Carney warns of tougher bank stress tests ahead

The Bank of England warned Britain’s banks they should expect a more exacting test next year of their defences in the event of a crisis abroad, after state-backed lenders narrowly passed a debut check focussed on potential domestic strains.

The Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Lloyds and rival Royal Bank of Scotland scraped through this year’s test, proving they could withstand the regulator’s doomsday scenario of plummeting UK house prices and soaring unemployment, after both took pre-emptive measures to shrink their balance sheets and raise capital.

Next year’s stress test, however, is likely to focus more on risks from overseas markets. That will mean a harder time for banks such as HSBC and Standard Chartered, which do much of their business in Asia.

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Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, said: “We can expect that we will look to some of those global risks much more closely, they will feature much more prominently.”.

The Bank of England will also examine banks’ ability to cope with a sudden liquidity crunch, and will scrutinise leverage ratios, which reflects their level of indebtedness.

“There will be no let-up even for those who passed with flying colours,” said Neil Williamson, co-head of EMEA credit research at Aberdeen Asset Management.

Mr Carney declined to say whether the Bank of England would give state-backed Lloyds approval to resume dividends next year after its narrow pass rate in this year’s test.

“Any decision about future dividends at Lloyds is first a decision for the board of that institution, but it has to be consistent with their continuing need to build capital. There is no proposal to adjust the dividend at present,” he said.

Investors said both Lloyds and RBS had performed credibly in a test that stimulated a 35 per cent collapse in house prices.

“While the passes weren’t great, they were passes,” said David Moss, head of European equities at F&C Investments. “The test was deliberately harsh and what’s key is they passed and we can move forward.”

The Co-operative Bank, which nearly collapsed last year before being bailed out by bondholders, was the only bank to fail the test, with a core capital ratio of minus 2.6 per cent.

Co-op Bank said it would sell more loans to reduce its risk-weighted assets by another £5.5bn by the end of 2018. It said it was unlikely to make a profit in the next three years while it works on its recovery plan.

The UK introduced annual stress tests for its banks in the wake of the 2007-09 financial crisis which required taxpayers to pump £66bn into RBS and Lloyds.

While the Bank of England said the results showed that the core of the banking system was now significantly more resilient, it criticised the banks for failing to give central bank staff full answers during the tests.

“In a number of instances, the nature of the interactions fell below the standards set out,” the Bank of England said, without identifying which banks it was talking about.

This year’s stress tests required banks to have a core capital ratio of 4.5 per cent.