Sunday, December 30, 2018

Affordable homes or investment assets?

Should houses be affordable homes, or should they be investment assets? They can’t be both.

In 2004, under the Basel II business standards, if securities obtained a AAA rating, European banks and U.S. investment banks regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission needed to hold only 1.6 percent in capital against them. That created an enormous demand for highly rated securities. The truth of securitization is that, as when making sausages, the worse the ingredients the larger the profits.

And the highly rated securities backed by mortgages to the subprime sector became the primary cause for the 2008 crisis.

After the crisis, ultra-low interest rates and huge liquidity injections fed the price of houses. In the process, houses morphed from being homes into investment assets.

That aspect of the housing market is what I most missed in the Dec. 26 front-page article “Quick to evict, properties in disrepair.”

If you want easy financing to help someone afford a house, then house demand and house prices go up, and you need to give even more help to the next person who wants to afford a house.

Do we want affordable homes or houses as investment assets? There’s no easy answer, because going back to just homes would also cause immense suffering for all those believing they have, with their houses, built up a safety net.

Per Kurowski, Rockville 

Here other of my letters in the Washington Post on this issue:
September 6, 2007: Factors in the Financial Storm
June 20, 2008: An Aspect of the Bubble
December 27, 2009: Another 'worst': Faulty bank regulation
January 6, 2012: Handcuffed by a triple-A rating
May 1, 2013: An American approach to banking
December 23, 2014: Let the market rule on risky trades
November 11, 2015: Reverse-mortgaging the future
August 9, 2016: Banks, regulators and risk
April 16, 2017: When banks play it too safe
July 11, 2018: There is another tariff war that is being dangerously ignored.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

What goes up too much must come down too much. The best countercyclical policy there is is the elimination of the procyclical ones.

What goes up must come down, spinning wheel got to go 'round” David Clayton Thomas

Governor Lael Brainard on December 07, 2018, in “Assessing Financial Stability over the Cycle” a speech delivered at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Washington, D.C., said:

“In an economic downturn, widespread downgrades of these low-rated investment-grade bonds to speculative-grade ratings could induce some investors to sell them rapidly--for instance, because lower-rated bonds have higher regulatory capital requirements or because bond funds have limits on the share of non-investment-grade bonds they hold.”

And Brainard then proceeds to extensively describe the advantages of countercyclical capital requirements (CCyB) for building additional resilience in the financial system.

BUT, the other side of the mirror is: In an economic upturn, higher credit ratings of bonds could induce some investors to buy them rapidly--for instance, because higher-rated bonds have lower regulatory capital requirements, or because bond funds have lesser or no limits on investment-grade bonds they hold.

So if that is not procyclical what is?

Therefore, before thinking of using countercyclical capital requirements, which by themselves might be introducing distorting signals, which might make the use of these at the right moment when they are really needed harder, let’s get rid, altogether, of the risk weighted capital requirements for banks. Those, which, by the way, even when the economic cycles are correctly identified, still distort the allocation of bank credit to the real economy.

And since credit ratings were mentioned in April 2003, at the World Bank I opined:

"Nowadays, when information is just too voluminous and fast to handle, market or authorities have decided to delegate the evaluation of it into the hands of much fewer players such as credit rating agencies. This will introduce systemic risks in the market"

Friday, December 7, 2018

September 2, 1986 was the tragic night when Paul A. Volcker, in London, gave in to (insane) European bank regulators.

Paul A. Volcker in his autography “Keeping at it” of 2018, penned together with Christine Harper, valiantly accepted that the risk weighted bank capital requirements he helped to promote, had serious problems. In pages 146-148 he writes:

"The travails of First Pennsylvania and Continental Illinois, the massive threat posed by the Latin American crisis, and the obvious strain on the capital of thrift institutions had an impact on thinking over time, but strong action was competitively (and politically) stalled by the absence of an international consensus.

An approach toward dealing with that problem was taken by the G-10 central banking group meeting under the auspices of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) headquartered in Basel, Switzerland. A new Basel Committee would assess existing standards and practices in a search for an analytic understanding.

Progress was slow… 

The US practice had been to asses capital adequacy by using a simple “leverage ratio”-in other words, the bank’s total assets based compared with the margin of capital available to absorb any losses on those assets. (Historically, before, the 1931 banking collapse, a ten percent ratio was considered normal)

The Europeans, as a group, firmly insisted upon a “risk-based” approach, seemingly more sophisticated because it calculated assets based on how risky they seemed to be. They felt it was common sense that certain kind of assets –certainly including domestic government bonds but also home mortgages and other sovereign debt- shouldn’t require much if any capital. Commercial loans, by contrast, would have strict and high capital requirements, whatever the credit rating might be.

Both approaches could claim to have strengths. Each had weaknesses. How to solve the impasse?

At the end of a European tour in September in 1986, I planned to stop in London for an informal dinner with the Bank of England’s then governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton. In that comfortable setting without a lot of forethought, I suggested to him that if it was necessary to reach agreement, I’d try to sell the risk-based approach to my US colleagues.

Over time, the inherent problems with the risk-based approach became apparent. The assets assigned the lowest risk, for which capital requirements were therefore low or nonexistent, were those that had the most political support: sovereign credits and home mortgages. Ironically, losses on those two types of assets would fuel the global crisis in 2008 and a subsequent European crisis in 2011. The American “overall leverage” approach had a disadvantage as well in the eyes of shareholders and executives focused on return on capital; it seemed to discourage holdings of the safest assets, in particular low-return US government securities."

September 2? From here

I ask: Insane? I answer: Absolutely! 

How can one believe that what bankers perceive as risky is more dangerous to bank systems than what bankers perceive as safe? 

Should it not be clear that dooms our bank system to especially severe crises, resulting from excessive exposures the what ex ante is perceived as especially safe, but that  ex post might not be, against especially little capital?

These self-nominated besserwisser experts had (have) just not the faintest understanding of conditional probabilities.