Thursday, March 30, 2017

BoE: Regulations make banks value what’s “risky” riskier than what it is, and what’s “safe” safer than what it is.

I refer to “The art of the deal: what can Nobel-winning contract theory teach us about regulating banks?” by Caterina Lepore, Caspar Siegert, Quynh-Anh Vo published on BoE’s Bank Underground blog.

It states “Capital Structure: Banks can finance their assets via debt, equity, hybrid securities or a mix of them. Changes in banks’ capital structure may have big impacts on their market capitalisation and are usually under close watch of regulators.”

As many do, that recognizes that differences in capital structure impacts market capitalization and profits. But again, as most can’t, the authors cannot take that intellectual step to understand that different capital structures, ordained for different assets, by means of risk weighted capital requirements for banks, distort the allocation of credit to the real economy.

Since banks do look at perceived risks when deciding on size of exposures and risk premiums, to have regulators also make these ex ante perceived risks influence the capital requirements, one is effectively doubling down on whatever ‘information asymmetries’ might exist in the perception of risks.

That de facto means that current regulations make banks value what’s “risky” riskier than what it is, and what’s “safe” safer than what it is… and seemingly no one, not even BoE, cares a damn.

The author’s also write: “Because banks are better informed about their own risks, institutions allowed to determine risks using their own models, under the internal ratings-based (IRB) approach, may have incentives to under-estimate risks.”

Of course they have incentives to under-estimate risks, as that would generate lower capital requirements, as that would allow for higher leverage of equity, as that would increase the expected risk adjusted returns on equity. 

To understand how naïve regulators have behaved, let us just indicate that it is similar to allowing Volkswagen to do their own carbon emission testing in their own laboratories.

But, don’t get me wrong, this does not mean for a second bank regulators do it better with their standard risk weights. Just as an example those private sector assets rated AAA to AA and that could because of their perceived safety really cause a major bank crisis if those perceptions turn out to be wrong ex-post were assigned in Basel II a risk weight of 20%, while the totally innocuous below BB- rated carry a risk weight of 150%. 

The authors suggest: “In the real world where banks can both undertake excessive risks and underreport such risks, as recognized by the current capital framework, a combination of risk-weighted capital requirement and a non-risk-based leverage ratio might indeed be optimal.”

The fact is that the higher a “non-risk-based leverage ratio” might be, the more can the “risk-weighted capital requirement” distort on the margin. I invite you to think of the movie “The drowning pool”

Professors Oliver Hart’s and Bengt Holmström’s contributions to contract theory can indeed be “helpful in regulating banks!” But, let us not kid ourselves, current bank regulatory mistakes are so basic, these need no new theories in order to be corrected, just pure common sense.

Here are my most urgent questions on bank regulations. These seemingly belong to those that should not be asked, much less answered.