Showing posts with label economic crisis. Show all posts
Showing posts with label economic crisis. Show all posts

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Great Recession Blame Game - Banks took the heat, but it was Washington that propped up subprime debt and then stymied recovery

The Great Recession Blame Game

Banks took the heat, but it was Washington that propped up subprime debt and then stymied recovery.

By Phil Gramm and Michael Solon
WSJ, April 15, 2016 6:09 p.m. ET

When the subprime crisis broke in the 2008 presidential election year, there was little chance for a serious discussion of its root causes. Candidate Barack Obama weaponized the crisis by blaming greedy bankers, unleashed when financial regulations were “simply dismantled.” He would go on to blame them for taking “huge, reckless risks in pursuit of quick profits and massive bonuses.”
That mistaken diagnosis was the justification for the Dodd-Frank Act and the stifling regulations that shackled the financial system, stunted the recovery and diminished the American dream.

In fact, when the crisis struck, banks were better capitalized and less leveraged than they had been in the previous 30 years. The FDIC’s reported capital-to-asset ratio for insured commercial banks in 2007 was 10.2%—76% higher than it was in 1978. Federal Reserve data on all insured financial institutions show the capital-to-asset ratio was 10.3% in 2007, almost double its 1984 level, and the biggest banks doubled their capitalization ratios. On Sept. 30, 2008, the month Lehman failed, the FDIC found that 98% of all FDIC institutions with 99% of all bank assets were “well capitalized,” and only 43 smaller institutions were undercapitalized.

In addition, U.S. banks were by far the best-capitalized banks in the world. While the collapse of 31 million subprime mortgages fractured financial capital, the banking system in the 30 years before 2007 would have fared even worse under such massive stress.

Virtually all of the undercapitalization, overleveraging and “reckless risks” flowed from government policies and institutions. Federal regulators followed international banking standards that treated most subprime-mortgage-backed securities as low-risk, with lower capital requirements that gave banks the incentive to hold them. Government quotas forced Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to hold ever larger volumes of subprime mortgages, and politicians rolled the dice by letting them operate with a leverage ratio of 75 to one—compared with Lehman’s leverage ratio of 29 to one.

Regulators also eroded the safety of the financial system by pressuring banks to make subprime loans in order to increase homeownership. After eight years of vilification and government extortion of bank assets, often for carrying out government mandates, it is increasingly clear that banks were more scapegoats than villains in the subprime crisis.

Similarly, the charge that banks had been deregulated before the crisis is a myth. From 1980 to 2007 four major banking laws—the Competitive Equality Banking Act (1987), the Financial Institutions, Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (1989), the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Improvement Act (1991), and Sarbanes-Oxley (2002)—undeniably increased bank regulations and reporting requirements. The charge that financial regulation had been dismantled rests almost solely on the disputed effects of the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA).

Prior to GLBA, the decades-old Glass-Steagall Act prohibited deposit-taking, commercial banks from engaging in securities trading. GLBA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, allowed highly regulated financial-services holding companies to compete in banking, insurance and the securities business. But each activity was still required to operate separately and remained subject to the regulations and capital requirements that existed before GLBA. A bank operating within a holding company was still subject to Glass-Steagall (which was not repealed by GLBA)—but Glass-Steagall never banned banks from holding mortgages or mortgage-backed securities in the first place.

GLBA loosened federal regulations only in the narrow sense that it promoted more competition across financial services and lowered prices. When he signed the law, President Clinton said that “removal of barriers to competition will enhance the stability of our financial system, diversify their product offerings and thus their sources of revenue.” The financial crisis proved his point. Financial institutions that had used GLBA provisions to diversify fared better than those that didn’t.

Mr. Clinton has always insisted that “there is not a single solitary example that [GLBA] had anything to do with the financial crisis,” a conclusion that has never been refuted. When asked by the New York Times in 2012, Sen. Elizabeth Warren agreed that the financial crisis would not have been avoided had GLBA never been adopted. And President Obama effectively exonerated GLBA from any culpability in the financial crisis when, with massive majorities in both Houses of Congress, he chose not to repeal GLBA. In fact, Dodd-Frank expanded GLBA by using its holding-company structure to impose new regulations on systemically important financial institutions.

Another myth of the financial crisis is that the bailout was required because some banks were too big to fail. Had the government’s massive injection of capital—the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP—been only about bailing out too-big-to-fail financial institutions, at most a dozen institutions might have received aid. Instead, 954 financial institutions received assistance, with more than half the money going to small banks.

Many of the largest banks did not want or need aid—and Lehman’s collapse was not a case of a too-big-to-fail institution spreading the crisis. The entire financial sector was already poisoned by the same subprime assets that felled Lehman. The subprime bailout occurred because the U.S. financial sector was, and always should be, too important to be allowed to fail.

Consider that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, bailing out the depositors of insolvent S&Ls in the 1980s on net cost taxpayers $258 billion in real 2009 dollars. By contrast, of the $245 billion disbursed by TARP to banks, 67% was repaid within 14 months, 81% within two years and the final totals show that taxpayers earned $24 billion on the banking component of TARP. The rapid and complete payback of TARP funds by banks strongly suggests that the financial crisis was more a liquidity crisis than a solvency crisis.

What turned the subprime crisis and ensuing recession into the “Great Recession” was not a failure of policies that addressed the financial crisis. Instead, it was the failure of subsequent economic policies that impeded the recovery.

The subprime crisis was largely the product of government policy to promote housing ownership and regulators who chose to promote that social policy over their traditional mission of guaranteeing safety and soundness. But blaming the financial crisis on reckless bankers and deregulation made it possible for the Obama administration to seize effective control of the financial system and put government bureaucrats in the corporate boardrooms of many of the most significant U.S. banks and insurance companies.

Suffocating under Dodd-Frank’s “enhanced supervision,” banks now focus on passing stress tests, writing living wills, parking capital at the Federal Reserve, and knowing their regulators better than they know their customers. But their ability to help the U.S. economy turn dreams into businesses and jobs has suffered.

In postwar America, it took on average just 2 1/4 years to regain in each succeeding recovery all of the real per capita income that had been lost in the previous recession. At the current rate of the Obama recovery, it will take six more years, 14 years in all, for the average American just to earn back what he lost in the last recession. Mr. Obama’s policies in banking, health care, power generation, the Internet and so much else have Europeanized America and American exceptionalism has waned—sadly proving that collectivism does not work any better in America than it has ever worked anywhere else.

Mr. Gramm, a former chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Solon is a partner of US Policy Metrics.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

A New Tool for Avoiding Big-Bank Failures: ‘Chapter 14.’ By Emily C. Kapur and John B. Taylor

A New Tool for Avoiding Big-Bank Failures: ‘Chapter 14.’ By Emily C. Kapur and John B. Taylor

Bernie Sanders is right, Dodd-Frank doesn’t work, but his solution is wrong. Here’s what would work.

WSJ, Mar 11, 2016

For months Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has been telling Americans that the government must “break up the banks” because they are “too big to fail.” This is the wrong role for government, but Sen. Sanders and others on both sides of the aisle have a point. The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law, which was supposed to end too big to fail, has not.

Dodd-Frank gave the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. authority to take over and oversee the reorganization of so-called systemically important financial institutions whose failure could pose a risk to the economy. But no one can be sure the FDIC will follow its resolution strategy, which leads many to believe Dodd-Frank will be bypassed in a crisis.

Reflecting on his own experience as overseer of the U.S. Treasury’s bailout program in 2008-09, Neel Kashkari, now president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, says government officials are once again likely to bail out big banks and their creditors rather than “trigger many trillions of additional costs to society.”

The solution is not to break up the banks or turn them into public utilities. Instead, we should do what Dodd-Frank failed to do: Make big-bank failures feasible without tanking the economy by writing a process to do so into the bankruptcy code through a new amendment—a “chapter 14.”

Chapter 14 would impose losses on shareholders and creditors while preventing the collapse of one firm from spreading to others. It could be initiated by the lead regulatory agency and would begin with an over-the-weekend bankruptcy hearing before a pre-selected U.S. district judge. After the hearing, the court would convert the bank’s eligible long-term debt into equity, reorganizing the bankrupt bank’s balance sheet without restructuring its operations.

A new non-bankrupt company, owned by the bankruptcy estate (the temporary legal owner of a failed company’s assets and property), would assume the recapitalized balance sheet of the failed bank, including all obligations to its short-term creditors. But the failed bank’s shareholders and long-term bondholders would have claims only against the estate, not the new company.

The new firm would take over the bank’s business and be led by the bankruptcy estate’s chosen private-sector managers. With regulations requiring minimum long-term debt levels, the new firm would be solvent. The bankruptcy would be entirely contained, both because the new bank would keep operating and paying its debts, and because losses would be allocated entirely to the old bank’s shareholders and long-term bondholders.

An examination by one of us (Emily Kapur) of previously unexplored discovery and court documents from Lehman Brothers’ September 2008 bankruptcy shows that chapter 14 would have worked especially well for that firm, without adverse effects on the financial system.

Here is how Lehman under chapter 14 would have played out. The process would start with a single, brief hearing for the parent company to facilitate the creation of a new recapitalized company—a hearing in which the judge would have minimal discretion. By contrast, Lehman’s actual bankruptcy involved dozens of complex proceedings in the U.S. and abroad, creating huge uncertainty and making it impossible for even part of the firm to remain in business.

When Lehman went under it had $20 billion of book equity and $96 billion of long-term debt, while its perceived losses were around $54 billion. If the costs of a chapter 14 proceeding amounted to an additional (and conservative) $10 billion, then the new company would be well capitalized with around $52 billion of equity.

The new parent company would take over Lehman’s subsidiaries, all of which would continue in business, outside of bankruptcy. And the new company would honor all obligations to short-term creditors, such as repurchase agreement and commercial paper lenders.

The result: Short-term creditors would have no reason to run on the bank before the bankruptcy proceeding, knowing they would be protected. And they would have no reason to run afterward, because the new firm would be solvent.

Without a run, Lehman would have $30 billion more liquidity after resolution than it had in 2008, easing subsequent operational challenges. In the broader marketplace, money-market funds would have no reason to curtail lending to corporations, hedge funds would not flee so readily from prime brokers, and investment banks would be less likely to turn to the government for financing.

Eventually, the new company would make a public stock offering to value the bankruptcy estate’s ownership interest, and the estate would distribute its assets according to statutory priority rules. If the valuation came in at $52 billion, Lehman shareholders would be wiped out, as they were in 2008. Long-term debtholders, with $96 billion in claims, would recover 54 cents on the dollar, more than the 37 cents they did receive. All other creditors—the large majority—would be paid in full at maturity.

Other reforms, such as higher capital requirements, may yet be needed to reduce risk and lessen the chance of financial failure. But that is no reason to wait on bankruptcy reform. A bill along the lines of the chapter 14 that we advocate passed the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 11. Two versions await action in the Senate. Let’s end too big to fail, once and for all.
Ms. Kapur is an attorney and economics Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University. Mr. Taylor, a professor of economics at Stanford, co-edited “Making Failure Feasible” (Hoover, 2015) with Kenneth Scott and Thomas Jackson, which includes Ms. Kapur’s study.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

In the name of ‘affordable’ loans, we are creating the conditions for a replay of the housing disaster

Building Toward Another Mortgage Meltdown. By Edward Pinto

In the name of ‘affordable’ loans, the White House is creating the conditions for a replay of the housing disaster
The Obama administration’s troubling flirtation with another mortgage meltdown took an unsettling turn on Tuesday with Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt ’s testimony before the House Financial Services Committee.

Mr. Watt told the committee that, having received “feedback from stakeholders,” he expects to release by the end of March new guidance on the “guarantee fee” charged by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to cover the credit risk on loans the federal mortgage agencies guarantee.

Here we go again. In the Obama administration, new guidance on housing policy invariably means lowering standards to get mortgages into the hands of people who may not be able to afford them.

Earlier this month, President Obama announced that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) will begin lowering annual mortgage-insurance premiums “to make mortgages more affordable and accessible.” While that sounds good in the abstract, the decision is a bad one with serious consequences for the housing market.

Government programs to make mortgages more widely available to low- and moderate-income families have consistently offered overleveraged, high-risk loans that set up too many homeowners to fail. In the long run-up to the 2008 financial crisis, for example, federal mortgage agencies and their regulators cajoled and wheedled private lenders to loosen credit standards. They have been doing so again. When the next housing crash arrives, private lenders will be blamed—and homeowners and taxpayers will once again pay dearly.

Lowering annual mortgage-insurance premiums is part of a new affordable-lending effort by the Obama administration. More specifically, it is the latest salvo in a price war between two government mortgage giants to meet government mandates.

Fannie Mae fired the first shot in December when it relaunched the 30-year, 97% loan-to-value, or LTV, mortgage (a type of loan that was suspended in 2013). Fannie revived these 3% down-payment mortgages at the behest of its federal regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)—which has run Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac since 2008, when both government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) went belly up and were put into conservatorship. The FHA’s mortgage-premium price rollback was a counteroffensive.

Déjà vu: Fannie launched its first price war against the FHA in 1994 by introducing the 30-year, 3% down-payment mortgage. It did so at the behest of its then-regulator, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This and other actions led HUD in 2004 to credit Fannie Mae’s “substantial part in the ‘revolution’ ” in “affordable lending” to “historically underserved households.”

Fannie’s goal in 1994 and today is to take market share from the FHA, the main competitor for loans it and Freddie Mac need to meet mandates set by Congress since 1992 to increase loans to low- and moderate-income homeowners. The weapons in this war are familiar—lower pricing and progressively looser credit as competing federal agencies fight over existing high-risk lending and seek to expand such lending.

Mortgage price wars between government agencies are particularly dangerous, since access to low-cost capital and minimal capital requirements gives them the ability to continue for many years—all at great risk to the taxpayers. Government agencies also charge low-risk consumers more than necessary to cover the risk of default, using the overage to lower fees on loans to high-risk consumers.

Starting in 2009 the FHFA released annual studies documenting the widespread nature of these cross-subsidies. The reports showed that low down payment, 30-year loans to individuals with low FICO scores were consistently subsidized by less-risky loans.

Unfortunately, special interests such as the National Association of Realtors—always eager to sell more houses and reap the commissions—and the left-leaning Urban Institute were cheerleaders for loose credit. In 1997, for example, HUD commissioned the Urban Institute to study Fannie and Freddie’s single-family underwriting standards. The Urban Institute’s 1999 report found that “the GSEs’ guidelines, designed to identify creditworthy applicants, are more likely to disqualify borrowers with low incomes, limited wealth, and poor credit histories; applicants with these characteristics are disproportionately minorities.” By 2000 Fannie and Freddie did away with down payments and raised debt-to-income ratios. HUD encouraged them to more aggressively enter the subprime market, and the GSEs decided to re-enter the “liar loan” (low doc or no doc) market, partly in a desire to meet higher HUD low- and moderate-income lending mandates.

On Jan. 6, the Urban Institute announced in a blog post: “FHA: Time to stop overcharging today’s borrowers for yesterday’s mistakes.” The institute endorsed an immediate cut of 0.40% in mortgage-insurance premiums charged by the FHA. But once the agency cuts premiums, Fannie and Freddie will inevitably reduce the guarantee fees charged to cover the credit risk on the loans they guarantee.

Now the other shoe appears poised to drop, given Mr. Watt’s promise on Tuesday to issue new guidance on guarantee fees.

This is happening despite Congress’s 2011 mandate that Fannie’s regulator adjust the prices of mortgages and guarantee fees to make sure they reflect the actual risk of loss—that is, to eliminate dangerous and distortive pricing by the two GSEs. Ed DeMarco, acting director of the FHFA since March 2009, worked hard to do so but left office in January 2014. Mr. Watt, his successor, suspended Mr. DeMarc o’s efforts to comply with Congress’s mandate. Now that Fannie will once again offer heavily subsidized 3%-down mortgages, massive new cross-subsidies will return, and the congressional mandate will be ignored.

The law stipulates that the FHA maintain a loss-absorbing capital buffer equal to 2% of the value of its outstanding mortgages. The agency obtains this capital from profits earned on mortgages and future premiums. It hasn’t met its capital obligation since 2009 and will not reach compliance until the fall of 2016, according to the FHA’s latest actuarial report. But if the economy runs into another rough patch, this projection will go out the window.

Congress should put an end to this price war before it does real damage to the economy. It should terminate the ill-conceived GSE affordable-housing mandates and impose strong capital standards on the FHA that can’t be ignored as they have been for five years and counting.

Mr. Pinto, former chief credit officer of Fannie Mae, is co-director and chief risk officer of the International Center on Housing Risk at the American Enterprise Institute.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Our Financial Crisis Amnesia - Remember the S&L crisis? Nobody else does either. And we'll soon forget about 2008 too

Our Financial Crisis Amnesia. By Alex J. Pollock
Remember the S&L crisis? Nobody else does either. And we'll soon forget about 2008 too.WSJ, July 9, 2014 6:50 p.m. ET

It is now five years since the end of the most recent U.S. financial crisis of 2007-09. Stocks have made record highs, junk bonds and leveraged loans have boomed, house prices have risen, and already there are cries for lower credit standards on mortgages to "increase access."

Meanwhile, in vivid contrast to the Swiss central bank, which marks its investments to market, the Federal Reserve has designed its own regulatory accounting so that it will never have to recognize any losses on its $4 trillion portfolio of long-term bonds and mortgage securities.

Who remembers that such "special" accounting is exactly what the Federal Home Loan Bank Board designed in the 1980s to hide losses in savings and loans? Who remembers that there even was a Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which for its manifold financial sins was abolished in 1989?

It is 25 years since 1989. Who remembers how severe the multiple financial crises of the 1980s were?

The government of Mexico defaulted on its loans in 1982 and set off a global debt crisis. The Federal Reserve's double-digit interest rates had rendered insolvent the aggregate savings and loan industry, until then the principal supplier of mortgage credit. The oil bubble collapsed with enormous losses.

Between 1982 and 1992, a disastrous 2,270 U.S. depository institutions failed. That is an average of more than 200 failures a year or four a week over a decade. From speaking to a great many audiences about financial crises, I can testify that virtually no one knows this.

In the wake of the housing bust, I was occasionally asked, "Will we learn the lessons of this crisis?" "We will indeed," I would reply, "and we will remember them for at least four or five years." In 2007 as the first wave of panic was under way, I heard a senior international economist opine in deep, solemn tones, "What we have learned from this crisis is the importance of liquidity risk." "Yes," I said, "that's what we learn from every crisis."

The political reactions to the 1980s included the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989, the FDIC Improvement Act of 1991, and the very ironically titled GSE Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992. Anybody remember the theories behind those acts?

After depositors in savings and loan associations were bailed out to the tune of $150 billion (the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation having gone belly up), then-Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady pronounced that the great legislative point was "never again." Never, that is, until the Mexican debt crisis of 1994, the Asian debt crisis of 1997, and the Long-Term Capital Management crisis of 1998, all very exciting at the time.

And who remembers the Great Recession (so called by a prominent economist of the time) in 1973-75, the huge real-estate bust and New York City's insolvency crisis? That was the decade before the 1980s.

Viewing financial crises over several centuries, the great economic historian Charles Kindleberger concluded that they occur on average about once a decade. Similarly, former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker wittily observed that "about every 10 years, we have the biggest crisis in 50 years."

What is it about a decade or so? It seems that is long enough for memories to fade in the human group mind, as they are overlaid with happier recent experiences and replaced with optimistic new theories.

Speaking in 2013, Paul Tucker, the former deputy governor for financial stability of the Bank of England—a man who has thought long and hard about the macro risks of financial systems—stated, "It will be a while before confidence in the system is restored." But how long is "a while"? I'd say less than a decade.

Mr. Tucker went on to proclaim, "Never again should confidence be so blind." Ah yes, "never again." If Mr. Tucker's statement is meant as moral suasion, it's all right. But if meant as a prediction, don't bet on it.

Former Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, for all his daydream of the government as financial Platonic guardian, knows this. As he writes in "Stress Test," his recent memoir: "Experts always have clever reasons why the boom they are enjoying will avoid the disastrous patterns of the past—until it doesn't." He predicts: "There will be a next crisis, despite all we did."

Right. But when? On the historical average, 2009 + 10 = 2019. Five more years is plenty of time for forgetting.

Mr. Pollock is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and was president and CEO of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago 1991-2004.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

How Dodd-Frank Doubles Down on 'Too Big to Fail'

How Dodd-Frank Doubles Down on 'Too Big to Fail'
Two major flaws mean that the act doesn't address problems that led to the financial crisis of 2008. 
By Charles W. Calomiris And Allan H. Meltzer WSJ, Feb. 12, 2014 6:44 p.m. ET

The Dodd-Frank Act, passed in 2010, mandated hundreds of major regulations to control bank risk-taking, with the aim of preventing a repeat of the taxpayer bailouts of "too big to fail" financial institutions. These regulations are on top of many rules adopted after the 2008 financial crisis to make banks more secure. Yet at a Senate hearing in January, Elizabeth Warren asked a bipartisan panel of four economists (including Allan Meltzer ) whether the Dodd-Frank Act would end the problem of too-big-to-fail banks. Every one answered no.

Dodd-Frank's approach to regulating bank risk has two major flaws. First, its standards and rules require regulatory enforcement instead of giving bankers strong incentives to maintain safety and soundness of their own institutions. Second, the regulatory framework attempts to prevent any individual bank from failing, instead of preventing the collapse of the payments and credit systems.

The principal danger to the banking system arises when fear and uncertainty about the value of bank assets induces the widespread refusal by banks to accept each other's short-term debts. Such refusals can lead to a collapse of the interbank payments system, a dramatic contraction of bank credit, and a general loss in confidence by consumers and businesses—all of which can have dire economic consequences. The proper goal is thus to make the banking system sufficiently resilient so that no single failure can result in a general collapse.

Part of the current confusion over regulatory means and ends reflects a mistaken understanding of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. The collapse of interbank credit in September 2008 was not the automatic consequence of Lehman's failure.
Rather, it resulted from a widespread market perception that many large banks were at significant risk of failing. This perception didn't develop overnight. It had evolved steadily and visibly over more than two years, while regulators and politicians did nothing.

Citibank's equity-to-assets ratio, measured in market value—the best single comprehensive measure of a bank's financial strength—fell steadily from about 13% in April 2006 to about 3% by September 2008. And that low value reflected an even lower perception of fundamental asset worth, because the 3% market value included the value of an expected bailout. Lehman's collapse was simply the match in the tinder box. If other banks had been sufficiently safe and sound at the time of Lehman's demise, then the financial system would not have been brought to its knees by a single failure.

To ensure systemwide resiliency, most of Dodd-Frank's regulations should be replaced by measures requiring large, systemically important banks to increase their capacity to deal with losses. The first step would be to substantially raise the minimum ratio of the book value of their equity relative to the book value of their assets.

The Brown-Vitter bill now before Congress (the Terminating Bailouts for Taxpayer Fairness Act) would raise that minimum ratio to 15%, roughly a threefold increase from current levels. Although reasonable people can disagree about the optimal minimum ratio—one could argue that a 10% ratio would be adequate in the presence of additional safeguards—15% is not an arbitrary number.

At the onset of the Great Depression, large New York City banks all maintained more than 15% of their assets in equity, and none of them succumbed to the worst banking system shocks in U.S. history from 1929 to 1932. The losses suffered by major banks in the recent crisis would not have wiped out their equity if it had been equal to 15% of their assets.

Bankers and their supervisors often find it mutually convenient to understate expected loan losses and thereby overstate equity values. The problem is magnified when equity requirements are expressed relative to "risk-weighted assets," allowing regulators to permit banks' models to underestimate their risks.

This is not a hypothetical issue. In December 2008, when Citi was effectively insolvent, and the market's valuation of its equity correctly reflected that fact, the bank's accounts showed a risk-based capital ratio of 11.8% and a risk-based Tier 1 capital ratio (meant to include only high-quality, equity-like capital) of about 7%. Moreover, factors such as a drop in bank fee income can affect the actual value of a bank's equity, regardless of the riskiness of its loans.

For these reasons, large banks' book equity requirements need to be buttressed by other measures. One is a minimum requirement that banks maintain cash reserves (New York City banks during the Depression maintained cash reserves in excess of 25%). Cash held at the central bank provides protection against default risk similar to equity capital, but it has the advantage of being observable and incapable of being fudged by esoteric risk-modeling.

Several researchers have suggested a variety of ways to supplement simple equity and cash requirements with creative contractual devices that would give bankers strong incentives to make sure that they maintain adequate capital. In the Journal of Applied Corporate Finance (2013), Charles Calomiris and Richard Herring propose debt that converts to equity whenever the market value ratio of a bank's equity is below 9% for more than 90 days. Since the conversion would significantly dilute the value of the stock held by pre-existing shareholders, a bank CEO will have a big incentive to avoid it.

There is plenty of room to debate the details, but the essential reform is to place responsibility for absorbing a bank's losses on banks and their owners. Dodd-Frank institutionalizes too-big-to-fail protection by explicitly permitting bailouts via a "resolution authority" provision at the discretion of government authorities, financed by taxes on surviving banks—and by taxpayers should these bank taxes be insufficient. That provision should be repealed and replaced by clear rules that can't be gamed by bank managers.
Mr. Calomiris is the co-author (with Stephen Haber ) of "Fragile By Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit" (Princeton, 2014). Mr. Meltzer is the author of "Why Capitalism?" (Oxford, 2012). They co-direct (with Kenneth Scott ) the new program on Regulation and the Rule of Law at the Hoover Institution.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Volcker Ambiguity - The triumph of political discretion over financial clarity

The Volcker Ambiguity. WSJ Editorial 
The triumph of political discretion over financial clarity.
Wall Street Journal, Updated Dec. 11, 2013 3:52 p.m. ET

Just in time for Christmas, financial regulators have come down the chimney with a sackful of billable hours for securities lawyers. Truly a gift that keeps on giving, the Volcker Rule adopted on Tuesday by five federal agencies will create a limitless supply of ambiguity and the need for experienced counsel.

We supported former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker's simple idea: Don't let federally insured banks gamble in the securities markets. Taxpayers shouldn't be forced to stand behind Wall Street trading desks. What we can't support is the "Volcker Rule" that was first distorted in the 2010 Dodd-Frank law and has now been grinded and twisted into 71 pages of text plus 882 more pages of explanation after three years of agency sausage-making.

The general idea is to prevent "proprietary trading," in which a bank makes trades not at a customer's request but simply for its own account. Or at least some trades. The rule's new trading restrictions do not apply when Wall Street giants are trading debt issued by the U.S. government, state and local governments, government-created mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and in some circumstances foreign governments and even local or regional foreign governments.

You'll notice a pattern here. Like so many recent financial regulations, the Volcker Rule offers banks and investors big incentives to lend money to governments rather than private businesses. One Wall Street objection to the Volcker Rule has been that it will reduce liquidity in America's capital markets. And fear of a lack of liquidity in the market for government debt—especially Treasurys and European sovereign debt—is precisely the reason politicians and regulators have gone to such lengths to exempt government bonds from Volcker. Maybe Wall Street has a point.

What we don't know about the new rule are important details that will only become clear over time. At least that's according to Commissioner Daniel Gallagher of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who dissented on Tuesday along with fellow Republican appointees Michael Piwowar of the SEC and Scott O'Malia of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Mr. Gallagher said the vote occurred in "contradiction of our procedural rules for voting on major rule releases, including the longstanding guideline that Commissioners should be given thirty days to review a draft before a vote." He added, "Not until five days ago did we have anything even resembling a voting draft, giving us less than a week to review the nearly one thousand pages of the adopting rule. In short, under intense pressure to meet an utterly artificial, wholly political end-of-year deadline, this Commission is effectively being told that we have to vote for the final rule so we can find out what's in it."

Lawyers will certainly find plenty of opportunities for judgment calls that will generate all those billable hours. Banks are still allowed to make markets in securities and to underwrite the issuance of new stocks and bonds, all of which often requires them to hold securities in anticipation of customer demand.

Banks also retain some ability to hedge—to make trades for the purpose of offsetting other risks that they've taken on for clients. The work required to define the difference between legal market-making, underwriting and hedging on the one hand and illegal proprietary trading on the other will now be ample enough to spark a new building boom at downtown D.C. law offices.

Rest assured banks will find loopholes. And rest assured some of the Volcker rule-writers will find private job opportunities to help with that loophole search once they decide to lay down the burdens of government service.

The long, convoluted Volcker process and result illustrate the central problem of Dodd-Frank: the belief that regulators given ever more discretion to craft ever more complicated regulations will yield a safer financial system. The Bank of England's Andrew Haldane and Vasileios Madouros have shown the opposite is true. The complexity of banking rules before the crisis failed to prevent catastrophic risks and made the job of addressing the crisis harder by obscuring the true condition of giant banks.

Especially with banking regulation, simple rules that are difficult for lobbyists and bankers to game are likely to work far better. Bankers would know what to expect and couldn't cry ambiguity if they crossed a line. And regulators would be far more likely to spy violations. The danger with this Volcker Complexity is that we'll get litigation, investing loopholes, and greater financial costs, but not a safer system.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Rules of Thumb for Bank Solvency Stress Testing. By Daniel C. Hardy and Christian Schmieder

Rules of Thumb for Bank Solvency Stress Testing. By Daniel C. Hardy and Christian Schmieder
IMF Working Paper No. 13/232
November 11, 2013

Summary: Rules of thumb can be useful in undertaking quick, robust, and readily interpretable bank stress tests. Such rules of thumb are proposed for the behavior of banks’ capital ratios and key drivers thereof—primarily credit losses, income, credit growth, and risk weights—in advanced and emerging economies, under more or less severe stress conditions. The proposed rules imply disproportionate responses to large shocks, and can be used to quantify the cyclical behaviour of capital ratios under various regulatory approaches.


Motivated by the usefulness of rules of thumb,
this paper concentrates on the formulation of rules of thumb for key factors affecting bank solvency, namely credit losses, pre-impairment income and credit growth during crises, and illustrates their use in the simulation of the evolution of capital ratios under stress. We thereby seek to provide answers to the following common questions in stress testing:
  • How much do credit losses usually increase in case of a moderate, medium and severe macroeconomic downturn and/or financial stress event, e.g., if cumulative real GDP growth turns out to be, say, 4 or 8 percentage points below potential (or average or previous years') growth?
  • How typically do other major factors that affect capital ratios, such as profitability, credit growth, and risk-weighted assets (RWA), react under these circumstances?
  • Taking these considerations together, how does moderate, medium, or severe macro-financial stress translate into (a decrease in) bank capital, and thus, how much capital do banks need to cope with different levels of stress?


A variety of evidence is presented on the “average” pattern of behavior of financial aggregates relevant to solvency stress testing banks based in EMs [emerging market economies] and ACs [advanced economies], and, with some limitations, also for larger LIC banks. Table 10 provides an overview of some main results.

Typical levels of credit loss rates, pre-impairment income, and credit growth were estimated under moderate stress (a one-in-10/15-years shock), medium stress (worst-in-20-year), severe stress (a 1-in-40-years shock), and extreme stress (1-in-100 years). All three variables react in non-linear fashion to the severity of stress, which means that effects under severe conditions is manifold the effects under moderate conditions. Also, a substantial “tail” of poorly performing banks is likely to be much more affected than the median bank.

Comparing ACs on the one hand and EMs/LICs on the other, loss levels are found to be substantially higher in the latter, compensated for by higher returns. It was found that 1-in-20 year stress loss levels usually lead banks to report some net losses, especially in ECs, and thereby lose some capitalization (1 to 3 percentage points if they are under Basel I or the Basel II standardized approach), but only a macroeconomic crisis approaching severe intensity would normally bring down typical well-capitalized banks (unless there are other issues related to confidence and financial sector-generated sources of strain).

Further evidence is presented on macro-financial linkages, and specifically on defining rules of thumb of how a change in GDP growth triggers credit losses, income, and credit growth effects under different levels of stress. While such rough satellite models are more complex than the descriptive solvency rules, they allow the development of scenarios based on an explicit story. As such, the rules make allowance for national circumstances, such as the expected severity of shocks.

While the study has found general patterns, country-specific and/or bank-specific circumstances may differ widely from the average. Hence, the rules of thumb elaborated in this study serve as broad guidelines, particularly to understand benchmarks for worst-case scenarios, but do not fully substitute for detailed analysis when that is possible. The rules of thumb with explicit focus on macro-financial linkages cover only some of the main macroeconomic risk factors that may affect a banking system, namely those captured by GDP. It would be worthwhile to investigate whether analogous simple rules can be formulated that link specific elements of banks’ balance sheets and profitability to such other sources of vulnerability. Relevant macroeconomic variables could include (i) interest movements, including an overall shift in rates and a steepening or flattening of the yield curve. Effects are likely to depend crucially on how frequently rates on various assets and liabilities adjust; (ii) inflation and especially unexpected movements in the inflation rate. A rapid deceleration could strain borrowers’ ability to repay; (iii) exchange rate movement, especially where a large proportion of loans are denominated in foreign currency; and (iv) shocks affecting sectoral concentration of exposures or certain business lines.

The rules of thumb can be used to compute minimum levels of capitalization needed to withstand shocks of different severities—even those far from a country’s historical experience. Also, the regulatory approach used by banks matters: whether a bank adopts an IRB approach to estimating risk-weighted assets or relies on a standardized approach is shown to make a substantial difference to the magnitude and also the timing of when the effects of shocks are recognized, provided that banks’ risk models reflect changes in risk on a timely basis. Thus, the results are relevant to recent policy discussions centered on the robustness of regulatory capital ratios, especially on the computation of RWAs (e.g., BIS 2013, BCBS 2013, Haldane 2012, 2013) and the design of (countercyclical) capital buffers (e.g., Drehmann and other 2009). The results echo the call for (much) longer samples to be used in the calibration of models used for RWA computation and the “right” choice of the regulatory capital ratio (e.g., BCBS 2013, BIS 2013).

Friday, September 13, 2013

Financial Inclusion for Financial Stability: Improving Access to Deposits and Bank Resilience in Sync

Financial Inclusion for Financial Stability: Improving Access to Deposits and Bank Resilience in Sync. By Martin Melecky
World Bank Blogs
Tue, Sep 10, 2013

From 2006 to 2009, growth of bank deposits dropped by over 12 percentage points globally. The most affected by the 2008 global crisis were upper middle income countries that experienced a drop of 15 percentage points on average. Individual countries such as Azerbaijan, Botswana, Iceland, and Montenegro switched from deposit growth of 58 percent, 31 percent, 57 percent, and 94 percent in 2007 to deposit declines (or a complete stop in deposit growth) of -2 percent, 1 percent, -1 percent, -8 percent in 2009, respectively.

In times of financial stress, depositors get anxious, can run on banks, and withdraw their deposits (Diamond and Dybvig, 1983). Large depositors are usually the first ones to run (Huang and Ratnovski, 2011). By the law of large numbers, correlated deposit withdrawals could be mitigated if bank deposits are more diversified. Greater diversification of deposits could be achieved by enabling a broader access to and use of bank deposits, i.e. involving a greater share of adult population in the use of bank deposits (financial inclusion). Based on this assumption, broader financial inclusion in bank deposits could significantly improve resilience of banking sector funding and thus overall financial stability (Cull et al., 2012).

In the recent background paper for the World Development Report 2014 (Han and Melecky, 2013), we investigate the implications of a broader access to deposits for the dynamics of bank deposits during the global financial crisis. Namely, we analyze whether access to bank deposits by a larger share of a country’s population can help explain differences in the drop of deposit growth over 2007-2010 across our sample of 95 countries. We also separately estimate the differences in the relationship between the drop in deposit growth and access to deposits for low-income (LIC), middle-income (MIC), and high-income (HIC) countries.

Our paper responds to an existing gap in the empirical literature linking greater access to deposits with greater financial (banking sector) stability. While the literature postulates that an inclusive financial sector will have a more diversified, stable retail deposit base that can increase systemic stability, empirical research confirming existence of such a relationship, especially at the level of the financial system, is largely absent in the literature (Cull et al., 2012; Prasad, 2010).

We find that a broader access to and use of bank deposits can significantly mitigate bank deposit withdrawals or growth slowdowns in times of financial stress. Specifically, the estimated coefficient on the variables measuring access to deposits indicates that a 10 percent increase in the share of people that have access to bank deposits can mitigate the deposit growth drops (or deposit withdrawal rates) by about three to eight percentage points. While this finding holds for the entire sample of HICs, MICs, and LICs, it could be particularly strong in MICs, where a large share of population still lacks access to bank deposits, trust in banks is yet to be firmly established, and the integration in global financial flows is growing.

Our findings have important policy implications. Policy makers face tradeoffs when deciding whether to focus on reforms to promote financial development (financial inclusion, innovation, competition, etc.) or whether to focus on further improvements in financial stability (microprudential, macroprudential, business conduct supervision, etc.). However, synergies between promoting financial development and financial stability can also exist as shown in our paper.

We recommend that policy makers focus first on taking advantage of such synergies in their framework for financial sector policy. This framework is typically formulated in a national financial sector strategy which sets the development goals in finance, in view of systemic risk associated with achieving these goals and the risk preference of the country government. Namely, we argue that involving more people in the use of bank deposits could be beneficial for people, economic development, and stability of the financial system alike.

Drawing on our paper, the World Development Report 2014, in its chapter on the financial system, makes similar recommendations; namely, that countries should strive to promote a broader and responsible use of financial tools not only to aid economic development and poverty alleviation, but also to complement the mainstream (macroprudential) policies to enhance financial stability and prevent financial crises.

Again, these policy efforts, their synergetic effects, and the plan for their implementation, including the resulting responsibilities of different government agencies, should be clearly described in the national financial sector strategy. With proper regulation and oversight in place, initiatives such as Kenya’s M-PESA and M-KESHO projects (Demombynes and Thegeya, 2012) or South Africa’s Mzansi accounts (Bankable Frontier Associates, 2009) could serve as good examples of promoting a broader use of bank accounts (deposits) and enhancing the reliability of bank deposit funding at the same time.


  • Bankable Frontier Associates. 2009. "The Mzansi Bank Account Initiative in South Africa." Report commissioned by FinMark Trust. Bankable Frontier Associates, Somerville, MA.
  • Cull, Robert, Asli Demirguc-Kunt and Timothy Lyman. 2012. "Financial Inclusion and Stability: What Does Research Show?" CGAP Brief 71305, CGAP, Washington, DC.
  • Demombynes, Gabriel and Aaron Thegeya. 2012. "Kenya's Mobile Revolution and the Promise of Mobile Savings." Policy Research Working Paper 5988. World Bank, Washington, DC.
  • Diamond, Douglas W. and Philip H. Dybvig. 1983. "Bank Runs, Deposit Insurance, and Liquidity." Journal of Political Economy 91(3): 401­–19.
  • Huang, Rocco, and Lev Ratnovski. 2011. "The Dark Side of Bank Wholesale Funding." Journal of Financial Intermediation 20: 248–263.
  • Prasad, Eswar S. 2010. "Financial Sector Regulation and Reforms in Emerging Markets: An Overview." NBER Working Paper 16428, Cambridge, MA.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Evaluating early warning indicators of banking crises: Satisfying policy requirements

Evaluating early warning indicators of banking crises: Satisfying policy requirements
By Mathias Drehmann and Mikael Juselius
BIS Working Papers No 421
Aug 2013
Early warning indicators (EWIs) of banking crises should ideally be evaluated on the basis of their performance relative to the macroprudential policy maker's decision problem. We translate several practical aspects of this problem - such as difficulties in assessing the costs and benefits of various policy measures as well as requirements for the timing and stability of EWIs - into statistical evaluation criteria. Applying the criteria to a set of potential EWIs, we find that the credit-to-GDP gap and a new indicator, the debt service ratio (DSR), consistently outperform other measures. The credit-to-GDP gap is the best indicator at longer horizons, whereas the DSR dominates at shorter horizons.

JEL classification: C40, G01
Keywords: EWIs, ROC, area under the curve, macroprudential policy


In the empirical part of the paper, we apply our approach to assess the performance of 10 different EWIs. We mainly look at the EWIs individually, but at the end of the paper we also consider how to combine them. Our sample consists of 26 economies, covering quarterly time series starting in 1980. The set of potential EWIs includes more established indicators such as real credit growth, the credit-to- GDP gap, growth rates and gaps of property prices and equity prices (eg Drehmann et al (2011)) as well as the non-core liability ratio proposed by Hahm et al (2012).  We also test two new measures: a country’s history of financial crises and the debt service ratio (DSR). The DSR was first suggested in this context by Drehmann and Juselius (2012) and is defined as the proportion of interest payments and mandatory repayments of principal to income. An important data-related innovation of our analysis is that we use total credit to the private non-financial sector obtained from a new BIS database (Dembiermont et al (2013)).

We find that the credit-to-GDP gap and the DSR are the best performing EWIs in terms of our evaluation criteria. Their forecasting abilities dominate those of the other EWIs at all policy-relevant horizons. In addition, these two variables satisfy our criteria pertaining to the stability and interpretability of the signals. As the credit-to- GDP gap reflects the build-up of leverage of private sector borrowers and the DSR captures incipient liquidity constraints, their timing is somewhat different. While the credit-to-GDP gap performs consistently well, even over horizons of up to five years ahead of crises, the DSR becomes very precise two years ahead of crises. Using and combining the information of both indicators is therefore ideal from a policy perspective. Of the remaining indicators, only the non-core liability ratio fulfils our statistical criteria. But its AUC is always statistically smaller than the AUC of either the credit-to-GDP gap or the DSR. These results are robust with respect to different aspects of the estimation, such as the particular sample or the specific crisis classification used.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Credit and growth after financial crises, by Elod Takats and Christian Upper

Credit and growth after financial crises, by Előd Takáts and Christian Upper
BIS Working Papers No 416
July 2013

We find that declining bank credit to the private sector will not necessarily constrain the economic recovery after output has bottomed out following a financial crisis. To obtain this result, we examine data from 39 financial crises, which - as the current one - were preceded by credit booms. In these crises the change in bank credit, either in real terms or relative to GDP, consistently did not correlate with growth during the first two years of the recovery. In the third and fourth year, the correlation becomes statistically significant but remains small in economic terms. The lack of association between deleveraging and the speed of recovery does not seem to arise due to limited data. In fact, our data shows that increasing competitiveness, via exchange rate depreciations, is statistically and economically significantly associated with faster recoveries. Our results contradict the current consensus that private sector deleveraging is necessarily harmful for growth.

Keywords: creditless recovery, financial crises, deleveraging, household debt, corporate debt

JEL classification: G01, E32

We find that bank lending to the private sector and economic growth are essentially uncorrelated after those financial crises that were preceded by credit booms. This result is relevant for the major advanced economies recovering from the financial crisis, since the current crisis was also preceded by a credit boom. Our results suggest that the ongoing deleveraging in advanced economies might not be as harmful for the recovery as many fear.

We also find that depreciating real exchange rates are statistically and economically significantly associated with substantially stronger economic growth.  This finding on real exchange rates shows that the price channel for external adjustment can contribute to stronger economic activities. Consequently, if crisis hit countries can generate substantial real effective exchange rate depreciation, either via nominal exchange rate depreciation or internal cost adjustments, this could hasten their recovery. However, given the global nature of the current crisis this solution might not be available for all countries at the same time.

Furthermore, we find some weak negative association between public debt ratios and recoveries: increasing public debt seems to lead to somewhat weaker recoveries. This might cast doubt on the claims that fiscal stimulus is the appropriate answer to fasten the recovery now.

While we are aware that these results come with caveats, we believe that our results provide a useful contribution to the creditless recovery literature. We hope that these finding would elicit debates and further research to understand debt dynamics, financial crises and how recoveries work.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Cochrane: Regulating the riskiness of bank assets is a dead end. Instead, fix the run-prone nature of bank liabilities

Stopping Bank Crises Before They Start. By John Cochrane
Regulating the riskiness of bank assets is a dead end. Instead, fix the run-prone nature of bank liabilitiesThe Wall Street Journal, June 24, 2013, on page A19

In recent months the realization has sunk in across the country that the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform legislation is a colossal mess. Yet we obviously can't go back to the status quo that produced a financial catastrophe in 2007-08. Fortunately, there is an alternative.

At its core, the recent financial crisis was a run. The run was concentrated in the "shadow banking system" of overnight repurchase agreements, asset-backed securities, broker-dealers and investment banks, but it was a classic run nonetheless.

The run made the crisis. In the 2000 tech bust, people lost a lot of money, but there was no crisis. Why not? Because tech firms were funded by stock. When stock values fall you can't run to get your money out first, and you can't take a company to bankruptcy court.

This is a vital and liberating insight: To stop future crises, the financial system needs to be reformed so that it is not prone to runs. Americans do not have to trust newly wise regulators to fix Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, end rating-agency shenanigans, clairvoyantly spot and prick "bubbles," and address every other real or perceived shortcoming of our financial system.

Runs are a pathology of financial contracts, such as bank deposits, that promise investors a fixed amount of money and the right to withdraw that amount at any time. A run also requires that the issuing institution can't raise cash by selling assets, borrowing or issuing equity. If I see you taking your money out, then I have an incentive to take my money out too. When a run at one institution causes people to question the finances of others, the run becomes "systemic," which is practically the definition of a crisis.

By the time they failed in 2008, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns were funding portfolios of mortgage-backed securities with overnight debt leveraged 30 to 1. For each $1 of equity capital, the banks borrowed $30. Then, every single day, they had to borrow 30 new dollars to pay off the previous day's loans.

When investors sniffed trouble, they refused to roll over the loans. The bank's broker-dealer customers and derivatives counterparties also pulled their money out, each also having the right to money immediately, but each contract also serving as a source of short-term funding for the banks. When this short-term funding evaporated, the banks instantly failed.

Clearly, overnight debt is the problem. The solution is just as clear: Don't let financial institutions issue run-prone liabilities. Run-prone contracts generate an externality, like pollution, and merit severe regulation on that basis.

Institutions that want to take deposits, borrow overnight, issue fixed-value money-market shares or any similar runnable contract must back those liabilities 100% by short-term Treasurys or reserves at the Fed. Institutions that want to invest in risky or illiquid assets, like loans or mortgage-backed securities, have to fund those investments with equity and long-term debt. Then they can invest as they please, as their problems cannot start a crisis.

Money-market funds that want to offer better returns by investing in riskier securities must let their values float, rather than promise a fixed value of $1 per share. Mortgage-backed securities also belong in floating-value funds, like equity mutual funds or exchange-traded funds. The run-prone nature of broker-dealer and derivatives contracts can also be reformed at small cost by fixing the terms of those contracts and their treatment in bankruptcy.

The bottom line: People who want better returns must transparently shoulder additional risk.

Some people will argue: Don't we need banks to "transform maturity" and provide abundant "safe and liquid" assets for people to invest in? Not anymore.

First, $16 trillion of government debt is enough to back any conceivable demand for fixed-value liquid assets. Money-market funds that hold Treasurys can expand to enormous size. The Federal Reserve should continue to provide abundant reserves to banks, paying market interest. The Treasury could offer reserves to the rest of us—floating-rate, fixed-value, electronically-transferable debt. There is no reason that the Fed and Treasury should artificially starve the economy of completely safe, interest-paying cash.

Second, financial and technical innovations can deliver the liquidity that once only banks could provide. Today, you can pay your monthly credit-card bill from your exchange-traded stock fund. Tomorrow, your ATM could sell $100 of that fund if you want cash, or you could bump your smartphone on a cash register to buy coffee with that fund. Liquidity no longer requires that anyone hold risk-free or fixed-value assets.

Others will object: Won't eliminating short-term funding for long-term investments drive up rates for borrowers? Not much. Floating-value investments such as equity and long-term debt that go unlevered into loans are very safe and need to pay correspondingly low returns. If borrowers pay a bit more than now, it is only because banks lose their government guarantees and subsidies.

In the 19th century, private banks issued currency. A few crises later, we stopped that and gave the federal government a monopoly on currency issue. Now that short-term debt is our money, we should treat it the same way, and for exactly the same reasons.

In the wake of Great Depression bank runs, the U.S. government chose to guarantee bank deposits, so that people no longer had the incentive to get out first. But guaranteeing a bank's deposits gives bank managers a huge incentive to take risks.

So we tried to regulate the banks from taking risks. The banks got around the regulations, and "shadow banks" grew around the regulated system. Since then we have been on a treadmill of ever-larger bailouts, ever-expanding government guarantees, ever-expanding attempts to regulate risks, ever-more powerful regulators and ever-larger crises.

This approach will never work. Rather than try to regulate the riskiness of bank assets, we should fix the run-prone nature of their liabilities. Fortunately, modern financial technology surmounts the economic obstacles that impeded this approach in the 1930s. Now we only have to surmount the obstacle of entrenched interests that profit from the current dysfunctional system.

Mr. Cochrane is a professor of finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute.

Friday, May 17, 2013

"Near-Coincident" Indicators of Systemic Stress. By Ivailo Arsov, Elie Canetti, Laura Kodres, and Srobona Mitra

"Near-Coincident" Indicators of Systemic Stress. By Ivailo Arsov, Elie Canetti, Laura Kodres, and Srobona Mitra
IMF Working Paper No. 13/115
May 17, 2013

Summary: The G-20 Data Gaps Initiative has called for the IMF to develop standard measures of tail risk, which we identify in this paper with systemic risk. To understand the conditions under which tail risk is present, it is first necessary to develop a measure of what constitutes a systemic stress, or tail, event. We develop such a measure and uses it to assess the performance of eleven near-term systemic risk indicators as ‘early’ warning of distress among top financial institutions in the United States and the euro area. Two indicators perform particularly well in both regions, and a couple of other simple indicators do well across a number of criteria. We also find that the sizes of institutions do not necessarily correspond with their contribution to spillover risk. Some practical guidance for policies is provided.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Unconventional Monetary Policies - Recent Experiences and Prospects (+ Background Paper)

Unconventional Monetary Policies - Recent Experiences and Prospects
IMF Policy Paper

Summary:This paper addresses three questions about unconventional monetary policies. First, what policies were tried, and with what objectives? Second, were policies effective? And third, what role might these policies continue to play in the future?

Unconventional Monetary Policies - Recent Experiences and Prospects - Background Paper
IMF Policy Paper

Summary:This paper provides background information to the main Board paper, “The Role and Limits of Unconventional Monetary Policy.” This paper is divided in five distinct sections, each focused on a different topic covered in the main paper, though most relate to bond purchase programs. As a result, this paper centers on the experience of the United States Federal Reserve (Fed), the Bank of England (BOE) and the Bank of Japan (BOJ), mostly leaving the European Central Bank (ECB) aside given its focus on restoring the functioning of financial markets and intermediation. Section A explores whether bond purchase programs were effective at decreasing bond yields and, if so, through which channels. Section B goes one step further in evaluating whether bond purchase programs had—or can be expected to have—significant effects on real growth and inflation. Section C studies the spillover effects of bond purchases on both advanced and emerging market economies, using very similar methods as introduced in the first section. Section D breaks from the immediate focus on bond purchases to discuss how inflation might decrease the debt burden in advanced economies, in light of possible pressures that could fall (or be perceived to fall) on central banks. Finally, Section E discusses the possible risks of exiting given the very large central bank balance sheets.