Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Current bank regulators should undergo a psychological test. They clearly seem to be afflicted by “false safety behavior”

I extract the following from “False Safety Behaviors: Their Role in Pathological Fear” by Michael J. Telch, Ph.D. 

“What are false safety behaviors? 

We define false safety behaviors (FSBs) as unnecessary actions taken to prevent, escape from, or reduce the severity of a perceived threat. There is one specific word in this definition that distinguishes legitimate adaptive safety behaviors - those that keep us safe - from false safety behaviors - those that fuel anxiety problems? If you picked the word unnecessary you’re right! But when are they unnecessary? Safety behaviors are unnecessary when the perceived threat for which the safety behavior is presumably protecting the person from is bogus.”

The risk weighted capital requirements for banks, more perceived risk more capital – less perceived risk less capital, fits precisely that of being unnecessary. If a risk is perceived the banker will naturally take defensive measures, like limiting the exposure or charging higher risk premiums. If there is a real risk that is of the assets being perceived ex ante as safe, but turning up ex post as risky.

The consequences of such false safety behavior by current bank regulators are severe:

They set banks up to having the least capital when the most dangerous event can happen, something very safe turning very risky. 

Equally, or even more dangerous, it distorts the allocation of bank credit to the real economy, it hinder the needed “riskier” financing of the future, like entrepreneurs, in order to finance the “safer” present, like house purchases and sovereigns.

It creates a false sense of security because why should anyone really expect that “experts” picked the wrong risks to weigh, the intrinsic risk of the asset, instead of the risk of the asset for the banking system.

I quote again from the referenced document:

“How do false safety behaviors fuel anxiety? 

There seems to be a growing consensus that FSB’s fuel pathological anxiety in several different ways. One way in which FSBs might do their mischief is by keeping the patient’s bogus perception of threat alive through a mental process called misattribution. Misattribution theory asserts that when people perform unnecessary safety actions to protect themselves from a perceived threat, they falsely conclude (misattribute) their safety to the use of the FSB, thus leaving their perception of threat intact. Take for instance, the flying phobic who copes with their concern that the plane will crash by repeatedly checking the weather prior to the flight’s departure and then misattributes her safe flight to her diligent weather scanning rather than the inherent safety of air travel.” 

In this respect stress tests and living wills could perhaps be identified as “unnecessary safety actions” the “checking of the weather”. 

Finally: “FSBs may fuel anxiety problems by also interfering with the basic process through which people come to learn that some of their perceived threats are actually not threats at all…threat disconfirmation…For this important perceived threat reduction process to occur, not only must new information be available but it also must be processed.”

The 2007/08 crisis provided all necessary information on that the risk weighting did not work, since all bank assets that became very problematic, had in common low capital requirements since they were perceived as safe. And this information has simply not been processed.

Conclusion, I am not a psychologist but given that our banking system operates efficiently is of utmost importance, perhaps a psychological screening of all candidates to bank regulators should be a must. Clearly the current members of the Basel Committee and of the Financial Stability Board, and those engaged with bank regulations in many central banks, would not pass such test.

I feel sorry for them, especially after finding on the web someone referring to "anxiety disorder" with: “I don’t think people understand how stressful it is to explain what’s going on in your head when you don’t even understand it yourself”


Friday, February 16, 2018

ECB’s Sabine Lautenschläger explains why the risk weighted capital requirements for banks is total lunacy but, unfortunately, not even she hears it.

I quote the following from ECB’s Sabine Lautenschläger’s speech on February 15, 2018, “A stable financial system – more than the sum of its parts” 

“Logic can be a tricky thing. Apply it in the right way, and you always arrive at a consistent conclusion. But apply it in the wrong way, and it can lead you astray. And that happens all too easily. There are indeed many wrong ways in which we can apply logic.”

One of them is known as the fallacy of composition. It refers to the idea that the whole always equals the sum of its parts. Well, that idea is wrong. As we all know, the whole can be more than the sum of its parts – or less.

Consider this statement: if each bank is safe and sound, the banking system must be safe and sound as well. By now, we have learnt the hard way that this might indeed be a fallacy of composition.

Let me give you just one example. Imagine that a certain asset suddenly becomes more risky. Each bank that holds this asset might react prudently by selling it. However, if many banks react that way, they will drive down the price of the asset. This will amplify the initial shock, might affect other assets, and a full-blown crisis might result. Each bank has behaved prudently, but their collective behaviour has led to a crisis.

The business of banking is ripe with externalities, with potential herding and with contagion. These factors may not be visible when looking at individual banks, but they can threaten the stability of the entire system. This is one of the core insights from the financial crisis.”

Let me comment on the implications of this quite lengthy quotation: 

First: “a certain asset suddenly becomes more risky” That means that the real problem is that it was perceived as safer before.

Second: “The business of banking is ripe with externalities, with potential herding and with contagion.” There can be no doubt that potential herding” is much mote likely to occur with assets perceived as safe.

So what is Sabine Lautenschläger really saying with all this? That the current risk weighted capital requirements, Pillar 1, more perceived risk more capital – less perceived risk less capital, is sheer lunacy, though she might not understand it. 

The truth is that the real logic, not that pseudo logic applied by bank regulators, is that the safer an asset is perceived, the greater the potential danger to the bank system it poses.

Lautenschläger also said: “Imagine that there is a downturn in the financial cycle. From the viewpoint of each bank, credit risks increase and microprudential supervisors may want to increase Pillar 2 capital demands. Looking at the same trend, macroprudential supervisors might want to support credit growth and counter the cycle over a longer time horizon and from a systemic point of view. Thus, they may want to decrease Pillar 2 capital demands.”

“credit risks increase” That goes in the direction from safer to riskier. Does going from riskier to safer pose any danger? No!

So is not assigning the lowest capital requirements to what is ex ante perceived as safe just the mother of procyclical regulations, or in other words, the mother of all macroprudential imprudences? 

Ex post dangers are a function of ex ante perceptions. The safer something is perceived the more real danger it poses. The riskier something is perceived, the less harm it can cause.

How on earth could one expect a good application of Basel Committee’s Pillar 2 (Supervisory Review Process) from those who are messing it all up with a so faulty Pillar 1?

Recommendation: Ask a regulator: “What is more dangerous to the bank system, that which is perceived risky or what is perceived safe?” If he answers, the “risky”, ban him from regulating banks.