Banks find path to profitability blocked

BY Richard Summerfield

Banks across the continent have struggled to achieve profitability since the onset of the financial crisis nearly a decade ago. As the crisis disappears in the rear view mirror, many analysts had hoped that financial institutions would have returned to profitability by now, but as a result of numerous head winds many are still struggling - a situation that appears likely to continue for some time, according to new report from  KPMG.

The firm’s data suggests that banks across the continent will continue to struggle to achieve profitability in the coming years due to higher capital requirements, perpetually low interest rates and the weakness of the local economy.

Marcus Evans, a partner in KPMG’s European Central Bank office, said that European banks were still grappling with low or negative interest rates and mounting capital and regulatory costs. “The successful banks will restructure their balance sheets to minimise the impact of new regulations and reduce their cost‑to‑income ratios through smart use of technology,” he said. “Reversing the profitability of European banks is not a lost cause but it will certainly be a lot of hard work.”

KPMG’s report, 'The Profitability of EU Banks: Hard Work or a Lost Cause?', suggests that Europe’s banks are set to continue to see profitability slip out of reach with the average return on equity across all banks in the EU remaining static at around 3 percent. The cost of capital, however, is considered to be around 10 to 12 percent, according to KPMG.

Regulatory pressure, which has been a notable feature of the global financial market over the last decade, may also be ramped up in the near future. The Basel IV regulations, a more rigorous set of rules, could add almost 0.5 percent to the overall cost of European banks' funding. As Basel IV looms ever closer, the pressure on Europe’s banking sector is only set to increase.

The issue of non-performing loans (NPLs)  is also a major millstone around the neck of European banks. With a total of $1.3 trillion, these NPLs are beginning to weigh heavily and will likely have a detrimental effect on lending ability for the foreseeable future.

Report: The Profitability of EU Banks: Hard Work or a Lost Cause?

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