ECB Move to Ask for 100% Coverage of NPLs to Hurt Greek Banks

A move by the European Central Bank to ask eurozone banks to set aside enough cash to cover 100% of their non-performing loans (NPLs) over the next several years, is especially expected to hurt Greek banks.

Eurozone banks are sitting on nearly 1 trillion euros worth of bad debt, clogging up their balance sheets and holding back lending – a headache for the ECB as weak credit growth offsets the stimulus it is trying to provide through low interest rates.

The central bank has struggled for years to force lenders to rid their books of non-performing exposures, or NPEs, mostly built up during the course of Europe’s debt crisis, and the new rules are part of a broader push.

From Jan. 1, the ECB will give banks two years to set aside money to cover 100 percent of the value of their non-performing unsecured debt and seven years to cover all of their secured debt, the guidelines show.

Across the eurozone, banks had on average set aside enough money to cover 45 percent of all non-performing exposures in the first quarter.

The new rules may hurt Greece, Italy and Cyprus the most, as their banks hold the biggest portion of non-performing debt.

In the draft, the ECB said that while the guidelines are non-binding, banks are expected to explain any deviations and should report their compliance to supervisors.