Wednesday, April 11, 2012

IMF Global Financial Stability Report: Risks of stricter prudential regulations

IMF Global Financial Stability Report
Apr 2012

Chapter 3 of the April 2012 Global Financial Stability Report probes the implications of recent reforms in the financial system for market perception of safe assets. Chapter 4 investigates the growing public and private costs of increased longevity risk from aging populations.

Excerpts from Ch. 3, Safe Assets: Financial System Cornerstone?:

In the future, there will be rising demand for safe assets, but fewer of them will be available, increasing the price for safety in global markets.  In principle, investors evaluate all assets based on their intrinsic characteristics. In the absence of market distortions, asset prices tend to reflect their underlying features, including safety. However, factors external to asset markets—including the required use of specific assets in prudential regulations, collateral practices, and central bank operations—may preclude markets from pricing assets efficiently, distorting the price of safety. Before the onset of the global financial crisis, regulations, macroeconomic policies, and market practices had encouraged the underpricing of safety. Some safety features are more accurately reflected now, but upcoming regulatory and market reforms and central bank crisis management strategies, combined with continued uncertainty and a shrinking supply of assets considered safe, will increase the price of safety beyond what would be the case without such distortions.

The magnitude of the rise in the price of safety is highly uncertain [...]

However, it is clear that market distortions pose increasing challenges to the ability of safe assets to fulfill all their various roles in financial markets. [...] For banks, the common application of zero percent regulatory risk weights on debt issued by their own sovereigns, irrespective of risks, created perceptions of safety detached from underlying economic risks and contributed to the buildup of demand for such securities. [...]

[...] Although regulatory reforms to make institutions safer are clearly needed, insufficient differentiation across eligible assets to satisfy some regulatory requirements could precipitate unintended cliff effects—sudden drops in the prices—when some safe assets become unsafe and no longer satisfy various regulatory criteria. Moreover, the burden of mispriced safety across types of investors may be uneven. For instance, prudential requirements could lead to stronger pressures in the markets for shorter-maturity safe assets, with greater impact on investors with higher potential allocations at shorter maturities, such as banks.

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