Supervisory policy stimulus: evidence from the euro area dividend recommendation

BIS Working Papers  |  No 1085  | 
29 March 2023
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Summary

Focus 

In March 2020, the European Central Bank made the recommendation that, at least until October 2020, no "significant institution" should pay out dividends. We investigate the recommendation's impact on the credit supply to non-financial corporations amid the Covid-19 economic shock. Bank managements effectively faced a choice of how to allocate their capital when deciding whether to follow the ECB recommendation, with differing implications for the credit supply. On the one hand, given constant demand and price effects, they might have opted to use the surplus capital to increase lending supply, thus responding countercyclically to support the economy. On the other hand, they might have decided to increase their resilience to future shocks by saving capital, and/or strengthening their loss-absorption capacity by making additional provisions. The paper asks whether the ECB's dividend recommendation led to an increase or a decrease in the credit supply to non-financial corporations, and whether this effect varied for different types of firm and sector.

Contribution 

The study compares the credit supply of banks affected by the ECB recommendation with a group of unaffected banks, and controls for other pandemic-related support measures. To address identification issues, we rely on credit registry data and a direct measure that captures differences in compliance with the dividend recommendation across banks in the euro area. The analysis disentangles the confounding effects stemming from the wide range of monetary and fiscal policies that supported credit during the Covid-19 downturn and investigates their interaction with the dividend recommendation.

Findings 

We find that dividend restrictions have been an effective policy in supporting financially constrained firms, adding capital space to banks, and restricting some forms of procyclical behaviour. In particular, the study finds that the dividend recommendation added 4.4 percentage points to the growth rate of euro area credit supply to non-financial corporations. The effects on lending are larger for small and medium enterprises and for firms operating in sectors that were exposed to the effects of Covid-19. We also find evidence that the dividend recommendation has sustained bank lending even in the absence of government guarantees. At the same time, we do not find evidence of a significant increase in lending to riskier borrowers and "zombie" firms.


Abstract

At the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak, central banks and supervisors introduced dividend restrictions as a new policy instrument aimed at supporting lending to the real economy and strengthening banks' capacity to absorb losses. In this paper we estimate the impact of the ECB's dividend recommendation on bank lending and risk-taking. To address identification issues, we rely on credit registry data and a direct measure that captures variation in compliance with the recommendation across banks in the euro area. The analysis disentangles the confounding effects stemming from the wide range of monetary and fiscal policies that supported credit during the Covid-19 downturn and investigates their interaction with the dividend recommendation. We find that dividend restrictions have been an effective policy in supporting financially constrained firms, adding capital space to banks, and limiting some forms of procyclical behaviour. The effects on lending are larger for small and medium enterprises and for firms operating in Covid-19 vulnerable sectors. At the same time, we do not find evidence of a significant increase in lending to riskier borrowers and "zombie" firms.

JEL Classification: E5, E51, G18, G21

Keywords: Dividend restrictions, supervisory policy, credit supply, European Central Bank, Covid-19