Financial Crisis

A Dreary Sense of Déjà-Vu

A murky picture of Europe's banks is scaring investors.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Substantial losses at some European banks have led to the entire sector being punished on the stock markets, with many investors avoiding all financial stocks.

  • Facts


    • Swiss bank Credit Suisse is the latest to announce bad news, reporting a net loss of 3 billion Swiss francs (about $3 billion) for 2015.
    • The MSCI Europe Banks index has lost 21 percent since the beginning of the year.
    • The problems in Europe’s banking sector have been blamed on weak economic growth, tighter regulation and mistakes made in the past.
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However disastrous the figures might have been be, Tidjane Thiam kept his cool.

The chief executive of Credit Suisse reported Thursday that the Swiss bank recorded a net loss of 3 billion Swiss francs (around €2.7 billion; $3 billion) for 2015, following write-downs of billions on the investment bank and unexpectedly high litigation costs last year.

“We are not pleased with the losses, but they’re manageable,” Mr. Thiam said, attempting to boost morale. “Our performance won’t be measured by daily share prices, but by what we will have achieved in three years.”

However, investors are clearly not so patient. Shares plummeted to their worst levels since 1992, down more than 12 percent by Thursday afternoon.

Both Mr. Thiam’s comments, and the ensuing share price collapse were a familiar refrain: It may be some consolation to Mr. Thiam that things aren’t going much better for his competitors. Credit Suisse’s dismal figures are just the latest bad news to be announced by European banks in recent days.

Deutsche Bank, the German market leader, posted a record loss of €6.8 billion. Chief Executive John Cryan’s warnings that things will remain tough for the coming years sent the bank’s share price to a record low. High costs for the bank’s deep restructuring, and billions in legal fines are likely to weigh on profits until at least 2018.

Restructuring measures have also swallowed up billions at British bank Barclays. In Italy, billions in bad loans on banks’ books have fueled distrust across the entire financial sector since the start of the year, from large players like Unicredit to smaller crisis-riddled banks like Monte del Paschi.

Falling profits, high restructuring costs, costly penalties for past mistakes: The same reasons are causing malaise at many major European banks. The entire sector is being punished on the stock markets as a result. The MSCI Europe Banks index has slid 21 percent since the beginning of the year, with many investors giving all financial stocks a wide berth.

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