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.

Money and Collaterall, by Manmohan Singh & Peter Stella

Money and Collateral, by Manmohan Singh & Peter Stella
IMF Working Paper No. 12/95
Apr 2012

Summary: Between 1980 and before the recent crisis, the ratio of financial market debt to liquid assets rose exponentially in the U.S. (and in other financial markets), reflecting in part the greater use of securitized assets to collateralize borrowing. The subsequent crisis has reduced the pool of assets considered acceptable as collateral, resulting in a liquidity shortage. When trying to address this, policy makers will need to consider concepts of liquidity besides the traditional metric of excess bank reserves and do more than merely substitute central bank money for collateral that currently remains highly liquid.



In the traditional view of a banking system, credit and money are largely counterparts to each other on different sides of the balance sheet. In the process of maturity transformation, banks are able to create liquid claims on themselves, namely money, which is the counterpart to the less liquid loans or credit.2 Owing to the law of large numbers, banks have—for centuries— been able to safely conduct this business with relatively little liquid reserves, as long as basic confidence in the soundness of the bank portfolio is maintained.

In recent decades, with the advent of securitization and electronic means of trading and settlement, it became possible to greatly expand the scope of assets that could be transformed directly, through their use as collateral, into highly liquid or money-like assets. The expansion in the scope of the assets that could be securitized was in part facilitated by the growth of the shadow financial system, which was largely unregulated, and the ability to borrow from non-deposit sources. This meant deposits no longer equaled credit (Schularick and Taylor, 2008). The justification for light touch or no regulation of this new market was that collateralization was sufficient (and of high quality) and that market forces would ensure appropriate risk taking and dispersion among those educated investors best able to take those risks which were often tailor made to their demands. Where regulation fell short was in failing to recognize the growing interconnectedness of the shadow and regulated sectors, and the growing tail risk that sizable leverage entailed (Gennaioli, Shleifer and Vishny, 2011).

Post-Lehman, there has been a disintermediation process leading to a fall in the money multiplier. This is related to the shortage of collateral (Singh 2011). This is having a real impact—in fact deleveraging is more pronounced due to less collateral. Section II of the paper focuses on money as a legal tender, the money multiplier; then we introduce the adjusted money multiplier. Section III discusses collateral, including tail-risk collateral.  Section IV tries to bridge the money and collateral aspects from a “safe assets” angle. Section V introduces collateral chains and describes the economics behind the private pledged collateral market. Section VI brings the monetary and collateral issues together under an overall financial lubrication framework. In our conclusion (section VII) we offer a useful basis for understanding monetary policy in the current environment.


“Monetary” policy is currently being undertaken in uncharted territory and may change some fundamental assumptions that link monetary and macro-financial policies. Central banks are considering whether and how to augment the apparently ‘failed’ transmission mechanism and in so doing will need to consider the role that collateral plays as financial lubrication (see also Debelle, 2012). Swaps of “good” for “bad” collateral may become part of the standard toolkit.31 If so, the fiscal aspects and risks associated with such policies—which are virtually nil in conventional QE swaps of central bank money for treasuries—are important and cannot be ignored. Furthermore, the issue of institutional accountability and authority to engage in such operations touches at the heart of central bank independence in a democratic society.

These fundamental questions concerning new policy tools and institutional design have arisen at the same time as developed countries have issued massive amounts of new debt.  Although the traditional bogeyman of pure seigniorage financing, that is, massive monetary purchases of government debt may have disappeared from the dark corners of central banks, this does not imply that inflation has been forever arrested. Thus a central bank may “stand firm” yet witness rises in the price level that occur to “align the market value of government debt to the value of its expected real backing.” Hence current concerns as to the potential limitations fiscal policy places on monetary policy are well founded and indeed are novel only to those unfamiliar with similar concerns raised for decades in emerging and developing countries as well as in the “mature” markets before World War II.