Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mr. Alan Greenspan… tell us the story… why were your legitimate concerns waived… what really happened?

In 1998, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Basel Accord Alan Greenspan gave a speech titled “The Role of Capital in Optimal Banking Supervision and Regulation”, FRBNY Economic Policy Review/October 1998”. Three comments stand out:

First: “It is argued that the heightened complexity of these large bank’s risk-taking activities, along with the expanding scope of regulatory arbitrage, may cause capital ratios as calculated under the existing rules to become increasingly misleading. I, too, share these concerns”

And there was Greenspan only referring to the measly 30 pages of Basel I… and so how on earth, with this type of miss-feelings, can we now have arrived to our tens of thousands of pages of Basel III and Dodd-Frank Act?

Second: “regulatory capital arbitrage… is not costless and therefore not without implications for resource allocation. Interestingly, one reason that the formal capital standards do not include many risk buckets is that regulators did not want to influence how banks make resource allocation. Ironically, the one-size-fits-all standard does just that, by forcing the banks into expending effort to negate the capital requirement, or to exploit it, whenever there is a significant disparity between the relatively arbitrary standard and internal, economic capital requirements.” 

And so here if the implications for resource allocation (of bank credit in the real economy) is considered as an issue… how on earth did they go from some risk-weights depending of the category of assets, to something even so much distortive for resource allocation as risk weights depending on credit ratings?

Third: “For internal purposes, these large institutions attempt explicitly to quantify their credit, market and operating risks, by estimating loss probabilities distribution for various risk positions. Enough economic, as distinct from regulatory, capital is then allocated to each risk position to satisfy the institution’s own standard for insolvency probability.”

And so what happened to the distinction between economic and regulatory capital? Is it not so that a regulator´s real problem begins when the economic capital is miscalculated by the banks? If so, why the hell would he then want to calculate regulatory capital as it was economic capital?

No I am sorry… Alan Greenspan… as well as his successor Ben Bernanke… and of course all the other regulators like those in the Basel Committee and the Financial Stability Board… they will have a lot of explanation to do… when history finally catches up on them.

And I would certainly not want to be in their shoes. “Daddy why was grandfather so dumb? … It is because of his stupid regulatory risk aversion that banks stopped financing the future and only refinanced the past, and which is why I and my friends now do not have jobs.”