Friday, April 11, 2014

IMF, where have you been since the financial crisis broke out in 2007?

In January 2003, while being an Executive Director at the World Bank, in a letter published by FT, I wrote: “Everyone knows that, sooner or later, the ratings issued by the credit agencies are just a new breed of systemic error to be propagated at modern speeds. Friend, please consider that the world is tough enough as it is.”

And as predicted, with the help of the capital requirements for banks much based on credit ratings concocted by the Basel Committee in Basel II, the rating error of the AAA rated securities backed with mortgages to the subprime sector in the US, was propagated into trillions of dollars in exposures, even in faraway Europe.

And now, soon seven years after the outbreak of the crisis, we read a compendium of articles published by the International Monetary Fund, under the not so humble title of “Financial Crises: Causes, Consequences, and Policy Responses”, and in which we do not find one single reference to the risk-weighted capital requirements.

There is one reference though to credit ratings: “Credit ratings also deteriorate notably before a default, and improve only slowly in the aftermath of debt restructuring”. But that reference, if anything, makes it even clearer why the IMF should be opposed to the risk weighted capital requirements.

Also, in the World Economic Outlook, April 2004, that has a chapter titled “Perspectives on Global Real Interests, we do not find one single reference, or adjustment to the fact that allowing banks to hold sovereign debt, at least that of “the infallible”, against no capital, translates effectively into a subsidy of public debt, and which makes historical comparisons of rates not longer really valid.

And the Global Financial Stability Report, April 2014, also clearly evidences IMF has still not understood how the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks not only distorts the allocation of bank credit but also, by amplifying the effect of any insufficient perception of risk, becomes one of the most important sources of instability in our financial system.