, policies and institutions

Contribution to 'Nonperforming Loans in Asia and Europe—Causes, Impacts, and Resolution Strategies' published by the Asia Development Bank.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: Banking and capital markets Date: December 3, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

Dec
9
14:00

How to deal with small banks: consolidation, tailoring and the fintech challenge

Small banks face multiple challenges. What structural changes are needed to tackle these pressures?

Speakers: Alexander Lehmann, Nicolas Véron, Xavier Vives, Anne Fröhling and Philip Evans Topic: Banking and capital markets
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

Fiscal policy and rules after the pandemic

What are the possibilities for shaping the new fiscal policy?

Speakers: Zsolt Darvas, Maria Demertzis, Michel Heijdra and Katja Lautar Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: November 24, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

The UK strategy for Green Finance

This members-only event discusses the UK's strategy for greening the financial system.

Speakers: Adam Lyons, Fayyaz Muneer and Nicolas Véron Topic: Banking and capital markets Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: November 22, 2021
Read article
 

Blog Post

European governance

Including home-ownership costs in the inflation indicator is not just a technical issue

The European Central Bank is right to propose inclusion of owner-occupied housing services in the inflation indicator. But the ECB’s preferred method would involve an asset price in the consumer inflation indicator.

By: Zsolt Darvas and Catarina Martins Topic: European governance, Macroeconomic policy Date: November 18, 2021
Read article More by this author
 

Blog Post

Fiscal arithmetic and risk of sovereign insolvency

The record-high debt levels in advanced economies increase the risk of sovereign insolvency. Governments should start fiscal consolidation soon in an environment of low nominal and real interest rates and post-COVID growth.

By: Marek Dabrowski Topic: Global economy and trade, Macroeconomic policy Date: November 18, 2021
Read article More by this author
 

Opinion

European governance

Growth and inflation after the pandemic in the EU

Countries hit comparatively hard during the financial crisis, helped also by domestic and European policies, are bouncing back from the pandemic faster than their peers.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European governance, Macroeconomic policy Date: November 18, 2021
Read article Download PDF More by this author
 

Parliamentary Testimony

European governanceFrench Senate

European Union countries’ National Recovery and Resilience Plans: A cross-country comparison

Testimony before the Economic Affairs Committee of the French Senate.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: European governance, French Senate, Macroeconomic policy Date: November 12, 2021
Read article Download PDF
 

Policy Contribution

European governance

Next Generation EU borrowing: a first assessment

The Next Generation EU programme is radically changing the way the EU finances itself and interacts with financial markets. This paper assesses the first design decisions made by the European Commission and the issuances that have taken place so far. It also outlines the potential risks and opportunities linked to this upgrading of the EU borrowing.

By: Rebecca Christie, Grégory Claeys and Pauline Weil Topic: Banking and capital markets, European governance, Macroeconomic policy Date: November 10, 2021
Read article Download PDF More by this author
 

Parliamentary Testimony

European governanceEuropean Parliament

The New Euro Area Inflation Indicator and Target: The Right Reset?

Testimony to the Monetary Dialogue Preparatory Meeting of the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON).

By: Zsolt Darvas Topic: European governance, European Parliament, Macroeconomic policy Date: November 9, 2021
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

Phasing out COVID-19 emergency support programmes: effects on productivity and financial stability

How can European countries phase out the COVID-19 support measures without having a negative impact on productivity and financial stability?

Speakers: Eric Bartelsman, Maria Demertzis, Peter Grasmann and Laurie Mayers Topic: Macroeconomic policy Date: November 9, 2021
Read article
 

External Publication

European governanceEuropean Parliament

The new euro area inflation indicator and target: the right reset?

In-depth analysis on the European Central Bank's revised inflation target prepared for the European Parliament's Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs (ECON).

By: Zsolt Darvas and Catarina Martins Topic: European governance, European Parliament, Macroeconomic policy Date: November 4, 2021
Load more posts