Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Basel III - sense and sensitivity”? No! Much more “senseless and insensitivity”

I refer to the speech titled “Basel III - sense and sensitivity” on January 29, 2018 by Ms Sabine Lautenschläger, Member of the Executive Board of the European Central Bank and Vice-Chair of the Supervisory Board of the European Central Bank.

“Senseless and insensitive” is how I would define it. It evidences that regulators have still no idea about what they are doing with their risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

Ms Lautenschläger said: With Basel III we have not thrown risk sensitivity overboard. And why would we? Risk sensitivity helps align capital requirements with actual levels of risk and supports an efficient capital allocation. It prevents arbitrage and risk shifting. And risk-sensitive rules promote sound risk management.

“Risk sensitivity helps align capital requirements with actual levels of risk and supports an efficient capital allocation” No! The ex ante perceived risk of assets is, in a not distorted market aligned to the capital by means of the size of exposure and the risk premium charged. Considering the perceived risk in the capital too, means doubling down on perceived risks; and any risk, even if perfectly perceived, if excessively considered causes the wrong actions.

“It prevents arbitrage” No! It stimulates arbitrage. Bankers have morphed from being diligent loan officers into too diligent equity minimizers. 

“It prevents risk shifting.” No! It shifts the risks from assets perceived as risky to risky excessive exposures to assets perceived as safe.

“It promote sound risk management” No! With banks that compete by offering high returns on equity, allowing some assets to have lower capital requirements than other, makes that impossible.

Ms Lautenschläger said: “for residential mortgages, the input floor increases from three basis points to five basis points. Five basis points correspond to a once-in-2,000 years default rate! Is such a floor really too conservative?”

The “once-in-2000 years default rate on residential mortgages!” could be a good estimate on risks… if there were no distortions. But, if banks are allowed to leverage more their capital with residential mortgages and therefore earn higher expected risk adjusted returns on residential mortgages then banks will, as a natural result of the incentive, invest too much and at too low risk premiums in residential mortgages… possibly pushing forward major defaults from a “once-in-2000 years default” to one "just around the corner". That is senseless! Motorcycles are riskier than cars, but what would happen if traffic regulators therefore allowed cars to speed much faster?

I guess Basel Committee regulators have never thought on how much of their lower capital requirement subsidies are reflected in higher house prices?

Then to answer: “Does this mean that Basel III is the perfect standard - the philosopher's stone of banking regulation? Ms Lautenschläger considers “What impact will the final Basel III package have on banks - and on their business models and their capital?”

Again, not a word about how all their regulations impacts the allocation of bank credit to the real economy… as if that did not matter… that is insensitivity!

Our banks are now financing too much the “safer” present and too little the “riskier” future our children and grandchildren need and deserve to be financed.

PS. In 2015 I commented another speech by Ms Lautenschläger on the issue of “trust in banks”.