Saturday, July 1, 2017

ECB Working Paper 2079, as is standard, also suffers from confusing ex ante perceived risks with ex post realities.

Jonathan Acosta Smith, Michael Grill, Jan Hannes Lang have produced a paper titled “The leverage ratio, risk-taking and bank stability”, ECB Working Paper 2079, June 2017, which analyzes the non-risk based leverage ratio (LR) that has been introduced in Basel III to work alongside the risk-based capital framework.

I quote: “The main concern relates to the risk-insensitivity of the LR: assets with the same nominal value but of different riskiness are treated equally and face the same capital that an LR has a skewed impact, binding only for those banks with a large share of low risk-weighted assets on their balance sheets, this move away from a solely risk-based capital requirement may induce these banks to increase their risk-taking; potentially offsetting any benefits from requiring them to hold more capital.” 

Unfortunately this paper suffers from the usual and tragic mistake of confusing ex ante perceived risks with ex post realities.

Basel Committee bank regulators acted like bankers and not like regulators, when they got fixated on the risk of the assets of the banks, and not on the risk those assets posed for the banking system. Had they done some empirical research on what caused previous bank crises, they would have seen that what was ex ante perceived as risky never played a mayor role.

As is Basel II’s risk weighted capital requirements allow banks to earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity with assets ex ante perceived (decreed or concocted) as safe, than with assets perceived as risky. That results in banks building up dangerous exposures, against little capital, to assets that though ex ante perceived were perceived as very safe, could ex post turn out very risky. E.g. the AAA rated securities backed with mortgages to the subprime sector.

The clearest way I have found to illustrate the regulator’s fundamental error is by referencing Basel II’s standardized risk weights:

It allocates a meager 20% risk weight to corporates "dangerously" rated AAA to AA, while assigning a 150% risk weight to the "innocuous" below BB- rated, that which banks would never touch with a ten feet pole.

And, with their risk weighting the regulators, with serious consequences, are also distorting the allocation of bank credit to the real economy. Since the introduction of Basel II, millions of “risky” SMEs and entrepreneurs have not been able to access bank credit, or have had to pay extra compensatory interest charges, precisely because of this pillar.

Bank capital requirements should not be based on what is perceived but on the possibilities that the perceptions are wrong, that the perceptions are right but not adequately managed or that unexpected events could happen. 

In this respect I am all for one single capital requirement for all assets (including of course sovereign loans).

So does the introduction of the leverage ratio partly fulfill what I want? Unfortunately not! The more a leverage ratio translates into banks finding it difficult to meet regulatory bank capital requirements, the more will the risk-weighted requirements distort on the margin. I often refer this to the Drowning Pool simile.