Thursday, April 20, 2017

Regulatory risk aversion distorts credit and causes dangerous bank exposures to what is perceived, decreed or concocted as safe.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, and the Chair of the Financial Stability Board, on April 7, 2017 gave a speech titled: “The high road to a responsible, open financial system”. 

Carney said: “The pillars of responsible financial globalisation eroded prior to the global financial crisis. Regulation became light touch and ineffective…. few participants were exposed to the full consequences of their actions as governance and compensation arrangements focused on the short term.”

But to call regulations that as a pillar has risk weighted capital requirements for banks, which allow banks to leverage assets differently because of perceived or decreed risk, “light touch”, is pure nonsense. And if there is anything as focused on the short term, that must be regulations that give banks incentives not to lend to the “riskier” future, but to take refuge in refinancing the “safer” past and present.

Carney bragged: “The system is safer because banks are now much more resilient, with capital requirements for the largest global banks that are ten times higher than before the crisis and a new leverage ratio that guards against risks that may seem low but prove not.” 

Since that “ten times higher” refers to capital in relation to risk weighted assets, and he has no way to ascertain the ex ante risk perceptions will coincide with the ex post realities, that number may or may not be true. The improvement might come from banks shedding a lot of safe “risky” assets and taking on more exposures to potentially risky “safe” assets. Finally, mentioning “a new leverage ratio that guards against risks that may seem low but prove not”, amounts to admitting they had no idea what they were doing before.

Carney opined: “The financial system is simpler. As banks have become less complex and more focused, they are lending more to households and businesses and less to each other. A series of measures are eliminating toxic and fragile forms of shadow banking while reinforcing the best of resilient market-based finance. And more durable market infrastructure is simplifying the previously complex – and dangerous – web of exposures in derivative markets.”

He wishes!

But when I object the strongest is when Carney states “The financial system is fairer because of reforms that are ending the era of “too big to fail” banks and addressing the root causes of a torrent of misconduct.”

Fairer? With regulators favoring those who perceived as safe were already favored with easier access to bank credit, and increasing the obstacles for those who perceived as risky already found it harder to access bank credit, has nothing to do with fairness. It is just odious regulatory discrimination.