Bulgaria C-Bank Should Improve Transparency, Prof Hanke Says
The Bulgarian National Bank has to change the way it publishes information about the banking system in Bulgaria, renowned economist Prof Steve Hanke has said.
He has warned the BNB of putting out "very aggregate statistics", with information about bigger and smaller banks all "lumped together" a practice from which data suffers, preventing a thorough analysis of the system.
In his interview with the Bulgarian National Radio dated last week, he has also noted that, based on the limited information he has (only data for until the first quarter of 2015 has been published), the banking system has actually improved slightly.
The Texas Ratio (non-performing loans and advances of banks divided by adjustable tangible equity and loan loss reserves) of Bulgarian banks was 121% last year ("meaning the unperforming loans were greater than the equity and provisions in the banking system - i.e. "if the non-peforming loans last year were never paid off, it would wipe the banking system out"), compared to 97% for Q1, 2015.
The Texas Ratio has been designed to help find out if there is enough equity and enough provisions in the banking system to absorb their negative shock that would be imposed by not having the loans ever paid off.
"For system as a whole... the quantity of loans outstanding is lower than it was but the quality... appears to be better than it was," he explains.
Asked to comment on PM Borisov's words that the state has to support some banks that might go down, he said: "He might be right and I might be right... and the reason is the Bulgarian National Bank is putting the information of all these banks together."
He then elaborated: "It's like a basket of apples. They are reporting the average quality of apples in the basket and in the end that's what you get - if you look at the aggregate in the basket. With individual apples in the basket, maybe there are some rotten apples there."
"Maybe the Prime Minister knows what the individual apples look like and I don't... and I want to see what the individual apples look like."
In Hanke's words, instead of putting down information on non-performing loans on a quarterly basis, he recommends that "the balance sheet of all banks be certified and posted every month."
Although the Greek crisis has made bankers in Bulgaria "more careful than a year ago", and despite the better peformance of the Bulgarian economy compared to the EU average (even in light of the collapse of KTB, Bulgaria's fourth-largest lender), the risk posed by lack of transparency remains.
"The risk in Bulgaria is transparency about everything, because nobody knows what is happening in general."
"It's the biggest rumor mill in the world; the world capital of rumors."
Steve Hanke is a Professor of Applied Economics at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, United States.
Hanke has been watching Bulgaria closely over the last decades, having advised Bulgaria’s President )1997-2001) Petar Stoyanov on the introduction of the restrictive monetary mechanism in 1997 that ended a spiral of hyperinflation. The currency board mechanism pegs the lev to the euro at a fixed exchange rate and ties the level of levs in circulation to the level of foreign exchange reserves.
The original (English-language) version of the interview is available here.
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