Wednesday, June 29, 2016

When it comes to discrimination, EU cares more about the access to a monastery than about the access to bank credit

If I had the right to vote I would have voted for Britain to stay in EU. But I would have hoped for that this option had won by just one vote, so that there was huge pressure on EU to clean up its act. It sorely needs it.

For instance, the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services is in charge of promoting free movement of capital and therefore has a lot do to with the extremely important area of regulating the financial services. 

It is a topic of much interest for me since, for more than a decade, I have argued that the Basel Committee’s risk weighted capital requirements for banks, is impeding the free movement of capital with disastrous consequences for the real economy.

But in 2012, during a conference in Washington by the then Commissioner Michel Barnier, I was handed a brochure that presented, as a success story of his office, the following: 

“A French citizen complained about discriminatory entry fees for tourists to Romanian monasteries. The ticket price for non-Romanians was twice as high as that for Romanian citizens. As this policy was contrary to EU principles, the Romanian SOLVIT centre persuaded the church authorities to establish non-discriminatory entry fees for the monasteries. Solved within 9 weeks.” 

And then I knew for sure something smelled very rotten in the EU, with its full of hubris besserwisser not accountable to anyone technocrats.

How can they waste time on such small time discrimination when those borrowers ex ante perceived as risky, and who therefore already got less bank credit and at higher interest rates, now suffer additional discrimination caused by regulators requiring banks sot hold more capital when lending to them that when lending to those ex ante perceived as safe? And on top of it all, for absolutely no reason, since dangerous excessive bank exposures, are always built up with assets perceived as safe.

Barnier, as Frenchman should know Voltaire’s “May God defend me from my friends: I can defend myself from my enemies.” But now bank regulators tell banks “trust much more your friends”, the AAA rated, and to which in Basel II they assigned a risk weight of 20%; and “beware even more of your enemies”, the below BB- rated, and which were given a risk weight of 150%.

As a result banks can leverage more their equity with “safe” assets than with “risky” assets, and so they now earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity when lending to sovereigns, members of the AAArisktocracy or financing houses, than when lending to SMEs and entrepreneurs.

And as a direct consequence of this regulatory risk aversion, banks do not any longer finance the riskier future, they only refinance the for the short time being safer past.

So there is no wonder EU is not doing well. And if Brexit helps to push for the reform that are needed, then Britain should be given an open invitation to return to it at its leisure.

PS. During the Washington conference I just could not refrain from asking what the French citizen did for 9 weeks while waiting for SOLVIT to come to his rescue.

PS. Lubomir Zaoralek the minister of foreign affairs of the Czech Republic in FT “Europe’s institutions must share the blame forBrexit” July 1. Hear hear!