Financial Stability Report No. 1 - 2019

The risks to financial stability arising from developments in the world economy are growing; the growth forecasts for 2019 have been revised downward and uncertainty has increased.

The more accommodative stance of central banks has been helping to improve financial market conditions since the start of the year. Financial asset prices could nonetheless fluctuate widely following unexpected macroeconomic events.

Bank asset quality is improving in the euro area, but several intermediaries are struggling to achieve satisfactory levels of profitability. A few large banks are highly exposed to instruments that are difficult to value and potentially illiquid.

GDP growth forecasts have been revised downward in Italy too. Italian government securities prices remain highly volatile and yield spreads with respect to German bonds are above the levels predominating in the early months of 2018. While declining, the yields on non-financial corporate bonds remain higher on average than those prevailing in the other euro-area countries for bonds in the same credit rating category.

Households' financial conditions are stable but have been affected by the slowdown in disposable income and by volatile financial asset prices. Firms' profitability is slowing but debt repayment capacity remains strong thanks to low interest rates and sounder balance sheet structures than in the past. Private sector debt at risk of default would increase considerably only in the event of a significant deterioration in cyclical conditions associated with a sharp rise in borrowing interest rates.

Italy's banking system continues to strengthen but, given the deterioration in the economic outlook, significant risks remain. The reduction in the stock of NPLs continues apace, and
liquidity and capital indicators are improving. Notwithstanding the increase in 2018, the return on equity remains lower on average than that of the other European banks. Slowing economic activity limits the possibility of increasing revenues and could push up credit risk costs again.

Italian banks are vulnerable to negative developments on the government bond market, even if the impact of price variations on capital is smaller than in the past. Bond issues on the wholesale markets have resumed but the risk premiums demanded by investors are higher than those demanded on average for other European banks.

Insurance companies' solvency ratios and profitability remain exposed to changes in the value of public sector securities due to substantial investments made to match the yields and maturities of assets with those of liabilities. At the end of 2018, solvency ratios stabilized at levels well above the regulatory minimums. The stress tests conducted by EIOPA and IVASS confirm that Italy’s main insurance groups would be able to withstand the impact of particularly severe shocks.

Property funds continue to grow, sustained by flows of foreign resources into the segment reserved to professional investors; the risks to financial stability stemming from this sector’s development are limited.

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