Persistently high non-performing exposures (NPLs) in several European countries pose significant challenges to financial stability and are likely weighing on credit growth and economic activity. This paper, which summarizes a detailed IMF analysis (IMF SDN/15/19), examines the structural obstacles that discourage European banks from addressing their problem loans. It argues that a comprehensive approach comprising three pillars is needed to accelerate balance sheet clean-up: (1) intensified banking oversight, to incentivize write-off or restructuring of impaired loans, including fostering more conservative provisioning and time-bound restructuring targets on banks’ NPL portfolios; (2) enhanced insolvency and debt enforcement regimes, and more developed out-of-court restructuring frameworks; and (3) the development of distressed debt markets by improving market infrastructure and, in some cases, using asset management companies (AMCs) to jump-start the market. A variety of facilitating measures could support these three main pillars, including better public registers, the removal of tax disincentives, and debt counseling services.
Shekhar Aiyar is a deputy chief in the IMF's European Department. He has worked on a broad range of countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. His research interests include international macroeconomics, bank regulation, economic growth, and the role of luck in international cricket. He holds a PhD from Brown University.