Slovenia's little-known banking system is in the eye of the storm, following Moodys downgrade of three of the country's banks yesterday. The countrys three largest banks: Nova Ljubljanska banka (NLB), Nova Kreditna banka (NKBM) and Abanka were all downgraded on Wednesday, with the ratings agency citing deterioration in the business climate and lack of government firepower to shore up banking solvency.
Slovenian banks have been struck by increasing non-performing loan ratios, with the sector-wide average at year-end 2011 standing at 15.5%. Fitch warns that an increase to 25% is plausible. Slovenias economy has been hit particularly hard by the European crisis figures from Moodys show an 8% real GDP decline during 2009. The small gains made during 2010 are projected to be eliminated over the course of this year.
Slovenias banks have been dogged by concerns about capitalization, with NLB receiving a 381 million capital injection from the sovereign last month. This, however, might prove too little to stem concerns about capitalization.
NLB needed at least 1 billion in extra capital before the injection, so this just isnt enough, says Saso Stanovnik, head of research at Ljubljana-based investment bank Alta Invest.
The state-owned bank is unlikely to receive much support from 22% stakeholder KBC Bank: the Belgian bank has already pulled out of a capital increase once and has been forced to seek aid from the Belgian sovereign.
Foreign investors seem unlikely to seek stakes in the banks. European banks have their own problems to deal with at the moment, even without adding the new ones that entry to a sector with soaring NPLs would bring. The government has thus far seen little interest in its plans to reduce its stake in NLB.
There has been talk of a merger between Abanka and the smaller, healthier looking Gorenjska banka this would represent a substantial growth in size for the latter and would shore up capital concerns at the former. Gorenjska has had a strong performance over the past few years, but there are widespread doubts about the banks sustainability
Bank of Slovenia
Abanka looked strong a few years ago, but then started to post heavy losses. Gorenjska banka may not be as good in reality as it looks on paper, says Stanovnik
As the Moodys downgrade indicates, none of the three biggest banks is free from concerns about their capital levels and prospects for further capital injections from the state are unclear. Slovenia has been touted as the next potential recipient of an EU bailout and nine-year bond yields have headed north of 6.5%, putting the sovereigns capacity to buoy up the banking sector into question.
With government debt under 50% of GDP, Slovenia doesnt tick the typical box of a struggling eurozone sovereign. Rather the problem rests in the countrys yawning budget deficit, which stood at 6.4% last year. The deficit is doing little to encourage nervous foreign investors.
Look at it from the perspective of an international investor, says Stanovnik. While the ratios are OK now, do they want to get involved with something that could be a second Greece in a few years time?
Not only do things look bad now in Slovenia, it seems the worst is yet to come.