Monday, March 12, 2018

Charles Goodhart also pointed out the stupidity of risk weighted capital requirements for banks based on ex ante perceived risks… also with no luck!

In the very last page (540) of Charles Goodhart’s “The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision: A history of the Early Years, 1947-1997” of 2011 we read the following:

“Capital is supposed to be a buffer against unexpected loss: In so far as capital is required against unexpected loss, since expected loss should be handled by appropriate interest margins, the use of credit ratings as a guide to risk weights for capital adequacy requirements (CARs) is wrong and inconsistent, since these give a measure of expected loss. What is needed instead is a measure of the uncertainty of such losses, the second moment rather than the first.

If capital risk weights had been based, as they should logically have been, on the uncertainty attending future losses, rather than their expected modal performance, the financial system might have avoided much of the worst disasters of the 2007/08 financial crisis.

It remains surprisingly difficult to persuade regulators of this simple point.”

But to that Goodhart adds “It does however, get recognized from time to time”… though the examples he then indicates, are not so clear.

In the Epilogue (page 581) Goodhart list some of the failings of the BCBS’s regulations:

1. The lack of any theoretical basis.

2. The focus on the individual institution, rather that the system

3. The failure to reach an accord on liquidity;

4. The lack of empirical analysis;

5. The unwillingness to discuss either sanctions or crisis resolution, and so on.

That clearly adds up to a total regulatory failure... no wonder they don't want to discuss sanctions. 

But, unfortunately as I see it, Charles Goodhart, though absolutely right, is only scratching the surface. What is most dangerously ignored are the distortions in the allocation of bank credit to the real economy that these risk weighted capital requirements for banks cause.

Friday, March 9, 2018

30 years after the introduction of risk weighted capital requirements for banks, the European Commission's Action Plan, finally spills the beans on that these can distort the allocation of bank credit, for a good (or for a bad) purpose.

“Incorporating sustainability in prudential requirements: banks and insurance companies are an important source of external finance for the European economy. The Commission will explore the feasibility of recalibrating capital requirements for banks (the so-called green supporting factor) for sustainable investments, when it is justified from a risk perspective, while ensuring that financial stability is safeguarded.”

To my knowledge this is the first time in 30 years, since the introduction in 1988 of risk weighted capital requirements for banks, that an official entity has recognized that by distorting the allocation of bank credit, in favor or against something, regulators can make banks serve a purpose different from safeguarding financial stability.

PS. Sadly though not even “safeguarding financial stability” was well served as all this regulation did was to doom banks to dangerously overpopulate safe-havens holding especially little capital

PS. And on Earth Day 2015 I made a proposal exactly like what the EC will now study, namely to base the capital requirements for banks based on the Sustainable Development Goals SDGs, which of course include environmental sustainability.


Did regulators, when developing the fundamentally wrong risk weighted capital requirements for banks, suffer some kind of “perception controlled hallucination” or any other psychological disorder?

In 1988, with the Basel Accord, Basel I, the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision introduced the use of risk-weighted capital requirements for banks. That scheme was further much expanded in 2004 with Basel II.

In essence that meant that banks had to hold more capital against what is (ex ante) perceived as risky than against what is perceived as safe. 

The stated goal of this regulation, was and is to avoid the failure of banks that can put the economy in jeopardy and that could cause big loses for depositors or big costs for tax payers derived from official rescue interventions.

Nothing wrong with that intention, except for what they did and what they ignored when developing these risk-weighted capital requirements.

What did they do? 

They looked at the risk of the assets just like bankers do, and not at the risk that bankers might be perceiving the risks wrong, or acting wrongly to risks well perceived. 

What’s the worst case scenario about risks perceived wrong? Clearly that something ex ante perceived as very safe turns out ex post as very risky. The opposite, something perceived as very risky turning out very safe should obviously not bother anyone… except of course the borrower who had to pay too high risk premiums.

What did they ignore? 

First that all major bank crises have resulted from, criminal behavior, unexpected events or excessive exposures to something ex ante perceived as safe but that ex post turned out to be very risky. “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.” Mark Twain. The mistake can perhaps be illustrated by the fact that regulators, in their standardized risk weights of 2004, assigned a 150% to the below BB- rated, that which bankers won’t touch with a teen feet pole, but a meager 20% to what is AAA to AA rated.

Second, that these risk weighted capital requirements, which allowed banks to leverage more with what was perceived safe, would have banks earning higher expected risk adjusted returns with what was perceived safe, which would naturally increase the risk of some perceived safe havens become dangerously overpopulated, against especially little capital. In a Roulette in a casino,  2 to 1 and 36 to 1 are equivalent winnings paid out to those playing it “safe” on color or those playing it “risky” on a number. If the winning for those same bets were for example 3 to 1 and 30 to 1, that would break the bank and sink the casino.

Third, that the real economy, in order to move forward depends much on risky entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) having access to bank credit. “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” John A Shedd.

I do not think it is prudent to distort the allocation of bank credit to the real economy, so I would favor one single capital requirement against all assets, but if I absolutely had to distort in this way, then my risk weighting would have to be 180 degrees in the opposite direction, higher perceived risk-lower capital, lower perceived risk-higher capital. 

It was 30 years when this monumental mistake was initiated, and for all practical purposes it is not yet even discussed… so the stickiness of that mistake has proven to be equally monumental.

Friends, is it something in “Predictive Processing” that could explain this so fundamental mistake in our current bank regulation, and its stickiness?

And more importantly still, in what way can “Predictive Processing” help us to avoid this type of extremely costly mistakes.

Here a brief aide memoire on the major mistakes with the risk weighted capital requirements


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Here, there is good money to be earned, by just explaining the risk weighted capital requirements for banks to me.

I will pay a US$ cash bonus to the first who manage to extract clear answers from any regulator on two questions that have had me intrigued for a way too long time… so much that many tell me I am obsessive about… which of course I am.

I start with US$ 100 for each one of the answers and increase it by U$10 each month... for some time

US$100 to the first who gets a clear answer from a regulator on: Why do you want banks to hold more capital against what, by being perceived as risky has been made quite innocous, than against what, because it is perceived as safe, is much more dangerous? 

And also US$100 to the first who gets a clear answer from a regulator on: Why are banks allowed to leverage much more when financing homes, than when financing the entrepreneurs who could help create jobs needed to pay utilities and service the mortgages?