Friday, December 30, 2016

Mercatus Center, in order to reframe financial regulations, you must dig in much deeper into the current mistakes.

I refer to “Reframing Financial Regulation: Enhancing Stability  and Protecting Consumers” 2016, by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and edited by Hester Peirce & Benjamin Klutskey.

The book includes many wise suggestions but, since it does not seem to capture how incredibly faulty current regulations really are, it has gaps that make it more difficult to understand how sensitive the financial system, primarily banks, and the real economy as such, is to the process of implementing a “reframing”.

For brevity and because my main reservations with current financial regulations have to do with the issue therein discussed, I will limit my comments to Chapter 1: Risk-Based Capital Rules by Arnold Kling.

The author writes: “Risk-based capital rules dramatically affect the rate of return banks earn from holding different type of assets. Regardless of the intent of these rules they strongly influence capital allocation in the economy.”

That is correct, although referring to the ex-ante expected risk adjusted returns on equity would be more precise.

Then the author states: “They substitute even crude regulatory judgment for individual bank discretion and market mechanism”. 

That is not entirely correct. The real problem is that since banks already clear for ex ante perceived risks, when setting interest rates and the amount of their exposures, that regulators also use basically the same ex ante risk perceptions for determining the capital requirements, means that “ex-ante perceived risks”, will be doubly considered. What regulators missed entirely, is that any risk, even if perfectly perceived, will cause the wrong actions, if excessively considered.

The book identifies partly what the distortion in the allocation of bank credit could do to the safety of banks, but what it most misses to comment on, is what the risk weights actually calculated and used, really meant and mean to the allocation of bank credit to the real economy. 

For instance Basel I, 1988, applied to the United States, set the risk weight of 0 percent for US Treasuries; 20 percent for claims to for instance local governments; 50 percent when financing residential properties and revenue bonds; and 100 percent all other claims on private obligors.

0% risk weight for the sovereign? If that’s not in runaway statism what is? De facto it implies that regulators consider government bureaucrats will give better use to bank credit than the private sector.

In 2001 the Federal Reserve Board, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the FDIC set the following risk weight depending on credit rating; AAA to AA 20 percent; A 50%; BBB (the lowest investment grade) 100 percent; and BB (below investment grade) 200%.

If that’s not runaway stupidity what is? The regulators really seem to have thought (and think) that assets perceived as extremely risky, are more dangerous to the bank system than assets perceived as safe. As if they never heard of Mark Twain’s “A banker lends you the umbrella when the sun shines and wants it back when it looks it could rain”; as if they never heard of Voltaire’s “May God defend me from my friends, I can defend myself from my enemies”. 

Worse though, they never gave any consideration to the possibility that millions of “risky” 100% weighted SMEs and entrepreneurs, so vital to the sturdy growth of the real economy, would see their credit applications negated only because of this. 

Mercatus Center, any reframing of current financial regulations that is not based on a full understanding of how statists and stupid current regulations are, will not be able to adequately deliver what we, especially the young, so urgently need.

For instance all those propositions of increasing the capital requirements for banks with higher leverage ratios but that would keep of the risk weighting in place fail to understand that the bigger the capital squeeze the more will the risk weighing distort the allocation of bank credit to the real economy. (Think of “The Drowning Pool”)

For instance to avoid imposing on the real economy the bank credit austerity that would result in the initial stages of capital increases the grandfathering of old capital requirements for existing assets until these are disposed would be a must.

Mercatus Center, you have clout that I as a citizen have not! Do all us a favor and request straight answers from the regulators on some very basic questions.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Harvard Law School. I hope you did not believe Bill Coen with that the Basel Committee knows what it’s doing.

Bill Coen, the Secretary General of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, spoke at the Harvard Law School on December 12, 2016. In: “The global financial crisis and the future of international standard setting: lessons from the Basel Committee” Coen had this to say about the metric of the risk-weighted ratio:

“Its strength is that it sets capital requirements according to the perceived riskiness of a bank’s assets.” 

Comment: It is sheer lunacy to set capital requirements according to ex ante perceived risks, when you should set them according to the risk that banks might not adequately perceive the riskiness of their assets. In fact all bank crises have occurred from unforeseen events (like devaluations), criminal behaviors or excessive exposures to what ex ante was perceived as safe but that ex post turned out to be risky. No bank crisis has ever resulted from excessive bank exposures to something ex ante believed risky.

“Its weakness is that it is susceptible to setting too low capital requirements, either unintentionally (model risk), or intentionally (gaming).”

Comment: This evidences mindboggling naiveté. For banks to earn the highest possible risk adjusted returns on equity, they will automatically look to hold as little equity as possible. So it is like placing some delicious cookies in front of children, and expecting them to reach out for the spinach.

Students and professors at Harvard Law School, do us all a big favor. Send Bill Coen the following questions, and ask him formally to respond. At least that would save me from having to go on a hunger strike or other similar extremes in order to get some answers.

PS. You could also ask the Harvard Business School about why they have kept such silence on the monumental mistakes of current bank regulations.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Current bank regulation, more risk more capital - less risk less capital, is something as fake and dumb as it gets.

1. Even though the most important function of banks is to allocate credit efficiently to the real economy, let’s forget that and concentrate solely on banks becoming super safe mattresses in which we can store our savings.

So let us not worry about banks being able to leverage more their equity and the support we give them on what is perceived as safe than on what is perceived as risky; which obviously means banks will be able to earn higher expected risk adjusted returns on equity on what is perceived as safe than on what is perceived as risky; which obviously means banks will lend too much to what is perceived as safe and too little to what is perceived as risky.

2. Even though that reduces the opportunities of those coming from behind to access bank credit, and therefore basically decrees more inequality, let’s also forget about that.

3. Even though the distortion will cause banks to finance less the risky that our young need in order for them to have jobs and a workable economy, let us forget about that and go for short term safety, we baby-boomers aren’t that young, are we?

4. Even though all banking crisis have resulted from unexpected events, like natural disasters and devaluations, from criminal activity and from excessive exposures to something ex ante perceived as safe but that ex post turned out to be very risky, let us ignore that and require banks to hold more capital when holding assets perceived as risky. 

5. Even though we know that banks will do their utmost to lower their capital requirements so as to obtain higher returns on assets, let us allow the big banks to run their own risk models, as they will love us for that and make our yearly visits to Davos so much more agreeable.

6. Even though it is clear that our economies would never have developed the same had these regulations been in place before, let us ignore that, in order as regulators to feel more tranquil.

7. Even though the distortion will cause banks to finance less the risky SMEs and entrepreneurs that our young need to be financed in order for them to have jobs and a workable economy, let us forget about that and go for short term safety, we baby-boomers aren’t that young, are we?

8. Even though 0% risk weight for the Sovereign and 100% for We the People gives away that we believe government bureaucrats know better how to use bank credit than the private sector, let’s stand firm on it. We are true statists, aren’t we?

9. Even though Greece and AAA rated securities, and the ensuing stagnation, and the ensuing waste of so much stimulus has proved us so very wrong, let us ignore that, since otherwise we could lose our jobs.

10. There is probably not a clearer evidence that current bank regulators have no clue about they are doing that Basel II's risk weights. These assign 20% to the dangerous AAA to AA rated while sticking the so innocuous below BB- rated with 150%.

PS. I have tried for over a decade to get some answers from regulators to some very basic questions, unfortunately in that area the technocrats are seemingly following a strict Zero Contestability policy.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Stefan Ingves, years after Basel Committee’s failure, you all have still no idea about how to regulate banks.

On December 2, 2016 Stefan Ingves, the Chairman of the Basel Committee gave a Keynote speech at the second Conference on Banking Development, Stability and Sustainability, titled “Finalising Basel III: Coherence, calibration and complexity” 

In it Ingves stated: “an area of further research which would be welcome relates to how we should think about the capital benefits of allowing banks to use internally modelled approaches, and therefore the appropriate calibration of capital floors to such models. What are the pre-conditions for such models to produce better outcomes than, say, simpler standardised approaches? And to whom do the benefits of improved modelling accrue? If a bank using a model can lower its capital requirements by, say, 30%, what are the financial stability and real economy benefits of such an approach? To what extent do the benefits of modelling accrue to lower-risk borrowers as opposed to the parties being compensated for developing and using the models?”

That is clear evidence that the Basel Committee still, soon ten years after the crisis, their failure, has no idea about what it is doing. It should concern us all. 

Here’s one example on of how the Basel Committee’s has totally confused ex ante risks with ex post risks. In their Basel II standardized risk weights the weight assigned to AAA assets is 20% while the weight of a highly speculative below BB- rated assets was set at 150%. 

I ask: What has much greater chance of taking the banking system down, excessive exposures to something ex ante believed very safe or excessive exposures to something believed very risky? The answer should be clear. Never ever have bank crises resulted from excessive exposures to something believe risky when placed on the balance sheet; these have always resulted from unexpected events (like devaluations), criminal behavior or excessive exposures to something perceived ex ante as very safe but that ex post turned out to be very risky. 

The truth is that the Basel Committee told banks: “Go out and leverage your capital more than with assets that are safe”. And so when disaster happens, like with AAA rated securities, banks stand there more naked than ever.

Of course, the other side of that coin is, “Do not go and lend to what is risky”. So banks dangerously for the real economy stopped lending to SMEs and entrepreneurs… something that is never considered when stress testing.

To top it up, like vulgar statist activists, they set a risk weight of 0% for the Sovereign and one of 100% for We the People; which translates into a belief that government bureaucrats can use bank credit more efficiently than the private sector… something which of course created the excessive indebtedness of Greece and other.

One final comment, the regulators naivety is boundless: “to whom do the benefits of improved modeling accrue? asks Ingves” Clearly there is no understanding of that bankers will, as is almost their duty, always look to minimize capital if so allowed, in order to obtain the highest expected risk adjusted returns on equity. 

When fake regulators supervise banks; totally unsupervised banks is much better.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

That banks allocate credit efficiently to the real economy is more important than avoiding bank failures

“THE MINNEAPOLIS PLAN reduces the risk of financial crises and bailouts to as low as 9 percent, at only a modest economic cost relative to the typical cost of a banking crisis. 

The Minneapolis Plan will (a) increase the minimum capital requirements for “covered banks” to 23.5 percent of risk- weighted assets, (b) force covered banks to be no longer systemically important—as judged by the U.S. Treasury Secretary—or face a systemic risk charge (SRC), bringing their total capital up to a maximum of 38 percent over time, (c) impose a tax on the borrowings of shadow banks with assets over $50 billion of 1.2 percent for entities not considered systemically important by the Treasury Secretary and 2.2 percent for shadow banks that are systemically important, and (d) create a much simpler and less burdensome supervisory and regulatory regime for community banks”

NO! Except for (d) “a simpler and less burdensome supervisory and regulatory regime for community banks” the Minneapolis plan suffers from the same fundamental mistake of current bank regulations. 

It fixates itself on avoiding bank failures, while entirely ignoring the much more important social purpose of the banks, that of allocating credit efficiently to the real economy.

To achieve that is impossible, while using risk weighting based on ex ante perceived risks to determine capital requirements. 

Would the Minneapolis Fed be able to provide me the answers to those questions the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board refuse to even acknowledge?

PS. And in any adjustment plan grandfathering existing capital requirements for the existing assets held by the banks would be required, so as to not risk contracting the credit market excessively. 

FSB’s Mark Carney is no one to lecture us on inequality, lack of opportunities and intergenerational divide

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, in a speech titled “The Spectre of Monetarism” December 5, 2016 said: 

“For both income and wealth, some of the most significant shifts have happened across generations. A typical millennial earned £8,000 less during their twenties than their predecessors. Since 2007, those over 60 have seen their incomes rise at five times the rate of the population as a whole. Moreover, rising real house prices between the mid-1990s and the late 2000s have created a growing disparity between older homeowners and younger renters...  At the same time as these intergenerational divides are emerging, evidence suggests that equality of opportunity in the UK remains disturbingly low, potentially reinforcing cultural and economic divides.”

But Mark Carney is also the current Chairman of G20’s Financial Stability Board and, as such, one of the primarily responsible for current bank regulations… the pillar of which is the risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

That piece of regulation decrees inequality resulting from negating “the risky”, like SMEs and entrepreneurs fair access to bank credit. 

That piece of regulation favors the financing of “safe” basements where jobless kids can stay with their parents over “riskier” ventures that could provide the kids in the future the jobs, so that they had a chance to become responsible parents too.

That piece of regulations is a violation of that holy intergenerational bond Edmund Burke spoke about.

Carney also said: “Higher uncertainty has contributed to what psychologists call an affect heuristic amongst households, businesses and investors. Put simply, long after the original trigger becomes remote, perceptions endure, affecting risk perceptions and economic behaviour. Just like those who lived through the Great Depression, people appear more cautious about the future and more reluctant to take irreversible decisions. That means less willingness to put capital to work and, ultimately, lower growth.”

If any have suffered form “affect heuristic” that is the bank regulators. Mixing up ex ante perceptions with ex post possibilities, these decided on “more risk more capital – less risk less capital”, without: defining the purpose of banks “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” John A Shedd; or looking at what has caused bank crises in the past “May God defend me from my friends, I can defend myself from my enemies” Voltaire

Mark Carney also said “For two-and-a-half centuries, the prices of government bonds and the prices of equities tended to move together: the typical bull market entails rising equity prices and falling bond yields, with the reverse in bear markets. Since the mid-2000s, however, this pattern has reversed and bond yields have tended to fall along with equity prices”.

He is not able to connect that to the fact the risk weight given to sovereign debt is 0%, as compared to one of 100% for We the People… and that capital scarce banks therefore shed “riskier” assets in favor of public debt. As statist, Carney also ignores the fact that regulation has subsidized public borrowings, paid of course by negating credit opportunities to SMEs and entrepreneurs.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Here is the succinct but complete explanation of the subprime crisis. One, which apparently should not be told.

Just four factors explains it all, or at least 99.99%.

Securitization: The profits for those involved in securitization are a function of the betterment in risk perceptions and the duration of the underlying debts being securitized. The worse we put in the sausage – and the better it looks - the more money for us. Packaging a $300.000, 11%, 30 year mortgage, and selling it off for US$ 510.000 yielding 6% produces and immediate profit of $210.000 for those involved in the process.

Credit ratings: Too much power to measure risks was concentrated in the hands of some very few human fallible credit rating agencies.

Borrowers: As always there were many financially uneducated borrowers with needs and big dreams that were easy prey for strongly motivated salesmen, of the sort that can sell a lousy time-share to a very sophisticated banker. 

Capital requirements for banks. Basel II, June 2004, brought down the risk weight for residential mortgages from 50% to 35%. Additionally, it set a risk weight of only 20% for whatever was rated AAA to AA. The latter, given a basic 8%, translated into an effective 1.6% capital requirement, which meant bank equity could be leveraged 62.5 times to 1.

Clearly the temptations became too much to resist for all involved.

The banks, like the Europeans, thinking that if they could make a 1% net margin they could obtain returns on equity of over 60% per year, went nuts demanding more and more of these securities; and the mortgage producers and packagers were more than happy to oblige, signing up lousier and lousier mortgages and increasing the pressure on credit rating agencies.

Of course it had to end bad... and it did!

Can you image what would have happened if the craze had gone on one year more?

I have explained all the above in many shapes or form, for much more than a decade. Unfortunately it is an explanation that is not allowed to move forward, because it would put some serious question marks about the sanity of some of the big bank regulators.

Might I need to go on a hunger strike to get some answers from the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board?

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Must one go on a hunger strike to have the Basel Committee or FSB answer some very basic questions?

Before regulating banks did you ever define their purpose? I know we all want them to be safe but, as John Augustus Shedd said: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” 

By allowing for different capital requirements based on ex ante perceived risks of assets, banks will be able to leverage their equity (and the support given by authorities) differently, which will cause quite different expected risk adjusted returns for different assets, than would have been the case in the absence of this regulation. Were you never concerned about how this would distort the allocation of bank credit to the real economy? 

Since ex ante perceived risk were already considered by bankers when deciding on the amounts of exposures and interest rates, when you decided that the perceived risk was also going to determine capital requirements, you doubled up on perceived risk. Don’t you know that any risk, even if perfectly perceived, causes the wrong actions if excessively considered? 

In the case of larger and more “sophisticated” banks, you allowed these to use their own internal risk models to determine capital requirements. (Something like allowing Volkswagen to calculate their own emissions) Was it not naïve of you to believe banks would not naturally aim for lower capital requirements, in order to increase their expected risk adjusted returns on equity?

What’s perceived as safe can be leveraged into being utterly dangerous, only because of that perception; while what’s perceived as risky is automatically less dangerous, precisely because of that perception. Or as Voltaire said: “May God defend me from my friends, I can defend myself from my enemies”. In this respect can you explain the logic behind your standardized Basel II risk weights of 20% for what is AAA to AA rated, and 150% for what is rated below BB-? 

In the same vein what empirical research did you carry out to determine that what is perceived ex ante as risky has caused major bank crises? I ask because as far as I know these have always been caused by unexpected event, like natural disasters or devaluations, by fraudulent criminal behavior, or by excessive exposures to what ex ante was considered as safe but that ex post turned out to be very risky. 

In other words since bank capital is there for the unexpected is it not dumb to require it based on the expected?

A risk weight of 0% for the sovereign, and 100% for We the People clearly implies you regulators all believe government bureaucrats make better use of bank credit than the private sector. Are you really such statists? Did you never consider that such dramatic rearrangement of economic power needed approval by for instance a Congress or a Parliament… or even a referendum? 

Finally do you really believe that with such risk adverse regulations, layered on top of banker’s own risk aversion, our economies would have developed as they did? Don't you see that banks are no longer financing the riskier future but only refinancing the "safer" present and past? Don't you see this decrees inequality?

PS. FT’s / Financial Times Establishment, notwithstanding my soon 2.500 letters to it on “subprime bank regulations” has also steadfastly refused to help me get answers to these questions.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

François Villeroy de Galhau, I don’t think you have earned the right to quote Ortega y Gasset

François Villeroy de Galhau, Governor of the Banque de France, when addressing The Asociación de Mercados Financieros Annual Financial Convention in Madrid on November 21, 2016 ends his “Europe facing a new political economy” by quoting José Ortega y Gasset, the famous Madrid-born philosopher:

“Life is a series of collisions with the future; it is not the sum of what we have been, but what we yearn to be”. 

Absolutely Mr Villeroy de Galhau. But what are we to say of bank regulators like you who with their risk weighted capital requirements, give banks great incentives to earn the highest risk adjusted returns on equity when refinancing the "safer" past and present, so as to make them stay away from any collision resulting from financing a "riskier" future.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Why such hullabaloo about Trump’s at view of everyone conflicts of interest, while ignoring the bank’s hidden ones?

We all know that Trump is going to be subject to so much scrutiny that his “conflicts of interest” might even suffer. 

But on the large banks’ outrageous conflicts of interest, namely being able to use their own models to partially determine the capital they need to hold, on that everyone keeps mum. Why?

The lower the risk is calculated, the lower is the capital requirements, the higher is the allowed leverage, and so the better are the banks perspectives on obtaining high risk adjusted returns on equity. If that’s not a mother of a conflict of interest what is?

The “Stockholm Statement” by thirteen economists, including four former Chief Economists of the World Bank, is shamefully lacking.

The Stockholm Statement is shamefully lacking.

That is foremost so because chief economists of the World Bank, the world’s premier development bank, should know that risk-taking is the oxygen of any development; and should know that when banks were subjected to Basel Committee’s regulations, a distorting risk aversion was introduced.

To allow banks to hold less capital and therefore to leverage more their equity with what is ex-ante perceived, decreed or concocted as safe, than with what ex ante is perceived as risky; which allows banks to earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity on what’s “safe” than on what’s “risky” stops banks from financing the riskier future and cause these to settle on refinancing the “safer” past and present.

To force banks to hold more capital when lending to those perceived as risky, is a sure way to deny the weaker the opportunities of accessing bank credit and is therefore a decree to increase inequality.

To even suggest that the risk weighted capital requirements for banks is compatible with “leaving it to the market to do the rest” is as senseless as it gets. To argue: “The trend towards unfettered markets of the last quarter century explains a range of outcomes the world is now living with, including financial crises”, is not wanting to see what happened. Financial crisis are never caused by excessive exposures to what is ex ante perceived as risky; these are always the cause of unexpected events, criminal behavior or excessive exposures to what was ex ante perceived, decreed or concocted as safe… like AAA rated securities… like sovereigns like Greece.

Had this regulation introduced with the Basel Accord in 1988 been in place earlier, the world would have developed much less. Now perhaps these thirteen economists think that would have been better.

1997 in an Op-Ed I wrote: “If we insist in maintaining a defeatist attitude which definitely does not represent a vision of growth for the future, we will most likely end up with the most reserved and solid banking sector in the world, adequately dressed in very conservative business suits, but presiding over the funeral of the economy. I would much prefer the regulators to put some blue jeans on and try to help to get the economy moving.” 

In April 2003, as an Executive Director of the World Bank I formally opined: "The Basel Committee dictates norms for the banking industry that might be of extreme importance for the world’s economic development. In its drive to impose more supervision and reduce vulnerabilities, there is a clear need for an external observer of stature to assure that there is an adequate equilibrium between risk-avoidance and the risk-taking needed to sustain growth” 

Unfortunately no such external observer was ever present…. Worse the distortions these regulations produce in the allocation of bank credit to the real economy are not even discussed.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Jeb Hensarling asks: How we can make the economy work for working people? Here’s my answer:

Jeb Hensarling, the chairman of the Financial Services Committee asks: How we can make the economy work for working people

Here’s my answer:

Get rid of the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks!

These only distort the allocation of bank credit to the real economy.

These only help finance the “safe” basements where jobless kids can live with their parents but not the “risky” new job creation they would need to afford to become parents too. 

These stop banks from financing the risky future and make these only refinance the "safer" past and present.

Where would America, the Home of the Brave, have been if its banks had been subjected all the time to this type of regulatory risk aversion?

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” John A Shedd, 1850-1926

The risk weighting has de facto decreed inequality

God make us daring!

Besides it is all for nothing. Bank crisis are caused by unexpected events, criminal behavior and excessive exposures to what was ex ante perceived as very safe when placed on the banks’ balance sheets, but that ex post turned out to be very risky. Never ever are bank crisis the result from excessive exposures to what was ex ante perceived as risky. May God defend me from my friends, I can defend myself from my enemies” Voltaire

Now, if you are rightly concerned that getting rid of the risk weighting would initially create such bank capital shortages that it would put a serious squeeze on credit; then grandfather the current capital requirements for all their current assets, and apply a fixed percentage, like for instance 8%, on all new assets… including public debt, since a 0% risk weight for the Sovereign and 100% for We the People seems to me, I beg your pardon, an insult to your Founding Fathers.

Finally, if regulators absolutely must distort, so as to think they earn their salaries, may I suggest they use job-creation and environmental-sustainability ratings instead of credit ratings, which are anyhow already cleared for by banks.

Europe beware, to reward banks for less risky business models is way too risky and no way to build a future.

I now read that Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU’s financial-services chief said it’s important to make sure the rules continue to “reward banks with less risky business models” “Bank Regulators Face Santiago Showdown on Capital Overhaul” Bloomberg, November 17.

NO! That is precisely what is wrong with current risk weighted capital requirements for banks. It guarantees that safe-havens will become dangerously overpopulated against little bank equity; and that for the economy more productive though riskier bays, like SMEs, will remain equally dangerously unexplored.

It guarantees the building of many basements for jobless youth to stay with their parents and not the financing of the job creation that could allow those kids the possibility to afford being parents too.

It hinders the financing of the riskier future in order to refinance the “safer” present and past.

Risk-taking is the oxygen of all development. Where would Europe be if these regulations had been with us since banks' inception more than 600 years ago?

If banks cannot afford to immediately adjust their capital to larger capital requirements and so therefore credit to the economy would be affected, grandfather the current requirements for all existing assets, but then see to that all new bank assets are freed from the distortions the risk weighted capital requirements produce.

Should regulators stop banks from using their own risk models to set the capital requirements? Of course they should! That whole notion is about as silly as it gets. It is like allowing children to decide on the nutrition value of ice cream, chocolate cake, broccoli and spinach.

Any risk manager that has any idea of what he is doing, begins by identifying clearly the risks that one cannot afford not to take. The risk that banks take allocating credit as efficiently as possible to the real economy, is such a risk.

PS. Besides it would be so useful if regulators just looked at what has caused all major bank crisis in history; namely unexpected events, criminal behaviour and excessive exposures to what was ex ante perceived as very safe when placed on the banks’ balance sheets but that ex post turned out to be very risky. Never ever have bank crises resulted from excessive exposures to what was perceived as risky. Therefore the current Basel risk weights of 20% for AAA rated and 150% for the below BB- rated is as loony as it gets.

PS. And if regulators absolutely must distort, so as to feel they earn their salaries, may I suggest they use job-creation and environmental-sustainability ratings, instead of credit ratings that are anyhow cleared for by bankers.

PS. And frankly, is not 0% risk weight for the sovereign and 100% for We the People too statist, even for Europe?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Bank regulators, don’t try now to hide your responsibility for failures behind sophistications. It was pure hubristic ineptitude.

I refer to Andy Haldane’s “The Dappled World” 

Bank regulators don’t try now to sophisticate the reasons you all got it so very wrong. These were very simple.

You did not define the purpose of banks before regulating these.

You ignored to study why banks fail and kept to why bank assets fail, which of course is pas la meme chose.

You ignored that banks look to maximize their risk-adjusted returns on equity, before distorting the allocation of bank credit with your risk-weighted capital requirements for banks.

You ignored the monstrous systemic risks that putting so much decision power into the hands of so human fallible credit rating agencies implied.

You imposed you statist ideological preferences with the risk weights of 0% for the Sovereign, and 100% for We the People.

No! Anyone who has ever walked on main-street, and seen the difficulties those perceived as risky have in accessing bank credit would have understood how loony these regulations were. Frankly, you do not have to be a PhD for that 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ms. Elizabeth Warren, the banking system is rigged; foremost in favor of the State and banks, and against the young.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, in remarks given to AFL-CIO council on November 10, while trying to explain what lay behind the election of Donald Trump as president said: “Working families across this country are deeply frustrated about an economy and a government that doesn’t work for them. Exit polling on Tuesday found that 72 percent of voters believe that, quote, ‘the American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful.’ The polls also made clear that the economy was the top issue on voters’ minds. Americans are angry with a federal government that works for the rich and powerful and that leaves everyone else in the dirt.”

Yes, the American economy is rigged, but at least with respect to the bank system, not exactly in the way most believe it is. I explain.

For the purposes of setting the capital requirements for banks, regulators, the Basel Committee, have decided, among others, on the following risk weights:

The sovereign (the central government and its bureaucrats) = 0%
Those rated AAA to AA (the AAArisktocracy) = 20%
Houses = 35%
The not rated, like citizen’s and SMEs = 100%
Those rated as extremely risky, like below BB-, = 150%

A lower risk weight results in having to hold less capital (equity); 
That means bank can leverage their equity more; 
That results in banks earning higher risk adjusted returns on equity; 
That therefore means banks will lend much more to what has a low capital requirements; 

In this case that means banks will lend much more than they would otherwise have done, to what is perceived, decreed or concocted as safe; and much less than the would otherwise have done to what is ex ante perceived as risky.

And so Yes! The banking system is rigged.

First and foremost, rigged in favor of the State; suggesting that when government bureaucrats use bank credit they do so much more efficiently, and generate much less risk, than if similar credit is used by the private sector/We the People.

Then rigged in favour of the banks; because being allowed to make the highest risk adjusted returns on equity on what is perceived as safe, must be a dream come true for all those bankers, described by Mark Twain, as wanting to lend you the umbrella when the sun was out, and wanting it back as soon it looked it could rain

Rigged in favor of the AAArisktocracy; by believing that a few human fallible credit rating agencies will always get it right, and that credit ratings, based on an ex ante very low risk perception, guarantees a very low ex post risk.

Rigged in favour of those buying houses, for instance basements were unemployed youth can live with their parents.

It is rigged against We the (risky) People

It is rigged against SMEs and entrepreneurs; negating the “risky” credit opportunities, it is a major driver of inequality.

It is foremost rigged against the young; because it makes banks refinance more their parents “safer” past and present, than their “riskier” future.

And all that risk aversion... in the Home of the Brave. America would never ever have become what it is, with this senseless bank regulation. Risk-taking is the oxygen of all development. 

God make us daring!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Olivier Blanchard agrees there is a need for more research on whether bank regulations have distorted

In the IMF’s Annual Research Conference during the final Economic Forum: Policy challenge after the Great Recession I had the chance to pose Olivier Blanchard a question session of Professor Lawrence Summers Mundell Fleming Lecture I had a chance the pose a question (1:01:10)

My Question: 

I might insist here briefly on a point: Why do you say that interest rates on public debt are low, when they are based on so much of regulatory subsidies? Add to the zero low rates of the public debt, all those costs that comes from not giving SMEs and entrepreneurs, millions of them, the chances for credit, only as a result of this distortions produced by risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

Olivier Blanchard answer: 

This is a theme that you have explored over the years. You are absolutely right that the answer is: if the very low safe rates is due to distortions, then the first order of business, should be to eliminate the distortions.

That’s true, if your right, of regulations, but it may be true of the lack of social insurance in some countries which leads people to basically be willing to save enormous amounts that they should not be saving, it could also be true because of missing markets. 

For all this reason you are absolutely right, step zero in what I say, lets make sure that we have removed all the distortions which we can, which affect r, so we have the right r. I take your point.

My afterthoughts: 

I sure appreciate Olivier Blanchard's acceptance of the relevance of my concerns, its been a long trip. In 2004 in a letter in the Financial Times I wrote “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?" 

And I hope the research on it starts now, not only by the IMF. It is long overdue. In fact the possible distortions should have been analyzed before these regulations were imposed.

PS. The day earlier I had posed Professor Lawrence Summers a similar question