Monday, July 21, 2014

“The Parade of the Bankers’ New Clothes Continues: 28 Flawed Claims Debunked” by Anat Admati and Martin Hellwig

As I have argued before the authors present a better description than most of the problems of current bank regulations.

Unfortunately, though they correctly identify that relying capital requirements that are risk-weighted is a flawed concept, they do not yet identify the most serious problem with doing so, namely that it dramatically distorts the allocation of bank credit to the real economy.

Since the perceived risks, like for instance those reflected in credit ratings, are already cleared for by means of interest rates, size of exposure and other contract terms, to also clear for the same perceptions of risks in the capital, signifies a double consideration of risk perceptions… and any risk perception, even if absolutely correct, will lead to the wrong conclusions if excessively considered.

In this particular case that signifies that banks will be able to earn much higher risk adjusted returns on equity on assets considered “absolutely safe” than on assets considered “risky”… and that in its turn means that banks will not serve in a fair way the credit needs of those who might most be need in access to it, like medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups.

And the main reason for why we ended up with these bad regulations was that nowhere did bank regulators define the purpose of those entities they were regulating.

Another objection to risk-weighing not clearly identified by the authors, is that what regulators really need to consider when setting the capital requirements is not the expected risks or losses, but the unexpected risk and losses. And the Basel Committee, in a document where they explained the methodology of the risk-weighing explicitly stated that, since unexpected risks are hard to measure, they would use the expected risks in substitution of the not-expected… something which of course does not make any sense at all.

The same explicatory document from the Basel Committee on Basel II’s risk weights also states that the capital requirements are portfolio invariant, meaning that they do not consider the risk of over concentrating in what is perceived as safe, nor the benefits of diversifying in what is perceived as risky. And the argument to do so, amazingly, is that otherwise it would be too difficult for regulators to manage the system.

In summary one can say that regulators concentrated on the risks of the assets of the banks, and not on the risk of the banks… which is of course not the same.

Also any empirical study would have shown that bank crises always result from excessive exposures to something perceived as safe... and never from excessive exposures to something perceived as risky. 

Finally, and though there are some other issues I slightly disagree on, let me here conclude with reference to their remarks on:

"Flawed Claim 13: There is not enough equity around for banks to be funding with 30% equity."

"Flawed Claim 14: Because banks cannot raise equity, they will have to shrink if equity requirements are increased, and this will be bad for the economy."

"Flawed Claim 15: Increasing equity requirements would harm economic growth."

I agree with the authors those are mostly flawed claims, but primarily so from the point of view of a static analysis.

But unfortunately, the road from where our banks now find themselves, to where they propose and many would love the banks to be in terms of equity, makes for a very difficult journey.

In my opinion in order to speed up the travelling, before our young  run the risk of becoming a lost generation, will for instance perhaps require awarding special tax exemptions, in order to make those equity increases feasible over a not too long time span…. because we might in fact be talking about at least a trillion dollars of new equity.

And of course, meanwhile, make all fines payable in voting shares.

Please... again...more important than more bank capital is less distorting bank capital requirements.