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AufschwungZombiefirmen suchen Europas wirtschaftliche Erholung heim

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HSH Nordbank Filiale
Die HSH Nordbank erlitt mit Schiffsbeteiligungen erhebliche Verluste (Foto: Getty Images)

German shipping company Norddeutsche Vermoegen Holding GmbH & Co. KG suffered total losses of $1.1 billion from 2010 to 2015. Its debt quadrupled to more than $2 billion, or almost nine times revenue, from 2007 to 2010. The company hasn’t reported annual results for 2016.

In 2016, Norddeutsche Vermoegen got a half-billion euros in debt relief from HSH Nordbank, a German bank that was until recently the world’s largest lender to the shipping industry.

According to the shipping company’s financial statements, Norddeutsche Vermoegen made a profit due to “loan forgiveness by the bank.” Norddeutsche Vermoegen and HSH Nordbank declined to comment.

The loss is likely to hit people who live in the German states of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, which own about 90% of the HSH Nordbank. That would be “bitter for local taxpayers,” said Michael Kruse, an opposition lawmaker in Hamburg’s state parliament.

In Germany, the five biggest ship lenders had about $26 billion of distressed ship-related loans at the end of 2016, according to Moody’s. The total was equal to 37% of all shipping loans by the same banks, up from 28% in 2015. Moody’s said the banks needed to set aside more for potential loan losses. Few banks disputed that finding.

The financial crisis badly hurt global trade and shipping companies, some of which were unable to repay their loans. Yet there have been few bankruptcies by German shipping firms, said Max Johns, managing director of the German Shipowners’ Association.

That is another sign that banks are willing to keep weak companies alive. In addition, an investment structure known as Kommanditgesellschaft funds, commonly used to invest in German shipping assets, allows individual ships to go bankrupt without taking down the entire firm.

In May, the ECB said it would conduct on-site inspections at banks with exposure to ship-related lending to ensure that the banks are dealing with any nonperforming loans in that sector.

Some banks have said loan-loss reserves inherently reflect a bank’s judgment about how much the shipping industry will rebound and how much time struggling borrowers should get to recover.

If they pass new rules, credit to small businesses will be impossible

Matteo Renzi

Italy’s economy has been in and out of recession for a decade. About 15% of loans and credit advances from large Italian banks are nonperforming, which means the borrower is at least 90 days behind on payments. In the eurozone, about 6% of loans are nonperforming, according to the ECB.

In the U.S., nonperforming loans peaked at 5% during the financial crisis and have since fallen below 2%, according to the World Bank.

Italian banks have set aside half of the value of their $407 billion in gross problem loans at the end of 2016, according to the country’s central bank. That means the banks would be hit with billions of euros in additional losses if they sell the loans. Many lenders would rather hold on to the shaky loans and hope for the best.

The ECB proposed last month requiring banks to set aside more cash to cover newly classified bad loans. The proposal was criticized by senior Italian officials, including former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. “If they pass new rules, credit to small businesses will be impossible,” he wrote on Twitter.