Some banking systems may need help in worst-case scenario -IMF

by Reuters
Tuesday, 31 March 2020 23:14 GMT

(Updates with quotes from interview)

By Pete Schroeder and Megan Davies

WASHINGTON, March 31 (Reuters) - Some countries' banking systems might have to be recapitalized or even restructured, if their economies are severely handicapped by prolonged disruption from the coronavirus outbreak, officials at the International Monetary Fund said on Tuesday.

Leading regulators and bank chief executives, particularly in the United States, have said lenders are robust enough to withstand the unfolding economic crisis.

Tobias Adrian, the director of the IMF's monetary and capital markets department, told Reuters in an interview that in a 'baseline' scenario that would be a repeat of a 2009-type growth path, banks could withstand the adverse impact. Adrian cautioned, however, that conditions could deteriorate.

"(In a) beyond-severely adverse scenario, then it could be that some banks are undercapitalized and at that point policy makers might have to take further actions such as recapitalizing or restructuring banking systems," Adrian said.

Helping countries in times of distress was "bread-and-butter" work for an institution like the IMF, he added.

Adrian, in a blog post with Aditya Narain, deputy director in the IMF's Monetary and Capital Markets Department, outlined a number of measures regulators should take to mitigate the effects of the economic crisis on banking systems, including suspending new rulemaking, encouraging loan modifications and urging banks to use their liquidity reserves - measures many regulators are already taking.

"What banks are expected to do now is loan modifications ... look through the loans on their books and say: 'OK, a large fraction of my borrowers are not going to be able to pay interest for some time ... but in a year they will,'" said Adrian.

"So (the banks) modify the loan ... and forgo the interest payments and that's a hit to their baseline and that's why the banks stopped paying dividends and repurchases, so they are better prepared to take those hits."

In a bid to bolster banks' capital reserves, the European Central Bank last week ordered lenders to halt all dividend payments until October 2020 at the earliest, while big banks in the United States are also under pressure to halt dividends after suspending share buybacks this month.

Former crisis-era banking regulators have also called for banks to curb bonus payouts and to reduce leverage by winding down derivatives trades and securities lending portfolios that do not support the real economy.

Adrian and Narain also warned that as with the last financial crisis, global coordination was "imperative."

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Additional reporting by Megan Davies; Editing by Paul Simao, Steve Orlofsky and Peter Cooney)

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