Friday, July 5, 2019

Risk weights are to access to credit what protectionist tariffs are to trade, only more pernicious.

A letter to the Executive Directors and Staff of the International Monetary Fund.

For decades now IMF has helped to spread around all developing countries the pillar of the Basel Committee’s bank regulations; the risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

Since risk taking is in essence the oxygen of any development, that piece of regulation is fundamentally flawed, especially for developing countries.

How do risk weighted capital requirements alter the incentives for banks? 

If banks hold the same capital against their whole portfolio, as they used do until some three decades ago, then with an eye on their overall portfolio and funding structure, banks lend in accordance to what produces them the highest risk adjusted interest rate; which would also provide them with the highest risk adjusted return on equity.

But, when different assets have different capital requirements, obtaining the highest risk adjusted return on equity will depend on how many times the risk adjusted interest rate for any specific loan or asset will depend on how many times it can be leveraged. The higher the allowed leverage is, the easier it is to obtain a high ROE; which means that “safe” highly leveregable loans could be competitive at lower risk adjusted interest rates than before, while “risky” lower leveregable loans would require paying higher risk adjusted interest rates. 

In essence the introduction of that regulation has caused banks to substitute savvy loan officers with equity minimizing engineers.

How do risk weighted capital requirements distort the allocation of bank credit?

The regulators based their decision on how much banks were allowed to leverage their capital with for the different assets, solely on the perceptions of credit risk. It never explicitly had one iota to do with banks fulfilling their obligation of allocating credit efficiently to the real economy.

So the introduction of that regulation simply distorts the allocation of bank credit; in favor of “the safer present” and against “the riskier future”. 

Specifically, a credit that is perceived as risky but that is directly related to helping reach a Sustainable Development Goal is much less favored by bankers, and now by bank regulators too, than a credit, perceived as safe, but which purpose could in fact be harmful to any SDG.

Specifically, safe credits for the purchase of houses are much more favored over credits to risky entrepreneurs, those who could create the jobs that would allow the income needed to service the mortgages and pay the utilities. 

Specifically, assigning lower risk weights to the sovereign than to citizens de implies de facto a statist belief that bureaucrats know better what to do with bank credit, than entrepreneurs who put their name on the line.

In other words these risk weight are to access to credit what tariffs are to trade, only much more pernicious. 

Do risk weighted capital requirements make our banks system safer?

If that regulation made the financial system safer there would at least be a favorable tradeoff. But it doesn’t, much the contrary. Too much easy credit can turn what is safe into something risky, like for instance morphing houses from being affordable homes into investment assets. 

The 2007/2008-bank crisis would never have happened or, if so, remotely had been of the same scale had regulators, for their risk weights, instead of perceived credit risk risks, used the probabilities of banks investing conditioned on how credit risks were perceived.

Many Eurozone sovereigns would not face current high levels of indebtedness had not EU authorities decreed a Sovereign Debt Privilege and assigned it a 0% risk weight, this even though they take on debt denominated in a currency that de facto is not their domestic printable one.

And so, at the end of the day, this regulation only guarantees especially large bank crisis, caused by especially large exposures to what was perceived (or decreed) as especially safe, which end up being especially risky, and are held against especially little capital.

Risk weighted capital requirements and inequality.

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote: “The function of credit in a simple society is, in fact, remarkably egalitarian. It allows the man with energy and no money to participate in the economy more or less on a par with the man who has capital of his own. And the more casual the conditions under which credit is granted and hence the more impecunious those accommodated, the more egalitarian credit is… the poor risk… is another name for the poor man.” “Money: Whence it came where it went” 1975.

So I ask, how many millions of SMEs and entrepreneurs have not been given the opportunity to advance with credits over the last 25 years as a direct result of it?

IMF, please, wake up!

Should banks not be regulated? 

Of course these need to be regulated! I am only reminding everyone of the fact that the damage dumb bank regulators can cause when meddling without taking enough care, by far surpasses anything the free market can do. A free market would never have knowingly allowed banks to leverage 62.5 times their equity like regulators did, only because some very few human fallible credit rating agencies had assigned an AAA to AA rating to some securities backed with mortgages to the US subprime sector. 

A simple leverage ratio between 10 to 15% for all banks assets would be a much mote effective regulation than all those thousands of pages that currently exist.

And please, please, please, stop talking about "deregulation" in the presence of such an awful and intrusive mis-regulation. The regulators imposed the worst kind of capital controls.

Of course, just in case, all problems here referred to, are clearly applicable to developed economies too.

PS.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”, Keeping at it” 2018, Paul Volcker

PS. My 2019 letter to the Financial Stability Board

PS. An ever growing aide memoire on Basel Committee’s many mistakes.

PS. The risk weighted bank capital requirements utterly distorted central banks’ monetary policy by directing way too much credit to what’s decreed or perceived as “safe”, sovereign/ residential mortgages/ AAA rated; and way too little to “risky” SMEs and entrepreneurs.

PS. Because it would also create distortions I am not proposing it, but would not risk weighted bank capital requirements based on SDGs ratings at least show more purpose for our banks? And, in the case of sovereigns, besides credit ratings, do we citizens not also need ethic ratings?

PS.Are Basel bank regulations good for development?” a document presented at the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Developing at the United Nations, New York, October 2007.

PS. Being creditworthy and being worthy of credit, c'est pas la même chose :-(


Per Kurowski