Sunday, December 22, 2013

Trying to understand the how come of the so loony bank regulations, by reading Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” 2011.

I hold that the current risk-weighted capital requirements for banks, more risk more capital, less risk much less capital, is sheer regulatory lunacy.

Fact: These are based on perceived risks which have already been cleared for by banks in interest rates, size of exposure, duration and other terms (the numerator). And so, re-clearing for the same perceived risks in the capital (the denominator) causes the risk price equation to go haywire. 

And that allows banks to earn much higher risk-adjusted returns on equity when lending to what is perceived as “safe” than on what is perceived as “risky”, making it thereby impossible for banks to efficiently allocate bank credit in the real economy. It instills an additional dose of unproductive risk-aversion in the banking system.

And it also guarantees that when something ex ante perceived as "absolutely safe", turns out ex post to be very risky, precisely the stuff all bank crises are made off, that banks will then stand there naked with no capital.

And so, how could regulators be so dumb? How could it be that so long after the 2007-08 crises exploded, this truly monstrous regulatory mistake is not even discussed?

Here, I will try to get to the answer to those questions by reading Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, fast and slow” Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2011. I begin in “Part 3 Overconfidence”

But first I need to start with expressing one reservation with respect to the following which Professor Kahneman writes there in Chapter 19:

“I have heard too many people who ‘knew well before it happened that the 2008 financial crisis was inevitable’. This sentence contains a highly objectionable word, which should be removed from our vocabulary in discussions of major events. The word is, of course, knew. … [that] language implies that the world is more knowable than it is.”

In the sense that could be construed as a “nobody knew”, and could like the Black Swan story serve as an excuse for the regulators for not doing their job, I must strongly object to it, as we then will not hold them sufficiently accountable for their mistakes.

Professor Kahneman refers to an “outcome bias [that] makes it almost impossible to evaluate a decision properly – in terms of the beliefs that were reasonable when the decision was made… Actions that seem prudent in foresight can look irresponsibly negligent in hindsight.” 

Yes, but what when an action that should have been declared irresponsibly negligent in hindsight, survives as if nothing has happened? In our case the Basel III is just some tweaking of Basel II… and it hangs on to the risk-weighted capital requirements... as if nothing has happened.

Of course I had no idea that the crisis would happen in 2008, or where it would finally explode, but there could be no doubt that assigning so much regulatory importance to the already known and cleared for credit ratings, introduced a systemic risk that had to explode, somewhere somehow, sooner or later. 

In January 2003, while I was an Executive Director at the World Bank, Financial Times published a letter in which I wrote: “Everyone knows that, sooner or later, the ratings issued by the credit agencies are just a new breed of systemic errors to be propagated at modern speeds”.

But now back to the how comes of this post.

The first Great Explainer I find, chapter 20 is “The illusion of validity”. Professor Kahneman writes about how a good coherent story triumphs the absence and the quality of evidence… and, in this case, what could initially sound a more coherent story than “more perceived risk more bank capital (equity), less perceived risk less capital”?

In reality since all bank crisis have originated from excessive exposures to what was perceived as "absolutely safe", and none from excessive exposures to something perceived ex ante as “risky”, the truth is that, if anything, the capital requirements for banks should be higher for what is perceived as absolutely safe than for what is perceived as risky… but, Professor Kahneman, how the hell do you sell that storyline?

Another Great Explainer, chapter 20: “The illusion of validity and skill… supported by a powerful professional culture…. We know that people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers”.

Indeed that is when regulators are allowed to assemble in a mutual admiration club… like the one I protested in another letter in the Financial Times in November 2004.

(December 24, 2013) And in chapter 21 in “intuitions vs. formulas” we read how, when there is “a significant degree of uncertainty and unpredictability” then, in terms of explicatory powers, “the accuracy of experts was matched or exceeded by simple algorithms”. One possible explanation for that, provided by Paul Mehl, is that experts “try to be clever” and “feel they can overrule the formula because they have additional information”. And some examples of powerful algorithms are provided like the five variables rule developed by Dr. Virginia Apgar to determine whether a new born baby was in distress.

But this chapter does really not provide me with much explanation with respect to the regulations I object. This is first because I feel that in this case we are not really in the presence of real experts who possess the minimum intuitions required, and secondly the formula itself, the risk-weighting, is just a very bad formula.

How can I explain it? Perhaps saying that an expert bank regulator should have started by defining a purpose for the banks, and then analyzing the risks and whys and consequences of a banks failing while pursuing that purpose, and not, as has been done by just analyzing the risks of the clients of a bank failing, and which of course is far from being the same.

But yes “do not try to be too clever” is always a good recommendation for any regulator, and yes, that our current bank regulators start from the premise of them being very clever, is hard to doubt. The 30 pages of Basel I are by means of Basel III and Dodd-Frank Act, evolving into ten thousand of pages of regulations.

And yes I bet one formula, one single capital requirement for any type of bank asset, is a superior formula… and so do not tell me I harbor a “hostility to algorithms”. What I really do feel hostility against, is for regulators to dig us even deeper into the hole where they have placed us.

(December 25, 2013) Chapter 22: “Expert intuition: when can we trust it?” Professor Kanehman holds that an expert’s intuition can only be trusted if the area of expertise in question contains “an environment that is sufficiently regular to be predictable”, and if the experts have had “an opportunity to learn these regularities through prolonged practice”

Considering bank regulations not only as firefighting but within a complete framework of how banks help to finance the growth and the strengthening of the real economy, in other words the mystery of development, the answer must of course be a rotund NO! There is just too much involved for it to be predictable.

But even in the case of bank regulation designed only to stop bank failures we would have to answer with an equally rotund NO!, the question of whether regulators in the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board had sufficient expertise. 

Kahneman writes: “The acquisition of expertise in complex tasks such as… firefighting is intricate and slow because expertise in a domain is not a single skill but rather a collection of miniskills”, and I sincerely doubt that persons such as Stefan Ingves, Mark Carney, Mario Draghi, Ben Bernanke have had many specific experiences of bank failures which they have managed and even more importantly understood.

In short this chapter only reinforces the concerns I referred to in an Op-Ed which I wrote in 1999: “The possible Big Bang that scares me the most is the one that could happen the day those genius bank regulators in Basel, playing Gods, manage to introduce a systemic error in the financial system, which will cause its collapse”

If Professor Kahneman was asked whether it was reasonable and wise to vest so much regulatory power over our banks in the hands of some few “experts”, I suspect he would express serious doubts.

December 26. 2013. Chapter 23. “Irrational perseverance” “sunk-cost fallacy” Professor Kahneman recounts an experience: “If pressed further I would have admitted that we had started the project on faulty premises and we should at least consider the option of declaring defeat and going home. But nobody pressed me…..we had already invested a great deal of effort… It would have been embarrassing for us… I can best describe our state as a form of lethargy – an unwillingness to think about what had happened. So we carried on."

And this describes a lot of why, after the clearly evident failures of Basel II, we now have basically the same failed regulators, using basically the same “risk-weighted capital” script, producing, directing and acting in a Basel III, as if nothing has happened. Neither Hollywood nor Bollywood would be so dumb, so as to follow up a huge box-office flop without major revisions. 

December 31, Chapter 24. Professor Kahneman refers to an extremely interesting idea suggested by Gary Klein to combat dangerous overconfidence, “The premortem”… “Imagine that we are a year into the future. We implemented the plan as it now exists. The outcome was a disaster. Please take 5 to 10 minutes to write a brief history of that disaster” “The main virtue of the premortem is that it legitimizes doubts” Otherwise “public doubts about the wisdom of the planned move are gradually suppressed and eventually come to be treated 

If regulators had done that with Basel II…can you imagine if someone in his premortem had written that the crisis was a direct result of clearing for the same risk twice, which would cause banks earning higher risk adjusted returns on equity on what was perceived as absolutely safe, which distorted the allocation of bank credit to the real economy?

Can you imagine if someone in his premorten had written…”And there stood all the banks in the world, on with all that exposure to that AAA rated, against almost no capital… and the unexpected happened”?

Can you imagine if someone had written…”And since therefore no bank financed “the risky”, those who help to build the future, the real economy was placed in a death-spiral that brought the banks down.

As is, the faults with the risk-weighted capital requirements are not even recognized in the postmortem

(January 4, 2014) Chapter 17, “Regression to the mean”

The expected losses of a bank should normally be covered by its operations. It is to cover the “unexpected losses” for which regulators primarily require banks to hold capital.

And the Basel Committee has defined that the capital requirements for banks should be higher for what is considered “risky” than for what is considered as “absolutely safe”. 

That has always sounded wrong to me, as it is in the sector of the “absolutely safe” that the most unpleasant unexpected events roam.

In fact if something is considered 100% risky there should be 0% unexpected losses, but if something is considered 0% risky, the unexpected losses could be 100%. 

And why current bank regulators, even when faced with a crisis derived from unexpected losses in what was considered “absolutely safe” do not even want to discuss my arguments, has always been a mystery to me.

But reading chapter 17 it occurs to me that one explanation is that regulators do simply not understood the meaning of regression to the mean, and the fact that the timing of any unexpected result should not be perfectly correlated with, for instance, recent credit ratings. 

And that might be explained by “our mind is strongly biased towards casual explanations”, and what is more casual than “risky is risky and safe is safe and there´s no more to that!” 

(January 15, 2014) Chapter 31, Risk Policies, “Broad or Narrow?” Professor Kahneman writes.

“These attitudes make you willing to pay a premium to obtain a sure gain rather than to face a gamble, and also willing to pay a premium (in expected value) to avoid a sure loss”.

Could that translate into… bank regulators were willing to pay a premium to make sure banks did not fail, and were also willing to pay a premium to avoid a sure bank failure?

If so could that be the reason for which regulators failed to identify the benefits of bank failures, namely just that they were willing to take risks?

I am not sure. Perhaps they did so in a subconscious way. But, consciously?, I am sure they were and are not even aware of what they are doing with their excessive risk aversion... that of banks must not fail.

How different our world would be if regulators had set as an objective, for instance… in order to insure that sufficient risk taking is taking place 1-2 percent of the banks should fail yearly.

And I will keep on commenting here...

The more I think of it I come to the conclusion that “more-risk-more-equity and less-risk-less-equity”, is such a powerful System 1 intuition so it stops System 2 deliberations rights in its tracks and does not allow these to begin.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mr. Alan Greenspan… tell us the story… why were your legitimate concerns waived… what really happened?

In 1998, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Basel Accord Alan Greenspan gave a speech titled “The Role of Capital in Optimal Banking Supervision and Regulation”, FRBNY Economic Policy Review/October 1998”. Three comments stand out:

First: “It is argued that the heightened complexity of these large bank’s risk-taking activities, along with the expanding scope of regulatory arbitrage, may cause capital ratios as calculated under the existing rules to become increasingly misleading. I, too, share these concerns”

And there was Greenspan only referring to the measly 30 pages of Basel I… and so how on earth, with this type of miss-feelings, can we now have arrived to our tens of thousands of pages of Basel III and Dodd-Frank Act?

Second: “regulatory capital arbitrage… is not costless and therefore not without implications for resource allocation. Interestingly, one reason that the formal capital standards do not include many risk buckets is that regulators did not want to influence how banks make resource allocation. Ironically, the one-size-fits-all standard does just that, by forcing the banks into expending effort to negate the capital requirement, or to exploit it, whenever there is a significant disparity between the relatively arbitrary standard and internal, economic capital requirements.” 

And so here if the implications for resource allocation (of bank credit in the real economy) is considered as an issue… how on earth did they go from some risk-weights depending of the category of assets, to something even so much distortive for resource allocation as risk weights depending on credit ratings?

Third: “For internal purposes, these large institutions attempt explicitly to quantify their credit, market and operating risks, by estimating loss probabilities distribution for various risk positions. Enough economic, as distinct from regulatory, capital is then allocated to each risk position to satisfy the institution’s own standard for insolvency probability.”

And so what happened to the distinction between economic and regulatory capital? Is it not so that a regulator´s real problem begins when the economic capital is miscalculated by the banks? If so, why the hell would he then want to calculate regulatory capital as it was economic capital?

No I am sorry… Alan Greenspan… as well as his successor Ben Bernanke… and of course all the other regulators like those in the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board… they will have a lot of explanation to do… when history finally catches up on them.

And I would certainly not want to be in their shoes. “Daddy why was grandfather so dumb? … It is because of his stupid regulatory risk aversion that banks stopped financing the future and only refinanced the past, and which is why I and my friends now do not have jobs.”

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Can you imagine regulator XXX, academician XXX or financial journalist XXX... to be so dumb?

Can you imagine regulator XXX, academician XXX or financial journalist XXX... sincerely believes that if banks hold capital based on how risky their assets seem to be, then they are safe, as if the problems with banks do not all arise from when banks do not identify how risky their assets are.

In other words how could regulators base the capital requirements for banks on the perceived risks of bank assets, and as if these perceptions were correct, when their troubles begin when the perceptions of risks turn out to be incorrect?

Aren't they dumb? It is just amazing how we have allowed our banks to fall into their hands.

If your handy man was driving in a screw with a hammer, would you not be allowed to call him dumb and not knowing what he was doing? If so why can I not call bank regulators dumb?

ECB's ex-FSB's Mario Draghi, why base bank capital requirements on perceived risk when the problem is when those perceptions are wrong?

Financial Stability Board’s Mark Carney, why base bank capital requirements on perceived risk when the problem is when those perceptions are wrong? 

Basel Committees’ Stefan Ingves, why base bank capital requirements on perceived risk when the problem is when those perceptions are wrong?

My issue with the Anat R. Admati, Peter M. de Marzo, Martin Hellwig and Paul Pfleiderer, October 2013, paper.

The authors referenced have published a revised paper titled “Fallacies, Irrelevant Facts, and Myths in the Discussion of Capital Regulation: Why Bank Equity is Not Socially Expensive”. I agree with much… except for…

The author states on page 9: “Another issue we do not elaborate on here is the current use of risk weights to determine the size of asset base against which equity is measured. As discussed in Brealey (2006) Hellwig 2010, and Admati and Hellwig (2013) this system is complex, easily manipulated and it can lead to distortions in the lending and investment decisions of banks.”

And that issue is too important to be set aside in the context of any discussion of bank equity, and what is said also leaves dangerous space for doubts. I have argued for years that risk weights, which effectively determine the capital requirements for banks against different exposures, even if not manipulated, do distort the allocation of bank credit in the real economy... and there should be no doubts about that.

If there is anything that with respect to the banking system has put our western economies on a downward slippery slope, that is not so much the problem of banks having too low capital requirements, but the issue of allowing banks to earn much much higher risk-adjusted returns on their equity on what is perceived as “absolutely safe”, than on what is perceived as “risky”. 

That guarantees the dangerous overpopulation of the “absolute safe havens”, and that the “risky-bays” our economies need to be visited in order to move forward… will be dangerously underexplored.

“The Infallible”, those with extremely low risk weights, 20% or less, comprise the infallible sovereigns, the AAAristocracy and the housing sector.

“The Risky”, those with 100% or higher risk weights, count among its ranks, medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups.

That has made it more profitable for the banking sector, on risk adjusted terms, for instance to finance the houses where we are to live in, than to finance the job creation that will allow us to pay for the utilities.

That has made it more profitable for the banking sector, on risk adjusted terms, for instance to finance the King Johns of the world, than to finance the Robin Hoods and their friends.

The regulator (the neo-Sheriff of Nottingham) amazingly ignored (unless it was on purpose) that the ex ante perceived risks he considers in order to define the capital required (the denominator), are cleared for by banks and markets by means of interest rates, size of exposure, duration and other terms (the numerator). 

And so the regulator screwed up the whole risk price equation and caused banks to overdose on perceived risks… and funnily, if not so tragic, some still call all this a market failure 

The regulator, amazingly, instead of analyzing as a regulator why banks fail, analyzed, like if he was a banker, why the clients of the banks fail… and that, of course…c’est pas la meme chose.

On page 59 the authors write: “The use of risk-weighted assets for capital regulation is based on the idea that the riskiness of the asset should in principle guide regulators on how much of an equity cushion they should require” 

And that is precisely what is so nutty with the whole concept. The risk for the regulator is the bank, not its assets, and the prime risk for the bank is getting the risk-weights wrong.

In fact, for the regulators to really cover their real risk, capital requirements for banks should be higher for what is perceived as “absolutely safe” than for what is perceived as risky.

And, amazingly, the academic world, basically keeps mum on this almost criminal regulatory failure.

Please, can someone of you help to explain it all to the finance ministers around the world, to Congressmen, to all those who, naturally, do not understand one iota of the Basel Committee’s mumbo-jumbo

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Performing the asset quality review of European banks will ECB’s staff have the guts to call out the mistakes of Mario Draghi?

If the European banks’ asset quality review is going to serve any real purpose, the ECB must dare to question everything.

Foremost that should mean not having to accept at face value those ludicrous low risk-weightings concocted by the neo-Sherriff of Nottingham, the Basel Committee, in order to induce banks to lend more and cheaper to the King John’s of Europe, and to its AAAristocracy; and to lend less to Robin Hood and his small businesses and entrepreneurial friends… while arguing all the time that this regulatory nonsense would make banks safer.

And so, in its review, ECB needs to identify the risk of all excessive exposures to any “absolutely safe assets”, like of the loans to the “infallible sovereigns”. 

And ECB also needs to identify all those really productive European “risky” bank assets, like loans to small businesses and start-ups, and that should have been on bank balances, but unfortunately are not... only because these have basically been prohibited by the regulators senseless risk adverse risk-weighted capital requirements.

But Mario Draghi, the current President of the ECB, was also for many years the chair of the Financial Stability Board; and is therefore very much to blame for these very wrong incentives given to the banks… those that signified that banks could earn much much higher risk-adjusted returns on their equity when lending to "The Infallible" than when lending to "The Risky".

And so do you really think ECB's staff  will dare get down to the truth? Even if that truth implies their ECB’s boss credentials are not good? Or will they still try to leave Europe in blissful ignorance of why Europe is going down, down, down... as it is giving the incentives to avoid keeping taking the risks which made it into what it is.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Can you imagine? XXX does not understand…

… how the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks completely distorts the allocation of bank credit in the real economy.

Let me try to explain it to XXX again.

If there was no risk weighing of Basel II’s 8 percent capital requirements for banks, then the banks would allocate their credit in the real economy, based on who produces the highest risk-adjusted return on eight units of bank capital for each 100 units of loans. 

But there is risk weighing in Basel II, and so banks allocate their credit, for instance to the private sector, in terms of:

For those rated AAA to AA, risk weight of 20%, based on who produces the highest risk-adjusted return on 1.6 units of bank capital for each 100 units of loans.

For those rated A+ to A, risk weight of 50%, based on who produces the highest risk-adjusted return on 4 units of bank capital for each 100 units of loans.

For those rated BBB+ to BB-, and those unrated, risk weight of 100%, based on who produces the highest risk-adjusted return on 8 units of bank capital for each 100 units of loans.

For those rated AAA to AA, risk weight 20%, based on who produces the highest risk-adjusted return on 1.6 units of bank capital, for each 100 units of loans.

And so of course those perceived as “safer” produce banks much higher risk-adjusted returns on their equity than those perceived as riskier.

And that of course causes banks to lend more than what they should to those perceived as “safe”, like the “infallible sovereign” and the AAAristocracy, and much less, sometimes even nothing, to those perceived as “risky”… like to medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups.

But, amazingly, XXX has not understood that this completely upsets the price-risk equation in the markets, and thereby, as said before, completely distorts the economically effective allocation of bank credit in the real economy.

What are we to do with XXX? XXX is though a very influential figure… and too many find it so difficult to believe XXX could really have been so wrong.

And what is history going to say about, for instance Europe, falling into the hands of nerdy sissies who cannot understand that what is safe today, is the result of a lot of risk-taking yesterday, and that our children and grandchildren has the right to expect from this generation, to also incur in its share of risk-taking… so that they too have a future and decent jobs.

PS. And to top it up, all for no good reason, since all big bank crises have always resulted from excessive exposures to what was ex ante perceived as “absolutely safe”… and none because of excessive exposures to something ex ante perceived as “risky”.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The mother of all market rigging is carried out by regulators in the allocation of bank credit to the real economy.

Forget it! If anyone should ask about more disclosure, that should be those borrowers who had the access to bank credit rigged against them by the regulators, only on account of them being perceived as “risky”, and this even though they already had to pay higher interest rates, get smaller loans and accept harsher terms, precisely because they are perceived as risky.

And this is how the rigging was carried out.

Before current Basel Accord inspired bank regulations came into effect a bank looked at how to maximize the return on equity by analyzing the lending all over the spectrum of perceived risks… and that is what can lead to an efficient allocation of bank credit in the real economy. 

Not now, with the Basel Committee's risk weighted capital requirements. Now banks evaluate the returns on loans to the AAA rated, in terms of holding only 20 percent of the basic capital requirement, while when evaluating the competing return offered by a loan to a “risky” small business, and entrepreneur or a start-up, it must use 100 percent of the basic capital requirements. And, if lending to an “infallible sovereign”, then it can basically measure its returns on zero percent of basic capital requirements.

And perhaps what is the saddest of it all, might be that the bank regulators are not even aware of that this is rigging the access to bank credit all in favor of "The Infallible" and all against "The Risky"... those risky who act on the margins of the real economy and who we most want to have access to bank credit in competitive terms.

Damn these sissy regulators. God, make us daring!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Europe’s unemployed youth, is a result of expulsing testosterone from its banking system. Is it accident or terrorism?

To call banks cuddling up excessively in loans to the Infallible Sovereign and the AAAristocracy, an excessive risk-taking which results from too high testosterone levels, is ludicrous. That is just cowardly hiding away, guided by computer models, in havens officially denominated as absolutely safe.

The risk-taking which requires true banking testosterone is the lending to medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start ups.

Unfortunately bank regulators, by means of allowing for far less capital when lending “to the safe than when lending to “the risky”, guaranteed that the expected risk-adjusted returns on bank equity when lending to the former were much much higher than when lending to the latter. 

And, as any economist knows, equity goes to where the highest returns are offered. And so bankers possessing true testosterone, were all made redundant. And since the safe jobs of tomorrow need the risk-taking of today, and “the risky” got and get no loans, the European youth ended up without jobs… or even the prospective of jobs.

I have always thought this regulatory calamity was an accident resulting from allowing some very few regulators to engage in intellectual incest, in some small mutual admiration club where it is prohibited by rules to call out any member as being at fault.

But now, since more than five years after the detonation of the bomb that was armed in 2004 with Basel II, the issue of the distortion these capital requirements produce in the allocation of bank credit in the real economy is not yet even discussed, reluctantly, because I am no conspirator theories freak, forces me to admit the possibility of terrorism.

And frankly what is the difference between injecting bankers with a testosterone killing virus, and doing so with a mumbo jumbo bank regulation no one really understands?

Poor European youth… they are not yet aware that unless they expulse the current bank regulators from the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board, for being dumb or terrorists, they live in an economy that is going down, down, down.

Friday, November 22, 2013

All dollars (or Pounds, or Euros) should be equal!

The efficient market hypothesis, and the capacity of free markets to allocate efficiently financial resources have, as a consequence of the recent financial crisis, been seriously questioned. There is absolutely no cause for that.

In a free market all dollars pursuing assets are equal, and so the prices reflect the markets appreciations of returns, risks, and other factors… and so in essence, all assets will produce equivalent all included risk-adjusted returns. Like any bet on the roulette.

But then came bank regulators, with their risk-weighted capital requirements, more risk more capital, less risk less capital, and determined that some dollars, those being lent to what was perceived as “absolutely safe” were worth much more because these could be leveraged by banks much much more, than the dollars lent to what was perceived as “risky”. Like doubling the roulette payout when playing it safe, like betting on a color.

And of course that made it impossible for the markets to function. It would be like pricing assets in dollars Euros and Pounds, simultaneously without informing the markets of which currency was used. In fact, since bank capital when in “risk-free” land could sometimes be leveraged about 40 times more than when in “risky” land, the currencies used are perhaps more like dollars, pesos and yen. 

And so a dollar going to someone “risky” is for the banks worth de facto much much less than a dollar going to the AAAristocracy. Talk about financial exclusion! Talk about increasing inequality gaps!

Discriminating against risk-taking, in the "Home of the Brave"... you´ve got to be kidding!

Please regulators, allow a dollar to be a dollar for everyone! So that markets will work again!

PS. By the way who authorized all that?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Do you want your bank regulators have a total lack of confidence in your banks?

Markets, banks, bankers they do all one way or another perceive risk of default of borrowers and adjust to these by means of interest rates, size of exposures and other terms. 

And so when bank regulators order banks to also adjust to the same perceived risk in their capital requirements then they are implicitly considering the banks to be absolutely blind. 

Frankly, is that the type of regulators you want? 

Don´t you think that if a regulator believes in that kind of nonsense, he is a regulator that can be too easily be taken for a ride?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

America, more bank capital (equity) required for loans to “The Risky” than to “The Infallible”, is contrary to Liberty & Opportunity

Yesterday, in the good company of friends who value liberty above all, I visited the Statue of Liberty for the first time. As a son of immigrants, though not to America, looking at her my eyes went tearful, thinking about the challenges of leaving all behind, and beginning, from scratch, a new life in a new unknown foreign country.

And sitting there listening to a great audio guide I was reminded all the time of that she, Lady of Liberty, stood there greeting all, to the Land of Freedom and Opportunities.

And it all made me reflect again on the fact that current bank regulations, odiously discriminate against what is perceived as “risky”... And my eyes went tearful again. Let me explain.

Of course, a newly arrived unknown immigrant, with nothing or little to his name, would be perceived as risky by any banker, and therefore be charged higher interests, be lent lesser amounts, and have to accept stricter terms, than what applied to those residents of the Americas who already had the opportunity to made a good name and some assets for themselves.

But, those days, luckily, there was not a bank regulator in America who ordered that, on top of a bankers natural risk-adverseness, banks also needed to hold much much more capital when lending to “The Risky” than when lending to “The Infallible”.

And so those days’ bankers were free to apply their own criteria, and “The Risky” free to access opportunities, without the interference of some dumb and overly concerned nanny.

Now though, since 1988, Basel Accord, bank regulations are based on capital requirements which are much much lower when lending to “The Infallible” than when lending to “The Risky”. And that means that banks make a much much higher risk-adjusted return on assets when lending to The Infallible, than when lending to The Risky.

And that means that a current immigrant, or an American who has not yet made it to the AAAristocracy (or the AAArisktocracy) has much lesser opportunities of obtaining a bank credit to make real the kind of America’s dreams which made America what it is… because please don’t tell me that America was just built upon house ownership credit cards and consumption.

Dear Friends, "The Home of the Brave" should not accept this kind of suicidal regulatory risk-aversion, which stops banks from financing the "riskier" future and only propels these to refinance the "safer" past.

By the way I read the law, though only a layman it seems to me it is even prohibited.

God make us daring!

PS. On any Thanksgiving Day, Americans should be deeply grateful for all those who dared take the risks they all needed, and for those days bank regulators did not stand in their way. 

PS. I am not an American, but since my father was freed from a concentration camp by Americans in 1945… I confess being much biased in its favor… at least of that 1945's America.

PS. I have absolutely no objection to all the security measures taken around the Statue of Liberty but, the way some security officers voiced their authority, unfortunately, made me think of a sacrilege.

PS. Risk weights of 100% for the Sovereign and 0% for “We the People” reads like a slap in the face of USA’s Founding Fathers

PS. Here is an aide memoire on the mistakes in the risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

PS. And here are some of my early opinions on these regulations, some of them while being an Executive Director at the World Bank, 2002-04

PS. And here is a very humble home-made youtube comment on it all, from 2010

Thursday, November 14, 2013

In Europe banks no longer finance the future

These just refinance the past... (and so Europe is going down, down, down)

Let me refer again to the tragically misguided banking regulations in the world, designed by some who do not care one iota for the real economy, that which are not the banks.

The main principle of such regulations are capital requirements (equity) based on perceived risks. More risk more capital, less risk less capital.

And that results in the bank can expect to earn much higher expected risk-adjusted returns on equity , when financing the safe (refinancing the past) than when finance the risky (the future).

And that results in that the economies do not take enough risks to produce its absolutely-safes of tomorrow ... but will dedicated itself to milk the cows of yesterday, to extract their last drop of milk.

And all sheer stupidity. Regulators ignored, and still ignore, that perceived risks, such as those reflected in credit ratings, have already been cleared for by banks and markets when setting interest rates, the amounts of the loans, duration and other clauses, And so when the same perceptions of risk, are reused, now to determine the required capital, this only ensures that the banking system overdoses on perceived risk.

They also forgot that their regulatory risk with banks has nothing to do with the perceived risks of the bank's customers ... and everything to do with how the bankers perceive and react to these perceptions.

And that the above causes distortions in the allocation of bank credit in the real economy, still nothing is discussed.

For an older person, retired, with barely sufficient savings, a financial advisor must recommend a super safe conservative investment strategy which provides liquidity, traditionally bonds. But, in the case of a young professional, who is saving for retirement in 30 years, the obligatory advice is to take much more risks, such as buying stocks.

And so you can say that bank regulators follow rules adequate for the old, and not for the young. I assure you that if the European youth, such as that in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece, lifted their eyes just a little while from their iPads, or similar devices, and realized what was being done to them, many sites would Troy.

Worse yet, the regulators require banks to have an 8% capital when lending to an ordinary citizen entrepreneur, but allow these to lend to their governments, holding no capital at all. This has quietly introduced a perverse communism, and disrupted all price-risk equations in capital markets. Of course, all in close association with other beneficiaries like the members of the AAAristocracy.

But, you might say ... "At least we will have safe banks". Do not delude yourself. All banking crisis, whenever not a case of outright fraud, have been unleashed by excessive lending to what ex ante was perceived as absolutely safe, and which, ex post, turned out to be risky, and no banking crisis in history, has resulted because of excessive loans to what was correctly perceived as risky.

As a young man, in Sweden, in the churches where from time to time I went, they sang psalms which implored, "God, make us daring". European regulators, with respect to their banks, are now rewarding cowardice... (and so Europe is going down, down, down)

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Financial Stability Board evidences its utter confusion, again, with their G-SIBs list, a subset of the G-SIFIs.

For those who need some translation the G-SIBs are the banks among the Globally Financial Important Financial Institutions, the G-SIFIs.

And we there now find 29 banks, since recently Bank of China was added to the original 28, perhaps because China objected to not having one single bank among that exclusive group of banks.

But, what does all this mean? There are 5 buckets indicating how much additional capital each bank as a percentage of risk-weighted assets a banks needs to hold, for the regulators feeling reasonably sure, the world is secure. These buckets are 1%, 1.5%, 2%, 2.5% and, the horror, the empty 3.5% bucket.

I mention that last one because although “the bucket thresholds will be set initially such that bucket 5 is empty, if this bucket should become populated in the future, a new bucket will be added to maintain incentives for banks to avoid becoming more systemically important… eg if bucket 5 should become populated, bucket 6 would be created with a minimum higher loss absorbency requirement of 4.5% etc)."

If you think the above to sound as a quite infantile regulations, like scaring the children with the boogeyman, I would probably share your appreciation… because what do you think could happen if suddenly regulators got so scared that empty bucket had to be occupied? Would that not cause a crisis by itself?

But let us see how boogeyman the boogeyman really is. The secret is in the “as a percentage of risk-weighted assets”. If the risk weights are low enough that extra capital banks need to hold does not mean much. 

If a G-SIB holds 1/3 each of 0%, 20% and 50% risk-weighted assets, then the currently most G-SIBs, those in the additional 2.5% capital budget, then it is authorized to leverage over 40 to 1. Is this sane?

Why do they not try with an extra 3 percent on all assets, no matter an asset’s risk-weight. That would really put a cracker in the G-SIBs’ pants. Perhaps Bank of China would scream… “Take me out, I don’t belong here”

No friends let me assure you that if I was a Global Systemic Important Bank, and that the price for being The Most Systemic Important Global Bank in the world, would be to have an additional 1% or risk-weighted assets in equity… I would gladly say… “Sure, bring it on!”

But the saddest part of the story is, sine qua nom, that the more regulators insist on the risk-weighing of assets the less access to bank credit will those who most need it and who we most want to have access to it, namely “The Risky”, like medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Here is THE QUESTION for Janet Yellen during her US Senate confirmation hearings as Chair of the Federal Reserve

Ms. Janet Yellen

Is it not a fact that, with the sole exceptions of when pure fraud was present, all major bank crises have always resulted from excessive exposures to what was ex ante perceived as “absolutely safe”, and never ever from excessive exposures to what was ex ante perceived as “risky”?

And, if so, can you please explain to us the rationale behind the pillar of current regulations, the risk weighting of the capital requirements, which allow banks to hold much much less capital against what is ex ante perceived as “absolutely safe” than against what is perceived as risky?

Could it not be that in reality it should perhaps be the complete opposite?

Is it correct that in the “home of the brave” we impose this type of bank regulations which discriminate against those perceived as “risky”? And by the way, is such thing really allowed under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, “Regulation B”?

Finally, do not these regulations created such distortions that it makes it impossible for the banks to allocate credit efficiently in the real economy? 

PS. Oh I almost forgot. I remember the Constitution of the United States of America, in Section 8 states “The Congress shall have the power to…fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.” Can you please refresh our minds as to when we delegate fixing the risk-weights to the Fed?

PS. Oh and I almost also forgot too. The US Constitution in its section 9 states: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States”. Now, is that not something that de facto happens when we sort of recognize the existence of an AAAristocracy or AAArisktocracy?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Have the risk weights used in current bank regulations really been approved by the US Congress, in accordance to the Constitution?

As a Venezuelan I regretfully know much too much about the violations of a Constitution, but I cannot say that I know much about the Constitution of the United States.

For instance, the Constitution of the United States of America, in Section 8 states, “The Congress shall have the power to…fix the Standard of Weights and Measures.”

And I know that bank regulators, by setting risk weights determine how much capital (equity) banks need to hold against different assets... which means that banks will be able to obtain different risk adjusted returns on equity for different assets.

And so I ask, did the United States Congress really approve those risk weights? I say this because I find that concept to be anathema to “The Home of the Brave”.

And I also ask because the US Constitution, in its section 9 states: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States”… and that seems precisely what the US might have allowed by allowing regulatory preferences, much lower risk weights, on loans to the Sovereign (the Monarch) and to an AAAristocracy... or more precisely an AAArisktocracy.

And what are those risk weights? The sovereign, meaning the government, meaning bureaucrats deciding on the use of bank credit was given 0%, the “AAArisktocracy” 20%, and WE THE PEOPLE are deemed to be 100% 

But what do these risk weights really signify? The answer is quite straightforward. Those with low risk weights will have even more access at even easier terms to bank credit, than what the natural order of banking would give them. And so those with higher risk weights will, consequentially, have less even access to bank credit and have to pay even more for it, than what the natural order of banking would give them.

And so, in words of Mark Twain, this means that bankers are even much more prone than usual to lend out the umbrella when the sun shines, and to take it back when it rains.

And the tragic consequences for the US are many:

It increases the inequality gap between The Infallible and the Risky

It stops bank from financing the future and make them mostly refinance the past.

And in the case of the sovereign, it translates into an effective subsidy of the interest rates paid by the Government, and so everyone is flying blind, not knowing what the real not subsidized risk free rate would be.

And the list goes on... 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The silly doubling down on ex ante perceived risks is killing the Western economies... and not so softly

The interest rates, the size of the exposures and all other terms of assets that banks put on their balance sheet, are a function of their ex ante perceived risks, like those reflected in credit ratings.

But current bank regulations also determines that the capital (equity) banks are required to hold against those assets, are also to be a function of risk weights determined from ex ante perceived risk, like those of credit ratings.

And that fundamental mistake of doubling down on the same ex ante perceived risks, like those in credit ratings, potentiating risk aversion, is killing the western economies as we knew them... and not so softly.

Trusting excessively ex ante perceived risks, regulators have allowed banks to hold much much less capital against assets perceived ex ante as “absolutely safe”, than against assets perceived as risky. And that resulted in that banks earn much much higher risk adjusted returns on equity on “The Infallible”, like exposures to sovereigns, housing sector and the AAAristocracy, than on The Risky, like medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start ups.

And that means that banks have dangerously leveraged up much too much on The Infallible and, equally dangerously, much too little on The Risky.

And so when one of “The Infallible” ex post turns out to belong to “The Risky”, as always happens sooner or later, often precisely because it has had too much access to bank credit, then the banks stand there naked with almost no capital.

And so “The Risky”, those who on the margins of the real economy most need and should have access to bank credit, in order to help our economies to move forward, they will not get it.

In essence this all means that banks will not help to finance the western economies future, but only help to refinance its past.

Senator Patrick Moynihan is quoted with saying “There are some mistakes it takes a PhD to make”. Unfortunately most of us equally seem to believe “There are mistakes, so dumb, these just cannot be made by a PhD”.

We baby-boomers extract as much equity as possible from the risk-taking our parents allowed banks to take, while refusing now to allow banks to take the risks our grandchildren need.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Why the Bank of England, BoE, like most other bank regulators, is pissing outside the pot.

I invite you to read the Bank of England publication “Bank capital and liquidity

It states: “It is the role of bank prudential regulation to ensure the safety and soundness of banks, for example by ensuring that they have sufficient capital and liquidity resources to avoid a disruption to the critical services that banks provide to the economy.”

But, if that comes with avoiding that those in the real economy who most need and deserve access to bank credit, do not get it, only because they are perceived as more “risky”, then the regulators are most definitively pissing outside the pot.

The regulator divides here the balance sheet of the bank in 3 categories: Cash and Guilts, Safer loans, and Riskier loans.

If then, as they do, they allow banks to hold much much less capital against Guilts and Safer loans than against Riskier loans, that simply means that banks will be earning much much higher expected risk adjusted return on Guilts and Safer loans, that on Riskier loans.

And that means that “The Infallible” will have even more access to bank credits, which could turn these into risky, and make it very dangerous for the banks, while “The Risky” will get even less access to bank credit and make it very dangerous for the real economy.

“The Infallible” are the sovereigns, the housing sector and the AAAristocracy. “The Risky” are medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

This is the mumbo jumbo that the Basel Committee bet our whole western world banking system on. Shame on it!

Here is the document which describes the risk-weight functions of Basel II

And these are the 3 papers referenced therein:

All put together, does not make any sense!

And on that the Basel Committee, and the Financial Stability Board bet our whole western world banking system. Shame on it! How could they?

And that same crazy risk-weighing function is still part of Basel III

I wonder who wrote that “Explanatory Note”. “The confidence level is fixed at 99.9%, i.e. an institution is expected to suffer losses that exceed its level of tier 1 and tier 2 capital on average once in a thousand years”. That must indeed be the Bank Regulator’s real New Clothes.

Come on Mario Draghi, Adair Turner, Mark Carney, Stefan Ingves, Michel Barnier, or anyone else involved with bank regulations... have a go at explaining it to us! I bet you do not understand it either... but your egos stop you from recognizing that.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Is being consistent better than being right? Is the quest for consistency not just a cover up for mediocrity?

We read: “The members of the Financial Stability Board´s Regional Consultative Group for Europe were updated by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision on the findings of the regulatory consistency assessment of risk-weighted assets for market risk and credit risk in banks’ portfolios, and shared national perspectives on regulatory consistency of risk weights.”

Of course we like consistency, but what is more important, that all these European countries are consistent in their assessment of risk-weighted assets for market risk and credit risk in banks’ portfolios, or that some in the group, could get it right, even if this meant acting inconsistently?

Has the biodiversity of opinions no longer any value? Is this quest for consistency not just a cover up for mediocrity?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Anything you distort I can distort better, I can distort anything better than you. Yes I can, yes I can, yes I can!

So sings the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision and the Financial Stability Board, while proceeding to distort all common sense out of how banks allocate credit in our real economy.

For this they concocted capital requirements based on the same ex ante perceived risks which were already being cleared for by the market.

And with this they made banks earn much much higher expected risk adjusted returns on equity on assets perceived as “absolutely safe” than on assets perceived as “risky”.

And with that they caused banks not to finance the risky future but only refinance the safer past.

And all for nothing, because that only doom banks to end up gasping for oxygen in dangerously overcrowded “absolutely safe havens”.

If they young would just look up from their iPads for a second, and understand what is being done to them, I would not like to be in the Great Distorters' shoes.

But she knew how to aim!

Friday, October 25, 2013

About banks, black donkeys and plain donkeys

There was a little town with a road on which some farmers in horse drawn carriages speeding along at 12.5 mph. sometimes suffered severe injuries when crashing into some of the black donkeys who roamed around the area. And the little town now wanted to prepare for the coming of speedy automobiles. 

But, before a town hall meeting could be held on the issue, Franz Basil, a local bully, presented regulations which stated: If a black donkey is seen, then the maximum speed allowed is 12.5 mph, but if there is no black donkey to be seen, 62.5 mph will be allowed. And to be absolutely sure about it, we are going to set up black donkey outlook outposts so as to rate the possibility there is one.

And since the proposal was immediately hailed as brilliant by some of Franz Basil´s comrade bullies, and some did not want to show they did not understand a iota about what he was talking about, and everyone was happy about a plan that offered the possibility of never ever more a black donkey incident, it was acclaimed, and some even discussed asking their king to knight Franz Basil.

For a while it looked as if all was going well, except for the fact that those who were allowed to drive at only 12.5 mph, were slowly driven off the road, “move over you slow stupid farmer”. 

But then, some weeks later, suddenly a real bloodbath resulted when a couple of vehicles driving at 62.5 mph smashed into some black donkeys.

One could hear the small weak voice of an old local farmer saying: “It had to happen, it was too silly to begin with, the crashing into black donkeys never ever occur when you see these, but only when you do not, for whatever reason, blinded by the sun, to dark to see, or just distracted thinking about coming home fast to your sweet wife. And who could think that those looking out for the black donkeys would not suffer of the same”.

But Franz Basil and his accolades, being the bullies they are, shut him up, offering the solution of allowing authorized speed differences to remain but now making certain that, at no point in time, the average speed of those driving on the road could be higher than 33.3 mph. And, again, understanding even less than before, no others said anything, but “Ah!” in awe.

And there the little town lays licking its wounds, just waiting for the next accident to occur and its farmers not being able to drive around.

But you may ask, “what about the plain donkeys?” Well I leave you to figure out who they are.

Data: The Basel Committee´s authorized speeds

Basel II risk weight for when there is perceived risk, “The Risky” is 100%, which on 8% basic capital requirement produces an authorized leverage of 12.5 to 1. 

Basel II risk weight for when there is no perceived risk, the AAAristocracy, is 20%, which on 8% basic capital requirement produces an authorized leverage of 62.5 to 1.

Basel III 3 percent leverage ratio is equivalent to a 33.3 to 1 average

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A regulator´s risk is totally different from a banker´s risk... and current bank regulators do not know this. God save us!

A banker has to believe he has appreciated the risks of assets and borrowers correctly, and covered for these adequately, in order to do his banking business. 

A bank regulator´s risk on the other hand, has nothing to do with the intrinsic risks of bank assets or borrowers, and all to do with whether the banker has been correct or not, in his appreciations of the risks, and if he has adjusted adequately his exposures to it.

And that is why it is so extremely silly of bank regulators to risk-weigh the capital requirements for banks based on the ex ante perceived risk of assets and borrowers, instead of setting a sufficient capital requirement to cover reasonably for the bankers committing mistakes.

And, if trying to do so, the regulator would very soon be able to understand that the assets or borrowers that really signify major dangers for the banks, are those assets that, when booked, were considered “absolutely safe”.

In other words, if risk-weighting, not for the bankers´ risks but for the regulators' risk, the capital requirements for what is perceived as “absolutely safe” should be higher than for what is perceived as “risky”.

And so currently bank regulators are with their risk weights not only distorting the allocation of bank credit to the real economy but, on top of it all, they are doing it in the totally wrong direction. God save us!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Now I am extremely worried

Holy Moly!

Is it that regulators, economists, even Nobel Prize winners, do not understand that… lower capital requirements for banks on some assets than others, means that banks will earn higher expected risk adjusted returns on some assets than others?

Have not anyone of these studied finance?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Worse than truck being allowed high speeds, is that different speeds are allowed.

Anat Admati in “The Compelling Case for Stronger and More Effective Leverage Regulation in Banking” October 14, 2013, refers to “The speeding analogy” which appeared in hers and Martin Hellwig’s splendid book "The Bankers' new clothes"

“Imagine that trucks were allowed to drive faster than all other cars on the road even though they are the most dangerous. Further suppose that the trucking companies and the drivers are rewarded the faster they are able to make a delivery, benefit from subsidized insurance, and have a special safety system that protects the driver in case of accidents and explosions. The companies might produce narratives suggesting that their deliveries are essential and that the fast delivery is important for economic growth. They and others might produce models suggesting possible “tradeoffs” associated with a lower speed limit for the trucks. Whereas there probably are tradeoffs associated with trucks driving too slowly, it is clear that they are irrelevant, and there are no tradeoffs, when choosing between 90 miles per hour and 50 miles per hour for a truck carrying dangerous cargo in a residential neighborhood”

Yes, Admati is right in her analogy.

What guarantees mayhem more than a generally allowed high speed is, as I have argued for years, to allow different vehicles, based on safety ratings, to drive at different speeds (risk-weights) on the same streets. Sooner or later those safety ratings, will either be captured by interested speeders, or simply be wrong; and besides these loony traffic regulations will make it more difficult for doctors, fire trucks and other vital essentials to arrive in time.

But no, Admati is very wrong in her analogy when she mentions: “Imagine that trucks were allowed to drive faster than all other cars on the road even though they are the most dangerous.”

That is because what's perceived as “most dangerous”, the risky, the trucks, is what currently in banking must transit at the slowest speeds, the lowest allowed bank leverages; while those perceived as the safest, like sovereigns, residential mortgages and AAA rated securities, are those allowed to go through our residential neighborhoods at the highest speeds, the highest allowed leverages.

I do understand, it is hard to internalize that, at least when it comes to banking, that which is perceived as safe is so much more dangerous to the system than that which is perceived as risky. Sadly way too many missed their lectures on conditional probabilities. 

All this is of course why I give much more importance to eliminating the risk-weighting of the capital requirements for banks, than just increasing the basic capital required. In fact the more capital banks are asked to increase the capital means that, while that is being taken cared off, the worse will be the effective discrimination against those who, even though they in fact pose the least de facto risks for the banks, are been castigated with the highest risk weights. Remember "The drowning pool"

In the hands of self righteous, arrogant, dumb and unsupervised bank regulators, Europe is doomed.

Let there be no doubt. Basel II did the eurozone in, but, Basel III, is fundamentally still a perceived risk-based bank regulatory regime. All its new concoctions, like Leverage Ratio, Liquidity Coverage Ratio and Net Stable Funding Ratio are, admittedly, only backstops, supplements or complements.

And this means that banks will still be allowed to hold much less capital against loans to “The Infallible”, like to sovereigns, the housing sector and the AAAristocracy, than against loans to “The Risky”, like to medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups.

And that means, of course, banks will be making much higher expected risk-adjusted returns on equity when lending to The Infallible than when lending to The Risky.

And that means, of course, banks will not lend to the future, only refinance the past.

And that means, of course, Europe will not risk exploring sufficiently the new adventurous bays it needs in order to sustain a movement forward, and to create sturdy jobs for its youth, and will therefore die, gasping for oxygen, in dangerously overpopulated safe havens.

Europe, I cry for you. You have no idea of what you have gotten yourself into. Your banking system has been overtaken by what must be the stupidest risk-averse mentality, incapable of understanding the simple fact that what is perceived, ex ante, as “risky”, has never ever caused a major bank crisis, only what has been erroneously perceived as absolutely safe do that.

Europe, for your own sake, rid yourself of the false Pharisees in the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision and in the Financial Stability Board, as fast as you can!

God make us daring!

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Basel Committee´s and the Financial Stability Board's loony concept of our risks with banks. God help us!

Basel II assigns a 150% risk weight to loans rated below BB- which, since the basic capital requirement in Basel II is 8 percent, means that a bank is required to hold 12 percent in capital (equity) against those loans… an authorized leverage of 8 to 1.

And Basel II assigns a risk weight of only 20% to loans rated AAA to AA which, with the same basic capital requirement of 8 percent, means that a bank is required to hold 1.6 percent in capital (equity) against those loans… an authorized leverage of 62.5 to 1.

Q: If you were a regulator, what would you think poses the greatest dangers for us with the banks, the possibility of their excessive exposure to something rated AAA to AA which turns out to be risky, or their “excessive” exposure to something rated BB- which turns out to be even more risky than that?

A: The first of course. There would be very few or no "excessive" exposures to anything rated below BB-. And, if so, the banks would have collected a lot of risk premiums too... which is also capital (equity).

You see, the Basel Committee’s risk weights measure the risks of the assets and the borrowers for the banks, but not the bank risks for us. You see, our and the bank regulators’ problems with banks, have absolutely nothing to do with banks and bankers getting it right, and absolutely all to do with banks and bankers, getting it wrong!

You understand it... but the members of the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board don't.

And that kind of unwise risk-weighting is still part of Basel III. In fact, more than five years after a crisis erupted, as a consequence of many assets perceived as safe turning very risky, and banks then having almost no capital against these assets, the basic principle of their faulty method of risk-weighting is not even discussed.

And much much less do the current regulators understand that capital requirements adjusted for "perceived" risk-weights, completely distorts the allocation of bank credit in the real economy.

And we have placed our banks in the hands of this kind of regulators. God help us!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Who are the rent extractors and who the rent payers of current bank regulations?

The pillar of current bank regulations is capital requirements for banks based on perceived risk, a.k.a. risk-weights. The more risk the more capital the much less “risk” the much less capital. 

That means that the rent extractors are:

1. The bankers, whose dream of making high equity return on what is perceived as “absolutely safe” has come through… that is of course until they discover the ex ante perceptions were, ex post, wrong.

2. "The Infallible": the "sovereigns, the housing sector and the AAAristocracy; namely those who will have much more access, in much better terms, to bank credit.

And that means that the rent squeezed payers are:

1. "The Risky”: medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and star ups, namely those who will have much less access and in much worse terms, to bank credit.

2. And of course all the unemployed youth who will find their possibilities in life to gain access to decent and sturdy jobs much reduced by this senseless regulatory risk aversion.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Our slowing hybrid real economy is running out of gas... and is in a shutdown mode!

Our economy is like a hybrid car. It accelerates using a motor fueled by risk taking, and then, playing it safe, breaking, it draws energy which it stores in a battery that can be used to further move forward, for a while.

Unfortunately, with current perceived risk-weighted capital requirements for banks, banks are not financing the future, only refinancing the past… and so we are running only on batteries, risking running out of all risk-taking!

In other words, our real economy has been placed, by dumb regulators, in a real shutdown mode.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Financial Stability Board is still without a clue of how banks best serve the needs of the real economy

It opens with:

“In Washington in 2008, the G20 committed to fundamental reform of the global financial system. The objectives were to correct the fault lines that led to the global financial crisis and to build a safer, more resilient source of finance to serve better the needs of the real economy.”

And it concludes with:

The completion and full, timely and consistent implementation of reforms will not only build more resilient national systems but also, by building confidence in each other’s commitments, support a more effective and open system. The result will be a resilient global financial system that serves an increasingly global real economy throughout the economic cycle, including the inevitable economic shocks. That system will best support the ultimate objective of strong, sustainable and balanced economic growth and job creation.

And the whole statements does not mention even once, much less recognizes it, the number one fault line which not only led directly to the financial crisis, but also impedes banks from serving the needs of the real economy and the creation of jobs.

And I refer, of course, to the so rotten pillar of the Basel Committee’s regulations, namely the risk-weighted bank capital requirements, those which lead banks to solely refinance the past and not finance the future.

These regulators, they just care about the banks, they do not care about the real economy.

God help us!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

With Basel II-III risk-weighted capital requirements, banks are not financing the future, only refinancing the past

The pillar of Basel II and Basel III bank regulations is capital requirements based on perceived risk. More-risk-more-capital and less-risk-less-capital.

That results in that banks can obtain much much higher risk-adjusted returns when lending to “The Infallible”, like some sovereigns, the housing sector and the AAAristocracy, than when lending to “The Risky”, like to medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups.

And that results in banks lending much more to the “safer” developed past, than to the “riskier” developing future.

And anyone who does not understand that, or fully understands that risk-taking is the oxygen of development, should, frankly, not be working at the World Bank, the world’s premier development bank.

On the risk of risk aversion, I spoke over and over again, as an Executive Director of the World Bank, 2002-2004. But no one wanted to listen, all were just too much in love with the illusion of the ‘never ever a bank crisis again’. And I can understand that, I come from a country, Venezuela, where citizens do believe, over and over again, crazy messianic promises.

And I protested during the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Developing at the United Nations too. But what weight could my small unknown voice carry, when drowned by all those Monday morning quarterbacks, like the Nobel Prize winner Stiglitz, complaining, ex post, about the excessive risk taking of banks.

And it is now more than five years since the bank crisis broke out, precisely because being caught with little capital and excessive exposures to some of “The Infallible”, like AAA rated securities, Icelandic banks, Greece, and real estate in Spain; and our real economy is suffering from the lack of access to bank credit of “The Risky”.

And yet, we still have to read important documents of the World Bank, like Chapter 6 in the World Development Report 2014, “The role of the financial system in managing risks”; and “Financing for Development Post-2015”, which do not even mention the criminal distortions produced by the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks. It makes you want to cry for all the unemployed young.. 

But perhaps there is a glimmer of hope. Professor Stiglitz in "The Changing of the Monetary Guard" in the “Annual Meetings Daily”, October 12, writes about regulations that "affects the supply and allocation of credit - a crucial determinant of macroeconomic activity", and that "Any serious candidate for Fed Chairman should understand the importance of good regulation and the need to return the US banking system to the business of providing credit, especially to ordinary Americans and small and medium sized businesses (that is, those who cannot raise money on the capital markets)”. And that “return”, might mean he, and perhaps some other, have finally understood what happened.

Let us pray that at least Janet Yellen does understand it, especially since those in the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board evidence they are still clueless.

What would I do? First we absolutely need to hold the regulators accountable. Fire them, Hollywood would never allow a Basel III to be directed by the same who produced a box-office flop like Basel II… and parade them down some avenues wearing dunce caps.

Then accept that the banking systems is so seriously under-capitalized, and distorted, that extraordinary measures need to be taken, carefully but urgently, Basel IV, if we are not to doom our young unemployed to become a lost generation.

PS. All risk management must begin by clearly identifying those risks we cannot afford not to take… and, in banking, we cannot afford the banks not to take the risks the real economy needs.