Monday, August 11, 2014

Europe beware, you´ve got yourself a very sad bunch of systemic risk experts reviewing the systemic risks of your banking system.

In the so posh sounding European Systemic Risk Board’s Advisory Scientific Committee´s report titled “Is Europe overbanked?” dated June 2014, we read:

“Large banks were able to increase their leverage - and therefore their return on equity (unadjusted for risk) – while complying with risk-based regulatory ratios”

And that is not correct... the lower risk weights in the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks, translates into allowing banks to hold much less capital against assets perceived as “absolutely safe”, which signifies that banks can leverage their equity much more with assets perceived as “absolutely safe”, and therefore earn much higher expected RISK-ADJUSTED returns on equity when lending to “The Infallible” than when lending to “The Risky.”

And this has made a true mockery of the report´s: “Financial development can also foster growth by allocating capital more efficiently, channeling resources to better projects and thus boosting total productivity”

Current risk weighted capital requirements signify that resources will be transferred in function of ex-ante perceived credit risks, which has of course not one iota to do with guaranteeing the transfer of these resources to better projects that can boost total productivity.

And in this respect, as I have been arguing for more than a decade, the risk weighted capital requirements represents the largest possible systemic risk to our banks and to our economies... as it basically prohibits much of the risk-taking necessary for our economies to move forward and for our descendants to have a future. 

As an example January 2003 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 yet, now soon 7 years after the crisis broke out, that systemic risk has not even been identified by those who allow themselves to be called experts in systemic risk. How come?

The report refers to “some reason, such as badly designed prudential regulation” in order to get to “banks’ rapid expansion into loans secured against residential real estate”

And yet the report does not mention the truly bad design of the prudential regulations that resulted from assigning very low risk weights against loans secured against residential real estate… which meant that banks could leverage much more their equity when giving loans secured against residential rate… which of course meant that banks would earn much higher than normal relative risk adjusted returns on equity on loans secured against residential real estate… which of course led to an explosion of bank loans secured against residential real estate.

And the report asks “Why has overbanking occurred?” and advances the explanation of “deposit insurance schemes may themselves generate moral hazard. Capital requirements can often be circumvented by banks, especially the largest ones, which have greater capacity to engage in risk-weight manipulation”

Circumvented? Hell no! The regulators allowed banks to hold only 1.6 percent in capital against securities rated AAA which meant authorizing a mindboggling leverage of 62.5 to 1… does as a bank really need to circumvent that? No! What they might need though, is to find some AAA ratings issued by the friendly and human fallible credit rating agencies. 

And let us not even go to the area of bank lending to the “Infallible Sovereigns” where no equity is required and the sky is the limit for bank leverage. In November 2004 FT published a letter in which I asked “How many Basel propositions will it take before they start realizing the damage they are doing by favoring so much bank lending to the public sector (sovereigns)?”

And so I must conclude in a: “Europe, beware, you´ve got yourself a very sad bunch of systemic risk experts reviewing the systemic risks of your banking system”

Am I to harsh in my criticism? Absolutely! If this was the first time I criticized. But, considering I have been asking the regulators my questions for more than a decade, all over the web and in hundreds of conferences, and they have never ever dared to give me a straight answer (with one incredible exception) and much less have dared debate me on these issues… I do not feel I am too harsh or too impolite in any way shape or form. 

On the contrary, I feel it is my responsibility to shame them in all the ways I can, so that no regulator dares to act ever again with so much hubris, believing he can be the risk manager for the world.

To finalize… may I kindly suggest these systemic risk experts that their so impressive list of 130 documents referenced does not include the most basic and important document required to understand the mumbo jumbo of financial regulators namely the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision´s Explanatory Note on the Basel II IRB Risk WeightFunctions of July 2005. That this document, has clearly not been reviewed by those preparing the report, is by itself something impossible to understand, unless of course they want to avoid shaming some members in a mutual admiration club.