Working paper

Are banks affected by their holdings of government debt?

This Working Paper sheds light on the link between sovereign and banking risk in the euro zone. It provides an empirical analysis of the impact o

Publishing date
26 March 2012

The strong relation between sovereign and banking stress is frequently emphasised, especially since the start of the European sovereign debt crisis. This working paper sheds light on the determinants of the link. It studies the stock market performance and the holdings of government debt of the banks stress tested by the European Banking Authority in July and December 2011. A number of results stand out:

  • Banks’ holdings of the sovereign bonds of vulnerable countries generally decreased during the period December 2010 to September 2011.
  • The average stock market performance of each country’s banks was very uneven during 2011. The long-term refinancing operation (LTRO) had no material effect on banks’ stock market values.
  • Greek debt holdings had an effect on banks’ market values in the period July to October 2011 while after October this effect disappeared. Holdings of Italian and Irish debt had a material effect on banks’ market value in the period October to December 2011. Holdings of debt of other periphery countries, in particular Spain, were not an issue. The July PSI deal did not substantially affect the risk resulting from holdings of debt other than Greek debt.
  • The location of banks matters for their market value. This highlights the need to form a banking union in the euroarea.

About the authors

  • Guntram B. Wolff

    Guntram Wolff was the Director of Bruegel. Over his career, he has contributed to research on European political economy and governance, fiscal, monetary and financial policy, climate change and geoeconomics. Under his leadership, Bruegel has been regularly ranked among the top global think tanks and has grown in influence and impact with a team of now almost 40 recognized scholars and around 65 total staff. Bruegel is also recognized for its outstanding transparency.

    A recognized thought leader and academic, he regularly testifies at the European Finance Ministers' ECOFIN meeting, the European Parliament, the German Parliament (Bundestag) and the French Parliament (Assemblée Nationale). From 2012-16, he was a member of the French prime minister's Conseil d'Analyse Economique. In 2018, then IMF managing director Christine Lagarde appointed him to the external advisory group on surveillance to review the Fund’s priorities. In 2021, he was appointed to the G20 high level independent panel on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. He is also a professor (part-time) at the Solvay Brussels School of Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he teaches economics of European integration.

    He joined Bruegel from the European Commission, where he worked on the macroeconomics of the euro area and the reform of euro area governance. Prior to joining the Commission, he was coordinating the research team on fiscal policy at Deutsche Bundesbank. He also worked as an external adviser to the International Monetary Fund.

    He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Bonn and studied in Bonn, Toulouse, Pittsburgh and Passau. He taught economics at the University of Pittsburgh and at Université libre de Bruxelles. He has published numerous papers in leading academic journals. His columns and policy work are published and cited in leading international media and policy outlets. Guntram is fluent in German, English, French and has good notions of Bulgarian and Spanish.

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