We further said, that "Europe's non-performing loan problem is such an issue that there is increasing bluster that the ECB may take this garbage on to its balance sheet since policymakers realize that bad debts and non-performing loans (NPLs) reduce the capacity of banks to lend, hindering the monetary policy transmission mechanism. Bad debts consume capital and make banks more risk averse, especially with respect to lending to higher risk borrowers such as SMEs. With Italy (NPLs 13.4%) now following the same dismal trajectory of Spain's bad debts, the situation is rapidly escalating (at an average of around 2.5% increase per year).
The conclusion was likewise simple:
"The bottom line is that at its core, it is all simply a bad-debt problem, and the more the bad debt, the greater the ultimate liability impairments become, including deposits. As we answered at the time - the real question in Europe is: how much impairment capacity is there in the various European nations before deposits have to be haircut? With Periphery non-performing loans totaling EUR 720bn across the whole of the Euro area in 2012 and EUR 500bn of which were with Peripheral banks."
Now, three years later, the bomb appears to be on the verge of going off (or may have already quietly exploded), and nowhere is it more clear than in an exhaustive article written by the WSJ in which it focuses on Italy's insolvent banking system, and blames - what else - the hundreds of billions in NPLs on bank books as the culprit behind Europe's latest upcoming crisis.
Britain’s vote to leave the EU has produced dire predictions for the U.K. economy. The damage to the rest of Europe could be more immediate and potentially more serious. Nowhere is the risk concentrated more heavily than in the Italian banking sector. In Italy, 17% of banks’ loans are sour. That is nearly 10 times the level in the U.S., where, even at the worst of the 2008-09 financial crisis, it was only 5%. Among publicly traded banks in the eurozone, Italian lenders account for nearly half of total bad loans.
Years of lax lending standards left Italian banks ill-prepared when an economic slump sent bankruptcies soaring a few years ago. At one major bank, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA, bad loans were so thick it assigned a team of 700 to deal with them and created a new unit to house them. Several weeks ago, the bank put the bad-credit unit up for sale, hoping a foreign partner would speed the liquidation process.
The headquarters of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena
The U.K. vote to exit the European Union has compounded the strains on Europe’s banks in general and Italy’s in particular. It imperils the Monte dei Paschi sale, some bankers say, and creates fresh uncertainty at a time when lenders are struggling with ultralow and even negative interest rates and sluggish economic growth.
Brexit has many executives concerned that central banks will keep interest rates lower for longer than they might otherwise, in an attempt to counteract the slower growth—in the eurozone as well as Britain. European banks’ stocks slid after the vote, with those in Italy especially hurt. Shares in Monte dei Paschi are down roughly a third since the June 23 referendum. All this threatens to spark a crisis of confidence in Italian banks, analysts say. Although Italy has only one bank classified as globally significant under international banking regulations—UniCredit—some analysts say bank stresses worsened by Brexit could threaten Italy’s stability and, potentially, even that of the EU.