Tuesday, April 26, 2016

America "The Home of the Brave" is going down, because of bank regulators' silly/sissy credit risk aversion.

Banks use to decide whom to lend to, based on who offered them the highest risk adjusted interest rates. 

Not any more. Now banks have to calculate what those risk adjusted interest rates signify in terms of risk-adjusted rates of return on their equity. That is because with their risk weighted capital requirements, regulators now allow banks to hold less capital, and therefore be able to leverage more their equity, when engaging with The Safe than with The Risky.

And those perceived, decreed or concocted as belonging to The Safe, include sovereigns (governments), members of the AAArisktocracy and the financing of houses.

And those belonging to The Risky are SMEs, entrepreneurs, the unrated or the not-so good rated, and citizens in general.

And that of course has introduced a regulatory risk aversion that distorts the allocation of credit to the real economy. By guaranteeing “The Risky” will now have too little access to credit, that dooms the economy and the banks to slowly fade away.

But the banks and the economy could also disappear with a Big Bang. That because by giving banks incentives to go too much for The Safe, sooner or later, some safe havens will be dangerously overpopulated, and we will all suddenly find ourselves there gasping for oxygen.

In essence, because of this regulation, banks no longer finance the riskier future; they just refinance the (for the time being) safer past.

How did this happen? There are many explanations but the most important one is that regulators never defined the purpose of the banks before regulating these.

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” John A Shedd, 1850-1926

PS. That also goes for the rest of the world. For instance the Eurozone was done in with it.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

There are risks and risks. Bank regulators promote the worst and avoid the best.

We now read “US federal regulators this week proposed new pay rules intended to limit excessive risk-taking”

And so its time again to understand there are different “excessive risk-taking”.

One “excessive risk-taking”, is that of creating dangerously large exposures to what is perceived, decreed or concocted as safe. Those exposures currently require very little bank capital. That was the “excessive risk taking” that caused the 2007-08 crisis; AAA rated securities, residential housing finance and sovereigns like Greece.

Another different “excessive risk-taking” is taking risks on the risky, like on SMEs and entrepreneurs. These risks, because they currently generate much higher capital requirements, are risks not sufficiently taken by the banks, and the economy suffers from that.

Do regulators really know what “excessive risk-taking” they want to limit? I seriously doubt it. The “more-risk less-pay” and the “less-risk more-pay” is just the typical kind of intervention that brings on unexpected consequences.

More-risk more-capital less-pay. Less-risk less-capital more-pay. Friends with these regulations we will soon all end up suffocating because of lack of oxygen in some over-populated safe haven!

And our children, they will be without jobs. Because with this regulatory silliness banks do not finance the riskier future any longer, they just refinance the for the short time being safer past.

In short, any senseless risk aversion, whether in bank regulations or elsewhere, condemn our economies and nations to fizzle out.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Vasa and the Basel I, II and III disasters

Stefan Ingves, the chair of the Basel Committee, in a speech titled "From the Vasa to the Basel framework: The dangers of instability" last November, said the following:

“In 1625, King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden ordered the construction of…the mighty Vasa. 

It took three years and 300 men to build the Vasa. And 40 acres of timber were consumed. 

The final result was impressive. The Vasa had two gun decks, 64 bronze cannons, and its tallest mast soared to 57 metres. The ship was the result of a quest for perfection. 

This perfection was, alas, short-lived. Tragically, the Vasa sank on its maiden voyage, after sailing only 1,300 metres, on 10 August 1628. 

After so much planning, so many resources and so much time and effort, why did the Vasa sink? According to the King, it was the result of ‘foolishness and incompetence’ 

But historians generally agree that a key factor in the Vasa's fate was the lack of stability and the hull's excessive rigidity… the Vasa was well constructed but incorrectly proportioned” 

As I read it if the historians are right, then clearly so is the King.

And bank regulations designed by the Basel Committee, especially the risk weighing of the capital requirements, was absolutely “incorrectly proportioned”, and so to me the regulators have been foolish and utterly incompetent.

And with respect to Basel III Stefan Ingves said: “The framework has remained unchanged from Basel II across two broad dimensions: first, the way in which risk is measured - and in particular, the reliance on banks' own estimates of risk - has remained the same following the crisis; and second, the risk-weighted approaches are essentially the same as they were before the crisis"

But, in order to “address the fault lines that emerge from these two dimensions” Ingves now tells us that the regulators are working to fix that with "(i) enhancing the risk sensitivity and robustness of standardized approaches; (ii) reviewing the role of internal models in the capital framework; and (iii) finalizing the design and calibration of the leverage ratio and capital floors."

As I see it, in Vasa terms, the hull of Basel III still lacks stability, but the Basel Committee just keeps on loading more “bronze cannons” on its deck.

“Enhancing the risk sensitivity”? For God’s sake, they are still looking at the risk of the assets and not at the risk those assets pose to the banks… and so they still do not understand that the safer an asset might be perceived, the riskier it could be for the banking system.

And they still have not defined the purpose of the banks, and so they still do not care one iota about if their risk weighing distorts the allocation of credit to the real economy.

I ask, would, King Gustav II Adolf of Sweden have given the constructors of Vasa the resources to build another boat, like we allow the same regulators who designed Basel I and Basel II to now work on Basel III? I don’t think so!

And in wikipedia we read “An inquiry was organized by the Swedish Privy Council to find those responsible for the Vasa disaster, but in the end no one was punished for the fiasco.”

Lucky Stefan Ingves... in the case of the monumental failings of Basel II there has not even been an inquiry!

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” said John Augustus Shedd, 1850-1926. Well, if built by something like the Basel Committee, it is not even safe in the harbor J


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Let us tell the story of the Basel Committee’s risk weighted capital requirements for banks this way:

This happened during a meeting in the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision

Q. Colleagues, how on earth can we stop banks from failing? 

A. Well they must avoid taking risks?

Q. Absolutely! But how do we stop them from taking risks?

A. Perhaps by giving them great incentives to make their profits where it is safe?

Q. Sounds great! Any idea how?

A. Well we could allow them to leverage much more when lending to what is safe than when lending to what is risky.

Q. How would that help?

A. Well then the banks could obtain higher risk adjusted rates of return on lending to what is safe than on lending to what is risky.

Q. But, could that not distort the allocation of credit to the real economy?

A. Oh that is not our problem. We are just here to make banks safe. 

Q. But, what if something perceived as safe turns out to be risky?

A. Don’t be so negative. We will deal with that later if it ever happens.

Q. But could not someone argue we are introducing a regulatory discrimination against The Risky?

A. Who cares? The sovereign will be more than happy if we give it a zero percent risk weighting. The banks, making their best profits on what is safe, will only have their wettest wet dreams realized. And the risky, the SMEs and entrepreneurs, they have no voice… hey they are not even invited to the World Economic Forum at Davos… there we only meet the AAArisktocracy.

Q. Dear colleague, you have convinced all of us… let us go for it. By the way, what is your name?

A. Chauncey Gardiner Sir

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Current bank regulators are a serious threat to economic growth and financial stability; and they promote inequality.

Risk weighted capital requirements for banks, more perceived risk more capital; less risk less capital, results in the following: 

It allows banks to leverage more their equity with what is perceived as safe than with what is perceived as risky; and banks will therefore be able to earn higher expected risk adjusted return on equity on what is perceived as safe than on what is perceived as risky. 

And so banks will therefore lend too much and in too easy conditions to The Safe, like to sovereigns, residential housing and the AAArisktocracy; and too little in too harsh terms to The Risky, like SMEs and entrepreneurs.

That has negative consequences for:

Economic growth: It is affected negatively by hindering the access to bank credit of those most likely to open new paths of growth. Now banks are not financing the riskier future, thet are just refinancing the, for the short time being, safer past

Risk of financial instability: It grows since bank crisis never ever result from excessive exposures to something perceived as risky, they always result from excessive exposures to something erroneously perceived as safe. And in this case all is made worse by the fact that when an explosion occurs, the banks will stand there with specially little capital to cover themselves up with.

Inequality: Is promoted by denying “The Risky” a fair access to the opportunities that bank credit can provide. 

The regulators have gone mad! You want proof? Here are four of many:

1. The bank regulators are regulating the banks without having defined the purpose of these. Anyone trying to regulate anything without asking what he regulates is for, is as crazy as can be. “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” John Augustus Shedd, 1850-1926

2. In Basel II, June 2004, regulators assigned a 35 percent risk weight to residential mortgages; AAA-rated securities backed with mortgages to the subprime sector carried a 20 percent risk weight; the risk weight for sovereigns rated like Greece, hovered between 0 and 20 percent… but assets rated below BB- carried a 150 percent risk weight.

Who in his sane mind can believe that assets rated below BB- pose a bigger risk to our banking system than those assets believed to be safe?

3. Bank capital is primarily to cover for unexpected losses. Who in his sane mind would estimate unexpected losses based on expected credit losses? If anything what is perceived as safe has greater potential to deliver unexpected losses than what is perceived as risky.

4. Regulators ignored that any risk, even if perfectly perceived, leads to the wrong actions if excessively considered. Credit risk are already cleared for by banks by means of interest rates and size of exposure, so that to also order the same risks to be cleared for again in the capital, completely distorted the allocation of bank credit to the real economy. Who in his sane mind could think that, as a regulator, he was authorized to do a thing like that?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

IMF & World Bank Spring Meetings: Time again for finance ministers not daring to ask bank regulators THE QUESTION

Dear regulator

Because of your risk weighted capital requirements, banks are allowed to hold less capital against assets that are perceived as safe than against assets perceived as risky.

That means of course that banks can leverage equity more with assets perceived as safe than with assets perceived as risky.

That means of course that banks can obtain higher expected risk adjusted returns on equity with assets perceived as safe than with assets perceived as risky.

So here is THE QUESTION:

Does that not distort the allocation of bank credit to the real economy, causing banks to lend way too much to those perceived, decreed or even concocted as safe, and way too little to those perceived as risky, like SMEs and entrepreneurs?


PS. Where did all our current bank regulators, those who are writing up Basel I, Basel II, Basel 2.5, Basel III or what have you, study their Bank Regulations 101? Who checks the CVs of these appointees, or do they appoint themselves? Might they just have dropped in like any Chauncey Gardiner?

Monday, April 11, 2016

The way governments are cooking it perhaps we should all run to Panama, for our children and grandchildren’s sake.

Look at what government’s are doing.

The regulators set risk weights for public debt at zero percent, which means that the banks need to hold the least capital when lending to those who sort of appoint them, talk about a conflict of interest… talk about lobbying.

The central banks, with their QEs, buy mostly sovereign debt.

And the central banks with their negative interest rates benefit mostly governments, since who in his sane mind would lend to his neighbor at a negative rate?

So really, what do they need our taxes for?

But those who will surely have to pay for all this madness, will be our children and grandchildren, and so perhaps we, responsible fathers and grandfathers, should all be running to Panama and similar places to see what we can safeguard for them.

William C Dudley, Fed New York, does still not understand how risk-weighted capital requirements for banks distort

On March 31, 2016 William C Dudley of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, gave a speech titled “The role of the Federal Reserve – lessons from financial crises” 

There are many issues I do not agree with in that discourse but let me here concentrate on “lessons from financial crisis”. 

Mr Dudley stated: “The crisis showed that the regulatory community did not fully grasp the vulnerability of the financial system. In particular, critical financial institutions were not resilient enough to cope with large scale disruptions without assistance, and problems in one institution quickly spread to others.”

Not a word about how the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks; which permit banks to leverage more on what is perceived, or has been decreed, or has been concocted as safe, than with what is perceived as risky; which means banks earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity on what is "safe" than on what is “risky”; which means banks will lend too much to what is “safe”, like sovereigns and the AAArisktocracy, and too little to what is “risky”, like SMEs and entrepreneurs.

And anyone who has still not understood the dangers that distortion of the allocation of bank credit poses to the banks, and to the real economy, doest not have what it takes to work on bank regulations.

The main lesson here is: It was the regulators who, by allowing banks to hold less capital against precisely the stuff that all major bank crisis are made of, namely what is ex ante perceived as safe, made the banking sector more vulnerable.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The regulatory powers of our bank regulators need to be urgently regulated, at least those of the Basel Committee.

What do you think the world would have said if the Basel Committee had informed it that it would regulate the banks, without considering the purpose of the banks? 

What do you think the world had said if the Basel Committee had informed that in order to make the banks safer, they were going to distort the allocation of credit to the real economy?

What do you think the world would have said if the Basel Committee had informed it that even though all major bank crises have always resulted from excessive exposures to something ex ante erroneously perceived as safe, they would allow for especially low capital requirements against bank exposures to what ex ante was perceived as safe.

What do you think the world would have said if the Basel Committee had informed it that even though the society considered that banks giving credit to SMEs and entrepreneurs was very important, they would saddle the banks with especially large capital requirements on account of those “risky” being risky.

What do you think the world would have said if the Basel Committee had informed it that it was going to assign a zero risk weight to sovereigns and a 100 percent risk weight to the citizens, and which indicated their belief that government employees could make better use of other people’s money than private citizens could use theirs. 

What do you think the world would have said if the Basel Committee had informed it that even though banks already cleared for credit risks with interest rates and size of exposure they would also require banks to clear for that same risk in the capital; and that even though any risk that is excessively considered leads to the wrong actions even if perfectly perceived.

What do you think the world would have said if the Basel Committee had informed it that because they could not estimate the unexpected losses that bank capital is primarily to cover for, they would use expected credit risks as a proxy for the unexpected.

What do we think about that even when the 2007-08 clearly evidenced the failure of the regulators, they go on as if nothing, using the same regulatory principles? I just know that neither Hollywood nor Bollywood would ever have permitted those creating the box-office flop of Basel II, to go on working on Basel III.

Sincerely, are we really sure all these regulators in the Basel Committee, and in the Financial Stability Board, are just not some Chauncey Gardiner characters?

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Again the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision evidences it is a clueless producer of systemic risks.

I refer to a speech by William Coen the Secretary General of the Basel Committee, given in Sydney on 5 April 2016 and titled “The global policy reform agenda: completing the job” Coen said: 

“A bridge is an apt metaphor for the Basel framework. Bridges must be safe and sound. A safe and sound banking system is exactly what the Basel framework aims to support. Bridges facilitate movement, commerce and trade. The financial system plays a crucial role in directing investment and funds between individuals and businesses…

For the past 25 years, the foundation of the international approach to the prudential regulation of banks has been a risk-based capital ratio.

The level of capital is a difficult question. There are many views on what the "right amount" should be”

So it is clear that the Basel Committee still does not understand the distortion they cause. Its risk-based capital ratios, which allows banks to leverage equity differently with different assets depending on their ex ante perceived risk, amounts to building some very wide bridges where banks and “the safe” can interact a lot with ease, and then some very narrow bridges that make the relations between banks and “the risky” much harder than they already were.

Coen confesses: “We have spent several years developing a framework to make sure that banks' capital and liquidity buffers are strong enough to keep the system safe and sound.” And that is precisely the problem; they only cared about the condition of the banks and not one iota about the fundamental social purpose of banks, which is allocating credit efficiently to the real economy.

And Coen also quoted the Dutch central bank with: "today's undesirable behavior in financial institutions is at the root of tomorrow's solvency and liquidity problems".

That is correct but I would also add: Today’s undesirable regulatory failure is and will be at the root of tomorrows problems with the real economy… and in the long run no bank system cam be safe and sound, if the underlying real economy is not safe and sound.

And by the way, the root of 2007-08’s solvency and liquidity problems, laid in those authorized leverages of over 60 to 1 for AAA rated securities and sovereigns like Greece.

What are we to do with this bunch of not accountable to any technocrats that have never walked on Main Street, and are incapable of understanding that risk-taking is the oxygen of all development? 

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.” John Augustus Shedd, 1850-1926 

Please, give our banks one sole equal capital requirement for all assets, to protect banks not against expected credit risks already cleared for, but against unforeseen risks, such as the Basel Committee falling into the hands of clueless regulators.

Let us never forget that the most dangerous systemic risks can easily be introduced by the regulators.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Houston we’ve got a huge problem. Bank regulators and other experts don’t get it!

With Basel II, banks were authorized to leverage their defined equity:

Unlimited times when lending to AAA to AA rated sovereigns
62.5 times to 1 when lending to the AAA to AA corporates, the AAArisktocracy
35.7 times to 1 when financing residential housing
And only 12.5 times to 1 when lending to unrated citizens SMEs and entrepreneurs

And that of course allowed banks to earn quite different expected risk adjusted returns on equity not based on what the market offered, but based on what the regulators dictated.

And regulators, finance professors, FT editors and journalists, and many other experts simply do not understand that this distorts the allocation of bank credit to the real economy.

What are we to do?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mr Hiroshi Nakaso, you are wrong! You and your colleagues, so irresponsibly, changed the nature of our banks.


In it he said: “Joseph Alois Schumpeter, in his seminal “The Theory of Economic Development” stresses the important role played by the “banker”, as well as that of the “entrepreneur”. The banker profits from her ability to identify those entrepreneurs who develop truly innovative undertakings that are high-quality startups, and from generating information that leads to improved corporate performance. Schumpeter expects that such profit motives of the banker backed up by her exceptional ability to pick winners would bring about a more efficient reallocation of risks in the macro economy and lead to an endogenous rise in the economic growth rate.

This role of the banker- promoting the creative destruction through financial intermediation – has not changed since the time of Schumpeter.”

You are so wrong Mr Nakaso! You and your colleagues have changed the role of the banker.

With your risk weighted capital requirements for banks, which allow banks to leverage more their equity with what is perceived safe than with what is perceived risky; and thereby be able to obtain higher expected risk-adjusted returns on equity when financing what’s “safe” than when financing what’s “risky”, have certainly changed the role of the banker.

Nowadays his role, as you and you colleagues have seen it fit, is simply to avoid taking credit risks.

If you do not believe me look at the following authorized bank equity leverages in Basel II. (The risk weights in Basel III remains the same)

When lending to prime sovereigns, the sky is the limit. 
When lending to the AAArisktocracy 62.5 times to 1.
When financing residential housing 35.7 times to 1
And when lending to risky unrated SMEs and entreprenuers, only 12.5 times to 1

And that Mr Nakaso, is why banks do not any longer finance the riskier future, they just refinance the, for the very short time being, safer past.

The next generations will hold you and your colleagues accountable for this regulatory atrocity.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The lousier the sand turned into "gold" the more profitable is securitization… for the securitizers.

What can you earn by packaging a lot of AA rated instruments (like good 30 years fixed rate mortgages) into a security rated AAA? Very little, basically it is not even worth the effort.

But if you package something rated BB- or below into a security that gets an AAA rating, then there is a fortune to be shared, by all except, those who signed the original BB- obligations.

Securitization has been defended on the ground that it provides more financing to those who otherwise cannot afford it. That is 99% a lie. It provides much financing to those who cannot afford it, in order to benefit the originators, the packagers and the intermediaries.

Here’s the real deal! If you convinced risky and broke Joe to take a $300.000 mortgage at 11 percent for 30 years and then, with more than a little help from the credit rating agencies, you could convince risk-adverse Fred that this mortgage, repackaged in a securitized version, and rated AAA, was so safe that a six percent return was quite adequate, then you could sell Fred the mortgage for $510.000. This would allow you and your partners in the set-up, to pocket an immediate tidy profit of $210.000

But if you think that’s all with securitization looking to turn sand into gold, just you wait.

If an AA rated instrument is packaged into a security that gets an AAA rating it means nothing in terms of risk-weighted capital requirements for banks but, if a BB+ rated or an unrated instrument is packaged into a security that gets an AA rating, then the risk weight diminishes from 100 percent to 20 percent. And that, in terms of Basel II, meant that banks instead of having to hold 8 percent in capital against that instrument, were then only required to hold a meager 1.6 percent in capital. Meaning that instead of leveraging their equity 12.5 times to 1 they could leverage it a mind-blowing 62.5 times to 1.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Please, let us not favor financing our houses more than the jobs our kids and grandchildren need


Avinash Persaud correctly states: “This story is not just about mortgages but also about the overall allocation of liquid and illiquid assets across the financial system” March 2016

Yes, indeed it is. I have for soon two decades criticized that the Basel Committee's concept of risk-weighted capital requirements for banks, dangerously distorts the allocation of bank credit.

Persaud writes: “Under Basel I, in the calculation of the amount of risk-weighted assets a bank had to fund with capital, securitized mortgages had a risk weight of 20 percent while nonsecuritized mortgages had a risk weight of 50 percent.” And Persaud translates that into “This allowed banks to earn fees and net interest margins on holding 2.5 times more credit”

A more precise description is that Basel I assigned a 50% weight to loans fully secured by mortgage on residential property that is rented or is (or is intended to be) occupied by the borrower, and Basel II reduced that to 35 percent. And Basel II also introduced that security or any financial operation that could achieve an AAA to AA- rating, was assigned a 20 percent weight.

And I translate that as: With Basel I and II’s standard risk weight of 8 percent, anything that has a risk weight of 100%, like loans to unrated SMEs and entrepreneurs, means banks can leverage its defined capital 12.5 times to 1 (100/8). 

But if it has access to a 20 percent risk weight, the bank can leverage its defined capital 62.5 times to 1 (100/1.6)

And banks, naturally, operate to maximize risk-adjusted returns on equity (and bonuses to the bankers).

And so there can be no doubt banks will allocate much to much credit, in much to easy conditions to mortgages and AAA rated securities (and to sovereigns with a zero percent risk weight) and much too little credit, in much to harsh relative terms, to what is risk weighted more than that than that like SMEs and entrepreneurs.

And so, while I fully share Persaud’s argument about preferring insurance companies to banks to finance mortgages, so as to minimize maturities mismatches, my concerns go much further than his.

I do not want to favor, in any way shape or form, the “safe” financing of mortgages, whether by banks or insurance companies, over the “risky” financing of the job creation our children and grandchildren need.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Dr Raghuram Rajan the color of the credit risk weighted capital requirement for banks policy is INTENSE RED

Dr Raghuram Rajan: in “Towards rules of the monetary game” a speech delivered in New Delhi March 12, 2016 during the conference" Advancing Asia: Investing for the Future" said: 

“To use a driving analogy, polices that are generally seen to have few adverse spillovers, and are even to be encouraged by the global community should be rated Green, policies that should be used temporarily and with care could be rated Orange, and policies that should be avoided at all times could be rated Red.” 

And I have a simple question for Dr Rajan: 

What color, Green, Orange or Red would he give the policy of the risk weighted capital requirements for banks? 

That which allows banks to hold much less capital against what is perceived ex ante as safe than against what is perceived as risky. 

That which therefore allows banks to leverage more their equity with what is perceived ex ante as safe than with what is perceived as risky.

That which therefore allows banks to earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity on what is perceived ex ante as safe than on what is perceived as risky.

That which therefore cause banks to create excessive and dangerous exposures to what is ex ante perceived as safe and insufficient exposures to what is perceived as risky. 

That which in real terms means causing the banks to extract the most refinancing much more the safer past abandoning their social responsibility of assisting in the financing of the riskier future. 

That which “has led to the debt overhang” that which makes it more difficult for “new technologies and new markets [to] come to the rescue” 

Dr Rajan asks and answers: 

“Why is there so much of a political need for growth in industrial countries? 

One reason is the need to fulfill government commitments such as debt and social security entitlements. 

Another reason is that growth is necessary for inter-generational equity, especially because the young, who are most benefited from job creation, are the generations that will be working to pay off commitments to older generations. 

A third reason is that, within country, long periods of below par growth can lead the unemployed to become unemployable.” 

Dr Raghuram Rajan, using your driving analogy the color of the policy of risk weighted capital requirement for banks is INTENSE RED, especially for developing countries like India.

PS. Here is the document I presented at the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Developing at the United Nations, New York, October 2007, and titled “Are the bank regulations coming from Basle good for development?” It was also reproduced in The Icfai University Journal of Banking Law Vol. VI No.4, India, October 2008