Saturday, September 19, 2015

The financial crisis explained to dummies in terms of capital requirements for banks: Lehman Brothers - AIG - Greece

The regulators, with Basel II, decided that against any private sector assets rated AAA banks, and against any sovereign rated as Greece was until November 2009, banks needed to hold only 1,6 percent in capital, meaning these could with those assets leverage their capital over 60 times to 1. (When holding “risky” assets like loans to entrepreneurs and SMEs they were only allowed to leverage 12 times to 1. 

On April 28, 2004 the SEC decided that was good for the Basel Committee was good enough for them and allowed Lehman to leverage over 60 times to 1 with AAA rated securities guaranteed with mortgages to the subprime sector… Since Europe were allowing their banks to do the same… the demand for these AAA securities became so huge that it overpowered all the quality controls in their manufacturing and packaging process… and Bang!

If AIG that was AAA rated guaranteed an asset, banks could dramatically reduce the capital they needed to hold against that assets, and this overwhelmed AIG’s capacity to resist selling “very profitable” loan default guarantees… and Bang!

Greece was of coursed offered loans in such amounts and in such generous terms, so their otherwise "so" disciplined and fiscally conservative governments could not resist the temptations… and Bang!

And as should have been expected not one single asset class that was perceived as risky played any role in causing the financial crisis… although of course these assets also suffered a lot when the “safe” came tumbling down.

One would think regulators would by now have discovered that banks already clear for the perceived risks with their risk premiums and the size of their exposure; and so to also force them to also clear in the capital for exactly the same risks, would cause banks to overdose on perceived risks. But no, they haven’t. So this little financial history lesson for dummies is of course primarily directed to them.

What is our major problem now? John Kenneth Galbraith explained it well: “If one is pretending to knowledge one does not have, one cannot ask for explanations to support possible objections.”