Monday, July 11, 2016

If a banker, I would ask: Is our bank being fooled by Basel regulators to dangerously overcrowd safe havens?


We are allowed to hold less capital against what is ex ante perceived (decreed or concocted to be safe than against what I perceived to be risky.

That, when compared to if we had to hold the same capital against any asset now permit us to expect higher risk adjusted returns on equity for what is perceived as safe than on what is perceived as risky.

To be able to earn more ROE on the safe than on the risky sounds wonderful, but it has its costs: 

First we might be willing to accept risk adjusted rates from “the safe” than might be lower than what would be the case in an undistorted market.

Second, to compensate for the above, we might be requiring “the risky”, like SMEs and entrepreneurs to pay us higher risk adjusted rates than what they would have to pay us in the case of an undistorted market, and that means we might lose out on some interesting business or otherwise make “the risky” riskier. 

If it was only our bank that had access to this regulatory distortion, then we might benefit without rocking the boat, but the fact is that the whole banking system is doing the same, and so the distortions in the allocation of bank credit to the real economy are huge.

So friends, it is clear that if we go on following the directives of our bank regulators, and basically only keep to refinancing the safer past, we are doomed to end up, sooner or later, gasping for oxygen in an overpopulated safe haven. 

And by abandoning the financing of the riskier future, we are also neglecting our duties to the real economy, and our children and grandchildren might, should, hold us accountable for that.

So what are we to do? What can we do? 

May I suggest we look into the possibility of ignoring the different capital requirements and, based of course on a sound bank diversification and portfolio management, begin, without discrimination, to look at the risk premiums offered by all, risky and safe, on an equal dollar to dollar basis.

Or, as our famous colleague Mr. George Banks once suggested, we could all go and fly a kite!