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.