Saturday, October 10, 2015

A public letter to Mr. Stefan Ingves, the chair of the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision

Mr. Stefan Ingves.

There are cowards and there are braves, ranging from extreme cowards to stupidly foolish braves, but that has less to do with how these perceive risks, and much more to do with how they assume and manage risks.

And then there are those blind to risks… so blind they do not even see a credit rating.

The Basel Committee’s risk weighted capital requirements for banks, based on precisely the same perceived risks (credit ratings) that seeing banks can already see, have clearly been designed for blind bankers.

I do not know how many such blind bankers there are, and if they exist they should not even be allowed to be in business. But, your risk weighted capital requirements, sure poses a big problem for all other banks, and for the economy in general.

Since non-blind banks already clear for any perceived credit risk, by means of interest rates and size of exposure, to force them to again, now in the capital, clear for exactly the same perceived credit risk, gives credit risk perceptions a double weight.

And any perceived risk, even if perfectly perceived, if excessively considered, leads to the wrong action.

In the case all credit risk ratings were perfect… that would then mean banks would lend more than what they should, to what is perceived “safe”, and less than what they should, to what is perceived "risky". And that misallocation of bank credit must be bad for all, especially for the real economy.

Also if credit ratings indicate a “safe” asset to be safer than what it really is, then of course a bank could collapse. Indeed this is precisely the stuff all major bank crises have been made of. No crisis has resulted from too much exposures to something ex ante perceived as risky.

Of course, if a credit rating is imperfect, in the way of informing the asset to be less risky, or less safe, than what it really is, then you might have helped banks to nail it. I doubt though your intention was really to base it on credit ratings being adequately wrong.

Mr. Stefan Ingves, may I suggest the following?

For once think of the purpose of banks being that of allocating credit efficiently to the real economy; and then go back to the drawing board, to see what non-distortionary capital requirements for banks you can come up with.

While doing so, may I suggest you remember that the purpose of the capital requirements for banks, is to cover for some unexpected losses, and not like now, for the expected credit losses?

You could still use credit ratings, if that helps you to save face… but, instead of basing it until now on those credit ratings being correct, why not require banks to have for instance 8 percent of capital against all assets, based on the risks of credit ratings, and other risk perceptions, being wrong... and other risks like that of cyber-attacks.

Please Mr. Ingves... wake up! The risk with banks has nothing to do with the risk of their assets, and all to do with how they manage the risk of their assets… Don’t make it harder than it already is for banks to manage credit risks correctly.

Yours sincerely,

Per Kurowski

PS. Could you please send a copy of this letter to Marc Carney, the current chair of the Financial Stability Board? It could also be of interest  to BIS's Jaime Caruana, ECB's Mario Draghi, and Fed's Janet Yellen.