The European financial crisis may be half a world away, but the effects of problems in Greece, Spain and other countries could show up on credit union balance sheets.
News from Europe has caused volatility in the stock market, said NAFCU President/CEO Fred Becker.
Nervous investors could spur a flight to safety, pulling money from the markets and placing them in federally insured deposit accounts, which could negatively impact credit union net worth ratios, Becker said.
Becker outlined his concerns in a June 12 letter to NCUA Chairman Debbie Matz, in which he called on the regulatory leader to advise examiners to “discount and disregard a decrease in a credit union’s net worth that is solely due to an influx of liquidity as pertains to recent global economics events.”
CUNA Chief Economist Bill Hampel agreed the financial crisis in Europe will cause a flight to safety, and additionally, reduce U.S. exports to Europe. He forecasted European woes could shave 0.25% off GDP growth in 2012 and 2013. That might not sound like a lot, Hampel said, but considering GDP is only growing 2% to 3% a year, it is significant.
On a positive note, Hampel said the flight to safety could result in a mortgage refinance boom for credit unions, as investments in Treasury bills keep mortgage rates low.
“A significant portion of the population has significant equity and decent credit, so there’s a huge demand for re-fis now,” Hampel said.
While credit unions could use the revenue that comes with refinancing and selling mortgages on the secondary market, interest rate risk could be an issue for those that typically hold mortgages on their books.
California Credit Union League Chief Economist Dwight Johnston said demographics will also intensify a European-fueled flight to safety.
“People in and near retirement can’t take any more hits,” Johnston said. “Earning next to nothing is better than losing principal.”
Catalyst Corporate Federal Credit Union Chief Strategist Brian Turner agreed a flight to quality “implies a potential loss of principal” and added that investors “may not like the yield, but at least principal is protected.”
However, Turner said he thinks Europe will have less of an impact on the U.S. economy than do his peers. He said unemployment will be a far greater influence on credit union balance sheets.
“If you’re not comfortable with your job, your home values continue to decline, and now you’re dealing with a volatile stock market, you won’t be enticed to go out and spend a lot of money, especially on big ticket items. And that is what credit unions are in the business of financing,” Turner said.
Bryan Clagett, chief marketing officer of online banking software company Geezeo, agreed Europe’s problems have an adverse effect on U.S. exports, and the volatile stock market will damage already fragile consumer confidence.
“Look at my own situation as an example,” he said. “I felt really good about my 401K a month ago, because it had returned back to pre-2008 levels, so I went out and spent some money, and made some improvements to the house. But then came the report that household net worth has declined 39% since 2008. That did nothing to drive my confidence, and made me wonder if I made a mistake spending that money.”