Thursday, March 24, 2016

Please, let us not favor financing our houses more than the jobs our kids and grandchildren need

Avinash Persaud correctly states: “This story is not just about mortgages but also about the overall allocation of liquid and illiquid assets across the financial system” March 2016

Yes, indeed it is. I have for soon two decades criticized that the Basel Committee's concept of risk-weighted capital requirements for banks, dangerously distorts the allocation of bank credit.

Persaud writes: “Under Basel I, in the calculation of the amount of risk-weighted assets a bank had to fund with capital, securitized mortgages had a risk weight of 20 percent while nonsecuritized mortgages had a risk weight of 50 percent.” And Persaud translates that into “This allowed banks to earn fees and net interest margins on holding 2.5 times more credit”

A more precise description is that Basel I assigned a 50% weight to loans fully secured by mortgage on residential property that is rented or is (or is intended to be) occupied by the borrower, and Basel II reduced that to 35 percent. And Basel II also introduced that security or any financial operation that could achieve an AAA to AA- rating, was assigned a 20 percent weight.

And I translate that as: With Basel I and II’s standard risk weight of 8 percent, anything that has a risk weight of 100%, like loans to unrated SMEs and entrepreneurs, means banks can leverage its defined capital 12.5 times to 1 (100/8). 

But if it has access to a 20 percent risk weight, the bank can leverage its defined capital 62.5 times to 1 (100/1.6)

And banks, naturally, operate to maximize risk-adjusted returns on equity (and bonuses to the bankers).

And so there can be no doubt banks will allocate much to much credit, in much to easy conditions to mortgages and AAA rated securities (and to sovereigns with a zero percent risk weight) and much too little credit, in much to harsh relative terms, to what is risk weighted more than that than that like SMEs and entrepreneurs.

And so, while I fully share Persaud’s argument about preferring insurance companies to banks to finance mortgages, so as to minimize maturities mismatches, my concerns go much further than his.

I do not want to favor, in any way shape or form, the “safe” financing of mortgages, whether by banks or insurance companies, over the “risky” financing of the job creation our children and grandchildren need.