Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Lawrence Summers, like most, is still blinded by the fairy tale of the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks

I refer to Professor Lawrence Summers “Five suggestions for avoiding another banking collapse” of May 21, 2017

In it Summers clearly evidences he has not yet woken up to the fact that the whole notion of the risk weighted capital requirements of banks is pure and unabridged nonsense… a regulatory fairytale. He still actually believes that risk weighting has anything to do with real risk weighting of the risks to our bank system.  In fact bad-luck risk weighted capital requirements might better cover for the unexpected risk in banking. And so here I explain it again, for the umpteenth time.

The current risk weighting is based on the ex ante perceived risk of bank assets, and NOT on the possibility of that those assets could ex post be risky for the banks and for the bank system

That is for example why regulators in Basel II assigned to what was perceived as AAA rated and that because of such perception of safety could lead to a build up of dangerously excessive exposures, a tiny 20% risk weight; while to the below BB- rated, so innocuous because the banks would never voluntarily create large exposures to it, they assigned a whamming 150%.

Rule: If bankers are not capable of managing perceived risks, then zero capital might be the best requirement, because the faster they would fold.

Truth: A bank system can collapse because of unexpected events (like devaluations), major financial fraud, and when assets ex ante perceived as very safe suddenly turn out ex post as very risky. None of these risks is covered by the Basel Committees’ risk weighted capital requirements.

Summers writes: “there is distressingly little evidence in favor of the proposition that banks that are measured as better capitalized by their regulators are less likely to fail than other banks.” That might be true but only to believe that the measuring of the “measured as better capitalized” is correct, is absurd. Too much reputable research has taken the historical not “risk weighted” capital to asset ratios to be the same as the current capital to risk-weighted asset ratios, which is comparing apples to oranges.

Summers explains: “Our paper examines a comprehensive suite of volatility measures including actual volatility, volatility implied by option pricing, beta, credit default spreads, preferred stock yields and earnings price ratios… none [of which] suggest a major reduction in leverage for the largest US financial institutions, large global institutions or midsize domestic institutions.” I just ask, Professor, amongst so much glamorous sophistications, did you examine the gross not risk weighted assets to capital ratio? That would have probably sufficed.

Summers recommends, “First, it is essential to take a dynamic view of capital” Absolutely! But Professor, do you not believe that a real dynamic view would have to take into account what the shape of the future real economy would be if regulators insist in distorting with their risk weighing the allocation of bank credit to the real economy? For instance should a real stress test not also look at what is not on banks’ balance sheets… like for instance to see if vital risky loans to SMEs and entrepreneurs are too inexistent?

Summers recommends: “banks should not be permitted to take excessive risks or treat customers unfairly in order to raise their franchise value.” Indeed, but what about by means of current risk weighting unfairly allowing those perceived, decreed (sovereigns) or concocted as safer, to have much better access to bank credit than usual than those perceived as risky? Does that not foster more inequality?

Summers very correctly write: “it is high time we move beyond a sterile debate between more and less regulation. No one who is reasonable can doubt that inadequate regulation contributed to what happened in 2008 or suppose that market discipline is sufficient to contain excessive risk-taking in the financial industry” But that requires understanding and accepting that the risk weighting, which so favored what was AAA rated and sovereigns was “the inadequate regulation”. Moreover, as Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it”, that requires us to completely change all our current regulators and start from scratch. 

SO NO! Professor Lawrence Summers, with respect to bank regulations, may I respectfully suggest you either wake up or shut up!

PS. And that goes for most of you others bank regulation experts out there.