Saturday, April 22, 2017

Should not science matter to bank regulators, at least a little?

I ask because though I am no scientist, far from it, have never really understood Einstein’s relativity theory, I know that if I were asked to regulate banks there would be two basic questions I would have to ask:

First, what is the purpose of our banks? Quite early someone would have mentioned John A Shedd’s “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for” and I would have ascertained that purpose to be, to allocate credit to the real economy, carefully but efficiently. 

Second, what has caused major bank crises? a. Unexpected events, like devaluations, b. criminal behavior, like lending to affiliates; and c. dangerously large exposures to something ex ante perceived as very safe but that ex post turned out to be very risky. Surely someone would have also cited Voltaire’s “May God defend me from my friends, I can defend myself from my enemies” as a reminder that what is perceived as risky is, precisely because of that perception, quite innocuous.

After that initial mini research, the last thing I would have come up with is the current risk weighted capital requirements, more risk more capital – less risk less capital, that which distorts the allocation of bank credit, for no stability purpose at all... much the contrary.

So again… should not science matter to bank regulators, at least a little?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Regulatory risk aversion distorts credit and causes dangerous bank exposures to what is perceived, decreed or concocted as safe.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, and the Chair of the Financial Stability Board, on April 7, 2017 gave a speech titled: “The high road to a responsible, open financial system”. 

Carney said: “The pillars of responsible financial globalisation eroded prior to the global financial crisis. Regulation became light touch and ineffective…. few participants were exposed to the full consequences of their actions as governance and compensation arrangements focused on the short term.”

But to call regulations that as a pillar has risk weighted capital requirements for banks, which allow banks to leverage assets differently because of perceived or decreed risk, “light touch”, is pure nonsense. And if there is anything as focused on the short term, that must be regulations that give banks incentives not to lend to the “riskier” future, but to take refuge in refinancing the “safer” past and present.

Carney bragged: “The system is safer because banks are now much more resilient, with capital requirements for the largest global banks that are ten times higher than before the crisis and a new leverage ratio that guards against risks that may seem low but prove not.” 

Since that “ten times higher” refers to capital in relation to risk weighted assets, and he has no way to ascertain the ex ante risk perceptions will coincide with the ex post realities, that number may or may not be true. The improvement might come from banks shedding a lot of safe “risky” assets and taking on more exposures to potentially risky “safe” assets. Finally, mentioning “a new leverage ratio that guards against risks that may seem low but prove not”, amounts to admitting they had no idea what they were doing before.

Carney opined: “The financial system is simpler. As banks have become less complex and more focused, they are lending more to households and businesses and less to each other. A series of measures are eliminating toxic and fragile forms of shadow banking while reinforcing the best of resilient market-based finance. And more durable market infrastructure is simplifying the previously complex – and dangerous – web of exposures in derivative markets.”

He wishes!

But when I object the strongest is when Carney states “The financial system is fairer because of reforms that are ending the era of “too big to fail” banks and addressing the root causes of a torrent of misconduct.”

Fairer? With regulators favoring those who perceived as safe were already favored with easier access to bank credit, and increasing the obstacles for those who perceived as risky already found it harder to access bank credit, has nothing to do with fairness. It is just odious regulatory discrimination.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

IMF and World Bank, have you really thought about what bank regulators are doing to our grandchildren?

Beginning 1988, with the Basel Accord, and much expanded in 2004, with Basel II, the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision, imposed on banks risk weighted capital (equity) requirements. Less perceived risk less capital - more perceived risks more capital.

The regulators also decreed that the sovereign would carry less risk weight than their subjects, which de facto implies they believe government bureaucrats use bank credit more efficiently than the private sector.

That means!

Banks can leverage more their equity with assets perceived as safe than with assets perceived as risky. 

Banks can earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity with assets perceived as safe than with assets perceived as risky. 

So sovereigns (the government), the AAA-risktocracy and those buying houses will have ampler and cheaper access than usual to bank credit.

So the “risky” SMEs and entrepreneurs, no matter how useful they might be for moving the economy forward, will find it harder and more expensive than usual to access bank credit.

So banks will be financing insufficiently the “riskier” future of our grandchildren, keeping busy refinancing the “safer” past and present of parents and grandparents. 

Grandfathers or grandfathers to be, I ask you,do you believe this is to act responsibly with respect to our grandchildren’s future?

I don’t! 

It is pure statism!

It distorts the allocation of credit in such way that it guarantees our real economies to stall and fall. As John A Shedd said: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for

It means our banks, and we all, are sooner or later going to end up gasping for oxygen in some dangerously overpopulated safe-havens. As Voltaire said: “May God defend me from my friends, I can defend myself from my enemies”. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Mme Lagarde. I don’t agree with that IMF is “Building a More Resilient and Inclusive Global Economy”.

On April 12, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of IMF gave a speech titled “Building a More Resilient and Inclusive Global Economy

Mme Lagarde stated: “We have found that technology has been the major factor behind the relative decline of lower- and middle-skilled workers’ incomes in recent years, with trade contributing to a much lesser extent” So where was IMF with this argument during the recent walls against foreign workers debate? Jobs are of course important but is it not also time to start thinking about the need for decent and worthy unemployments?

Mme Lagarde also stated: “Financial stability requires that we complete the reform of global financial regulations. These rules—especially on bank capital, liquidity, and leverage” Hah! With capital requirements for banks that are especially low for what can cause bank crises, namely what’s perceived as safe? Like the ultra low risk weighted assets of the AAA rated securities and a sovereign like Greece? IMF has to be joking.

Mme Lagarde spoke about IMF’s efforts for “avoiding protectionist measures as well as distortive policies that give rise to competitive advantage.” So why then does IMF keep silence on capital requirements for banks that make it harder than it already is for those perceived as risky, to access bank credit, like the SMEs and entrepreneurs?

Mme Lagarde holds that “today’s policies should not disadvantage future generations, who would be left to pay for the imprudent actions of today’s generation.” Hold it there! The current imprudent risk adverse bank regulations that give banks incentives to stay away from financing the riskier future and just keep to refinancing the safer present, does precisely disadvantage future generations.

Mme Lagarde, let me assure you that the current Basel Committee’s bank regulations do not live up to any of the three principles proposed by the great Roman architect Vitruvius:

Durability: No! “May God defend me from my friends, I can defend myself from my enemies” Voltaire”.

Utility: No! “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for” John A Shedd.

Beauty: No! Besides perhaps delighting some anxious nannies that regulation raises no one’s spirits. God make us daring!


Friday, March 31, 2017

The Basel Committee for Banking Supervision has doomed our banking system to fail in its purpose, and to crash.

The Basel Committee (and national bank regulators) allows banks to hold less capital against assets perceived or decreed as safe, like loans to sovereigns, to what has an AAA rating or residential mortgages, than against assets perceived as risky, like loans to SMEs and entrepreneurs. 

That means banks can leverage more their equity with “safe” assets than with “risky” assets.

That means banks can earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity on “safe” assets than on “risky” assets.

That means banks will acquire too many safe assets and too little risky assets.

But, you might ask, is that not great? The answer is, NO! 

It guarantees that the real economy will be negated the risk-taking necessary for it to keep on moving forward so as not to stall and fall. 

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

And it guarantees that, sooner or later, (like in 2007-08 with AAA rated securities and Greece) banks will end up holding, against too little capital, too much of an asset ex ante perceived as safe, but that ex-post turns out to be very risky. 

May God defend me from my friends, I can defend myself from my enemies” Voltaire

And of course that meant that bank regulators decreed inequality.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

BoE: Regulations make banks value what’s “risky” riskier than what it is, and what’s “safe” safer than what it is.

I refer to “The art of the deal: what can Nobel-winning contract theory teach us about regulating banks?” by Caterina Lepore, Caspar Siegert, Quynh-Anh Vo published on BoE’s Bank Underground blog.

It states “Capital Structure: Banks can finance their assets via debt, equity, hybrid securities or a mix of them. Changes in banks’ capital structure may have big impacts on their market capitalisation and are usually under close watch of regulators.”

As many do, that recognizes that differences in capital structure impacts market capitalization and profits. But again, as most can’t, the authors cannot take that intellectual step to understand that different capital structures, ordained for different assets, by means of risk weighted capital requirements for banks, distort the allocation of credit to the real economy.

Since banks do look at perceived risks when deciding on size of exposures and risk premiums, to have regulators also make these ex ante perceived risks influence the capital requirements, one is effectively doubling down on whatever ‘information asymmetries’ might exist in the perception of risks.

That de facto means that current regulations make banks value what’s “risky” riskier than what it is, and what’s “safe” safer than what it is… and seemingly no one, not even BoE, cares a damn.

The author’s also write: “Because banks are better informed about their own risks, institutions allowed to determine risks using their own models, under the internal ratings-based (IRB) approach, may have incentives to under-estimate risks.”

Of course they have incentives to under-estimate risks, as that would generate lower capital requirements, as that would allow for higher leverage of equity, as that would increase the expected risk adjusted returns on equity. 

To understand how naïve regulators have behaved, let us just indicate that it is similar to allowing Volkswagen to do their own carbon emission testing in their own laboratories.

But, don’t get me wrong, this does not mean for a second bank regulators do it better with their standard risk weights. Just as an example those private sector assets rated AAA to AA and that could because of their perceived safety really cause a major bank crisis if those perceptions turn out to be wrong ex-post were assigned in Basel II a risk weight of 20%, while the totally innocuous below BB- rated carry a risk weight of 150%. 

The authors suggest: “In the real world where banks can both undertake excessive risks and underreport such risks, as recognized by the current capital framework, a combination of risk-weighted capital requirement and a non-risk-based leverage ratio might indeed be optimal.”

The fact is that the higher a “non-risk-based leverage ratio” might be, the more can the “risk-weighted capital requirement” distort on the margin. I invite you to think of the movie “The drowning pool”

Professors Oliver Hart’s and Bengt Holmström’s contributions to contract theory can indeed be “helpful in regulating banks!” But, let us not kid ourselves, current bank regulatory mistakes are so basic, these need no new theories in order to be corrected, just pure common sense.

Here are my most urgent questions on bank regulations. These seemingly belong to those that should not be asked, much less answered.

Monday, March 20, 2017

How many YYYs at XXX believe the below BB- rated more dangerous to a bank system than the AAA rated?

I ask because the bank regulators in the Basel Committee clearly do believe that.

In 2004, with Basel II they assigned a 150% risk weight to what is rated below BB-, something to which banks would never ever create dangerous exposures to; and a meager 20% to what is AAA rated, something which, if wrong ex-post, is precisely the stuff bank crises are made of.

And I am a bit concerned seeing that no one is out questioning the regulators about this.

I have tried to ask them questions, but I am not a University, an important media or a sufficiently important personality

Would they answer me if I were ZZZ?

Here is a question to all of you who have read Charles P. Kindleberger’s emblematic “Manias, Panics and Crashes”

In that book, a History of Financial Crises, (6 editions!) did you find something whatsoever that would in the least indicate to you, that current risk-weighted capital requirements for banks could bring stability to our banking system?

I haven’t, much the contrary!

This non-portfolio adjusted risk weighted regulation would only seem to feed more into speculative bubbles… when times are good, a lot seems good, and so a lot gets bank credit… until something gets too much bank credit... and is not so good any longer. 

And if so many crises were caused by unexpected events... how can you settle on regulating based on expected risks?

Could it be that current bank regulators never ever read this book? 

Could it be that regulators never even looked for what has caused bank crises before regulating these? 

Yes, apparently, amazingly, that’s how it seems.

If in doubt just reflect that in Basel II of 2004, the regulators awarded a risk weight of only 20% to that so dangerous for the banking system as what’s rated AAAs, and slammed a 150% risk weight on the so really innocuous below BB- rated, that which would never ever attract excessive bank exposures.

If you happen upon a bank regulator ask him these questions and see him cringe

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Banks, regulators and sovereigns, colluded to introduce, statism, risk aversion and complacency.

It's hard to pinpoint the exact meaning of complacency, especially as that sentiment could have different origins. I am not really sure what it means to Tyler Cowen, but to me, complacency, is quite often only a more comfortable and somewhat hypocritical expression of a “Please don’t rock the boat” wish.

I now quote extensively from Tyler Cowen’s “The complacent class” (page 13)

One thing most Americans agree on it politics–for all the complaining about the bank bailouts–is that there should be more guaranteed and very safe assets. The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond has estimated that 61 percent of all private-sector financial liabilities are guaranteed by the federal government, either explicitly or implicitly. As recently as 1999, this figure was below 50 percent. We’re also more and more willing to hold government-supplied, risk free assets, even if they offer very small or zero yields… Plenty of commentators suggest that something about this isn’t right, but again the push to fix it is extraordinarily weak, especially since that would mean someone somewhere would have to take significant financial losses.

There is a Zeitgeist and a cultural shift well under way, so far under way in fact that it probably needs to play itself out before we can be cured of it. The America economy is less productivity and dynamic, Americans challenge fundamental ideas less, we move around less and change our lives less, and we are all the more determined to hold on to what we have, dig in, and hope (in vain) that, in this growing stagnation, nothing possibly can disturb our sense of calm.”

Is it really so as Cowen seems to argue, that the Home of the Brave, that which has developed based on considerable doses of risk-taking by risk-takers, now comes to this complacency on its own... or was it entrapped?

I argue the latter. One way or another, regulators managed to sell to a financially naïve political sector the concept that it was possible for bank regulators, or for the more sophisticated banks’ risk models to determine real-risks, and so introduced risk-weighted capital requirements… topping it up by putting aside all considerations as to whether this could distort the allocation of credit to the real economy.

In 1988 America induced and signed up on the Basel Accord, Basel I. That ruled that for the capital requirements banks needed to hold, the risk weight of the sovereign was to be zero percent, 0%; for mortgages to the residential housing 55%; and for loans to We the People 100%.

In 2004, with Basel II, the risk-weight for residential mortgages was reduced to 35%; We the People were also split up in “the safe”, the AAA rated, the AAArisktocracy with a risk weight of 20%; passing through a risk-weight of 100% for those not rated ordinary citizens; and topping it out at 150% for those rated below BB-.

What did this mean? First that regulating technocrats, sent out the falsely tranquilizing message to the market of “Don’t worry, banks are now risk-weighted”. Second, that statists told banks: “We scratch your back and you scratch ours… the State guarantees you, and you lend to the State as cheap as possible”. 

Of course that immediately resulted in that banks would search out any assets that were decreed, perceived or concocted as safe; as with these banks could leverage more and therefore obtain higher risk adjusted returns on equity… which much explains the much increased appetite for “safe assets”, in America and Europe.

Of course that meant that the sovereign would by artifice receive much more bank credit, at much lower rates than usual; making a joke of that “risk-free-rate” used in finance. 

Of course that immediately resulted in that banks would avoid all assets officially perceived as “risky”, like loans to SMEs and entrepreneurs, as with these banks could leverage much less and therefore obtain lower expected risk adjusted returns on equity… which of course affected the productivity and the dynamism of the real economy, in America and Europe.

Of course that meant banks would prefer financing the construction of the “safe” basements were young unemployed can live with their parents than the riskier future that could create the jobs they need… which reduces mobility as more and more get to be chained to houses with artificially high prices.

And a truly sad part of all these induced statism and risk aversion is that it does not lead to any more bank stability, much the contrary. Major bank crises are caused by unexpected events (e.g. devaluations), criminal behavior (e.g. loans to affiliate) and excessive exposures to what was ex ante perceived as very safe but that ex post turns out to be very risky, among others because being perceived as very safe often causes it to receive too much bank credit.

What caused the 2007-08 crisis? Excessive exposures to what was perceived or decreed as safe as AAA rated securities and sovereigns like Greece.

What has caused stagnation thereafter? Lack of lending to SMEs and entrepreneurs, those best equipped to open up new paths.

Where banks in on this? Answer would banks like being able to earn the highest risk adjusted returns on equity when holding what they perceived as the safest? Of course they would, that sounds like bankers’ wet dreams come true.

I find “The Complacent Class” to be a fun and very useful book, and it could help get very important and needed debates going. That said I would like to see Tyler Cowen substantially updating the second edition of it, by including that dangerous risk aversion and complacency imposed on banks and on America (and Europe) by its regulators.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

If Basel’s capital requirements for banks were gender or race weighted, would the world have been so silent?

We now have risk weighted capital requirements for banks, more risk more capital, which clearly discriminates against the access to bank credit of those perceived as risky. That even when what is perceived as risky has never ever caused a major bank crisis; in terms of risk perceptions, that dishonor has always fallen on those ex ante perceived as very safe.

And so SMEs and entrepreneurs have much less access to bank credit, that is unless they are willing to pay much higher risk premiums. And so our economies are provided with much less of that oxygen that risk-taking signifies to its development.

And yet the world keeps mum on it.

I wonder what hullaballoo it would raise if instead those capital requirements were gender or race based?

I ask because when it comes down to odious discrimination it all seems the same. 

Dr Andreas Dombret your Basel I, II and III will be discovered as a truly ugly piece of Ramsey statue.

I will quote from Dr Andreas Dombret speech “Basel III - goal within sigh” delivered at the Bundesbank symposium on "Banking supervision in dialogue", Frankfurt am Main, 15 March 2017. 

The Member of the Executive Board of the Deutsche Bundesbank stated:

“The statue of Ramses is not only a work of art; it is also testament to the highest quality of craftsmanship, which is one major reason it has survived for three thousand years. Figuratively speaking, this is how we, too, must approach the Basel reform package. It’s not just about developing uniform, consistent rules – risk sensitivity is another of our guiding principles. During the negotiations, we will therefore call for higher risk to go hand in hand with higher capital requirements.”

Dr. Dombret if you and your regulatory technocrat buddies keep on insisting that what is perceived as risky is the stuff major bank crises are made of, your Basel regulations will doom the banks and the real economy.

You state “The equity ratio of German banks and savings banks has risen by more than half a percentage point to currently 16.2% since September last year, which was due primarily to the reduction in risk-weighted assets”, and I ask: How do you know that the reduction in risk-weighted assets did not affect those assets your banks most need to hold for your real economy not to stall and fall? 

Dr. Dombret, if you read this comment please answer these following questions, if you dare!

If bank regulations had been privatized, how much would a Basel Committee Ltd have paid in fines for 2007-08 crisis?

I ask, because in courts it would have been quite easy to demonstrate that the banking sectors excessive exposures, to for instance AAA rated securities backed with mortgages to the subprime sector in the US, or in loans to a sovereign like Greece, those which caused the crisis, were the direct result of the risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

By strangely awarding lower risk weights to what was perceived as safe, which translated into lower capital requirements, the banks could leverage their equity with exposures to the “safe” many times more than with exposures to what was perceived as risky, like loans to SMEs.

As an example the risk weight for the AAAs was 20%, for sovereigns it hovered between 0 and 20% (Greece) and for SMEs 100%. That meant banks could leverage their equity 62.5 times with AAAs, unlimited to 62.5 times with sovereigns, but only 12.5 times with SMEs. That meant banks would earn much higher expected risk adjusted returns on equity on AAAs and sovereigns than on SMEs. 

I mentioned above, “strangely awarding”, because any regulator who knows what he is doing, would have gone back to analyze what causes bank crisis. Doing so he would have discovered that excessive exposures to what were ex ante perceived as risky never ever occur, (ask Mark Twain). All crises result from either unexpected events (devaluations), criminal behavior (loans to affiliates) or excessive exposures to something ex ante perceived very safe but that ex post turned out to be very risky.

So if society had brought this in front of a court, how much would Basel Committee Ltd have been fined? Clearly so much that it would have been out of business; so much more than what happened to Arthur Andersen when it was brought down for failing in its auditing of Enron.

And all that before all those “risky” SMEs, those who as a result of these regulations had their access to bank credit impaired, would have sued Basel Committee Ltd for the loss of their lifetime opportunities. 

But what has happened to the regulators responsible for the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision? Nothing, zilch, zero, nada, in fact many of them have been promoted.

And anyone knows what has happened to those emission controllers that were cheated by Volkswagen? Nothing? Perhaps there is a real case for privatizing regulations and controls, that way we could at least have some accountability.

PS. In the case of the larger more “sophisticated” banks the Basel Committee even went as far as allowing these to use their own models to calculate capital requirements, something like allowing Volkswagen to calculate their own carbon emissions.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

“You’re crazy!” That’s what John K. Galbraith would have said; about Basel’s risk weighted capital requirements for banks

I quote from John Kenneth Galbraith’s “Money: Whence it came where it went” 1975.

“For the new parts of the country [USA’s West]… there was the right to create banks at will and therewith the notes and deposits that resulted from their loans…[if] the bank failed…someone was left holding the worthless notes… but some borrowers from this bank were now in business...[jobs created] 

The function of credit in a simple society is, in fact, remarkably egalitarian. It allows the man with energy and no money to participate in the economy more or less on a par with the man who has capital of his own. And the more casual the conditions under which credit is granted and hence the more impecunious those accommodated, the more egalitarian credit is… Bad banks, unlike good, loaned to the poor risk, which is another name for the poor man.”

[But that] was an arrangement which reputable bankers and merchants in the East viewed with extreme distaste… Men of economic wisdom, then as later expressing the views of the reputable business community, spoke of the anarchy of unstable banking… The men of wisdom missed the point. The anarchy served the frontier far better than a more orderly system that kept a tight hand on credit would have done…. what is called sound economics is very often what mirrors the needs of the respectfully affluent.”

So, on behalf of "the men of wisdom", in came the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision. With Basel I 1988, and Basel II 2004, it told bankers that even when they already consider perceived risk when setting interest rates and deciding on the amount of exposures, they also had to consider the perceived risks for how much capital their banks needed to hold.

In other words bank regulators ordered the banking system to double down on ex ante perceived, (decreed or concocted) risks.

For a while, while bankers were exploiting all the opportunities of being able to mind-boggling leverage their equity with what was thought safe (a banker’s wet dream come true) all seemed fine and dandy. 

The immense growth of bank credit (later followed up with QEs) injected tremendous amount of liquidity into the economy… all until some safe havens, like AAA rated securities and Greece, in 2007/08 became dangerously overpopulated and burst.

One should think the “men of wisdom” would have updated their wisdom, but no!

“The risky”, like SMEs and entrepreneurs, still have to compete with “The Safe” for access to bank credit while carrying the burden of generating larger capital requirements for the banks… while “the safe” havens run the risk of being dangerously overpopulated.

I have no doubt John Kenneth Galbraith, if alive, would say: “You’re crazy!”

My 1997 Puritanism in banking

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Here is one mystery in current bank regulations that regulators refuse to reveal to us.

That which has an AAA rating, meaning it is perceived as very safe, will of course have much access to bank credit, and be required to pay very low risk premiums. If those ratings then turn out to be wrong, sometimes precisely because since it was considered very safe too much credit was given to it, individual banks, and the bank system, face a very serious problem.

That which has a below a BB- rating, meaning it is perceived as extremely risky, has access to much less credit and, when it gets it, will be by paying much higher risk premiums. If those ratings turn out to be even worse, some individual bank might have a smaller problem, but the bank system as such, would face no problems at all.

But, an here is the mystery, bank regulators, with their Basel II, in June 2004, for the purpose of setting the capital requirements for banks, set a 20% risk weight for the AAA rated and 150% for what is below BB-.

Why so? If "safe" could be dangerous and "risky" is innocuous, could it not really be the other way around?

And that, since regulators refuse to explain it, is now, soon 13 years later, still a mystery to us

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Basel Committee, FSB and other bank regulators know dangerously little about risks. Why? Here it is!

What many perceive as very safe can lead to the build up of very large exposures that could threaten the bank system.

What many perceive as very risky never leads to the build up such large exposures that it could threaten the bank system.

Yet the Basel Committee, in Basel II of 2004, assigned a risk weight of only 20% to what rated AAA to AA and therefore so dangerous to the banking system, and one of 150% to what is rated below BB- and therefore so innocuous to the banking system.

The Basel Committee has refused to explain why they did so, and the only document purported to explain it, is pure GroupThink mumbo jumbo.

Additionally, risk weighted capital requirements for banks allow banks to leverage their equity differently with different assets, which produces quite different expected risk adjusted returns on equity than would have been the case in the absence of such regulations, and therefore this dramatically distorts the allocation of bank credit to the real economy. It introduced rampant risk aversion that have our banks no longer financing the riskier future, only refinancing the safer past.

Additionally, without obtaining due permission, the Basel Committee assigned a risk weight of 0% to a set of friendly sovereigns and 100% for the We the People of such sovereigns. This introduced rampant statism. As if government bureaucrats could use bank credit better than the private sector.

I have tried by all means possible to get explanations from the Basel Committee, even by using their formal consultation procedures, but all to no avail.

Please, you in the media who have more access to bank regulators ask them: Why do you think the below BB- rated are more dangerous to the bank system than the AAA rated?

Have you never heard of Voltaire’s “May God defend me from my friends, I can defend myself from my enemies”?

We also have John A Shedd (1850-1926) with his: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for.”

With respect to that the Basel Committee is not only not allowing our banks to sail to explore riskier but perhaps more profitable bays, but it is also assuring to turn safe havens into overpopulated death traps. 

For our children and grandchildren’s case, help me to get rid of those dangerously incapable regulators.

P.S. Like during the Oscar it seems that at the Basel Committee there was also a mix-up of envelopes, in this case of those containing the names of what is the most and the least risky for our bank system. The saddest fact is that at the Oscar they got it fast, 2 minutes and 30 seconds, but in Basel they have yet to discover it after more than a decade.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A pre-reading it comment on Mercatus Center’s Tyler Cowen’s “The Complacent Class”

Note: I have not read Tyler Cowen’s “The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream” yet, as it is still not available. If it contains something that would contradict the following comment that would be great welcomed news. 

In Foreign Affairs we can read: “Tyler Cowen’s timely and well-written book points to a central feature of contemporary American life: since the 1980s, U.S. society has become less dynamic and more risk averse. The quest for safety and predictability has made the country both more and less comfortable than before. Although many (perhaps even most) Americans enjoy the stability and security that the status quo provides, increasing numbers feel thwarted by the lack of opportunity and slow economic growth that characterize their increasingly static society.” 

And I ask, how could that not be when bank regulators introduced risk weighted capital requirements for banks? That primarily happened in 1988 with Basel I and in 2004 with Basel II. 

And the risk weights imposed were such as: Sovereign 0%, AAA-risktocracy 20%, residential houses 35%, We the People, like unrated SMEs and entrepreneurs 100%, and below BB-rated 150%.

That clearly gives banks all the incentives (higher allowed leverages) to finance and refinance much more what is ex ante perceived, decreed or concocted as safe, most often what derives from something that already is known and exists; and to stop financing the unknown riskier future. In other words those regulations imposed risk aversion on the Home of the Brave. 

That, in the short term, not only guarantees a static society, but worse, medium and long term, it causes a falling society. 

It is perfectly understandable that those with Statist inclinations, and who in the 0% risk weight for the sovereign must see their wet dreams come true, don’t say a word about the distortions in the allocation of bank credit those regulations cause… and this even though this regulation actually decrees that inequality they so much tell us they abhor. 

But, that professors from a Mercatus Center at George Mason University that presents itself as “the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas”, keeps hush about this all, really makes me sad. 

But, that professors from a Mercatus Center at George Mason University that presents itself as “the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas”, keeps hush about this all, really blows my mind. What keeps them from seeing the problem? A peculiar confirmation bias?

PS. In 2011 I already commented about this to Tyler Cowen, when sending him by email what I wrote to Martin Wolf with respect to his "The Great Stagnation"

PS. And there is enough evidence on the web about how I have commented on this issue, time after time, on blogs run by Professors of the Mercatus Center.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dear Mr Kurowski, here is our answer to your doubts. Sincerely, the experts in Basel Committee, FSB and affiliates

(I dreamt I got this letter from our bank regulators in response to my questions.)

Dear Mr Kurowski

It does not matter whether the risky already get less credit and pay higher interest rates, they must get even less credit and pay even higher interests… because they are risky. Don’t you get that!

It does not matter whether the safe already get more credit and pay lower interest rates, they must get even more credit and pay even lower interests… because they are safe. Don’t you get that!

It does not matter that the risky have never caused a major bank crisis. Risky is risky and that’s that! 

It does not matter that there could be too large exposures to what’s perceived safe but could in act not be; which could cause a huge crisis. Safe is safe and that’s that.

Yes, yes we understand, (we think) that our risk weighted capital requirements might introduce some serious credit austerity for the risky, like SMEs and entrepreneurs, and that this could affect the economic growth of the real economy. But that’s not our problem. Our sole concern is to keep banks safe. 

For economic growth there are infrastructure projects, like bridges, to be undertaken by the Sovereign taking advantage of the exceptionally low rates it is awarded, because it is really and truly safe. If we can’t trust the Sovereign who are we to trust? The citizens?

Oh, that the 2007-08 crisis was caused primarily because of too much investment in securities rated AAA that was supposed to be super-safe? Yes, but now we are imposing huge fines on those credit rating agencies, so they should have learned their lessons, and all will be fine and dandy. Trust us Mr Kurowski. We are after all, as you know, the experts. 

PS. For your own good stop writing those letters about us to the Financial Times. How many now, around 2500? You’re crazy! Don’t you see FT doesn’t care?

Yours sincerely,

Names withheld (by me)… out of delicacy

PS. Friends, as you can see, our bank regulators remain as captured as ever in their cognitive bias, poor us.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Has history known a worse and more dangerous case of confirmation bias than that of current bank regulators?

Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias,[is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs. People also tend to interpret ambiguous evidence as supporting their existing position. Biased search, interpretation and memory have been invoked to explain attitude polarization (when a disagreement becomes more extreme even though the different parties are exposed to the same evidence), belief perseverance (when beliefs persist after the evidence for them is shown to be false), the irrational primacy effect (a greater reliance on information encountered early in a series) and illusory correlation (when people falsely perceive an association between two events or situations).

A series of experiments in the 1960s suggested that people are biased toward confirming their existing beliefs. Later work reinterpreted these results as a tendency to test ideas in a one-sided way, focusing on one possibility and ignoring alternatives. In certain situations, this tendency can bias people's conclusions. Explanations for the observed biases include wishful thinking and the limited human capacity to process information. Another explanation is that people show confirmation bias because they are weighing up the costs of being wrong, rather than investigating in a neutral, scientific way.

Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. Poor decisions due to these biases have been found in political and organizational contexts:

The Basel Committee for Banking Supervision's and other bank regulator's confirmation bias. 

Regulators think, as they should, as it is, that what is rated below BB- is much more riskier than what is rated AAA. 

But when deciding on the risk weights to be used for the capital requirements of banks in Basel II of 2004, the regulators directly extrapolated from these beliefs and assigned 20% to the AAA rated and 150% to the below BB-. That is probably one of the most dangerous cases of confirmation bias in history.  Regulator should not have looked at the risk of the assets but at the risk of the assets to the banks, which is not the same thing.

The truth is that precisely because the below BB- is perceived as very risky, that makes it much less risky for the banks; while the AAA rated which is perceived as very safe, precisely because of such perceptions, is what could lead to those dangerously high bank exposures that can cause a huge bank crisis if the ex-post reality turns out to be different.

We are in 2017 and the regulators, because of "belief perseverance", have still not discovered their own confirmation bias… and that even after the mother of all evidences, represented by the AAA rated securities backed with mortgages to the subprime sector turning out to be so very risky.

That this was the fault of credit rating agencies is hugely irrelevant. The better the ratings are, the more confidence is deposited in these, and so the worse do the doomsday scenarios become.

Does anyone know a worse case of confirmation bias?

The dangers? First of course that banks will get caught with their pants down, little capital, precisely when one big exposure might get hit. But second, it introduced a senseless risk aversion that have banks no longer financing the riskier future but only refinancing the “safer” past and present… so our economies are stalling and falling.

PS. Are you still unsure of this? Then try to get the regulators to answer you these questions

PS. In this case it is not only regulators who suffer from “belief perseverance”. Prestigious and influential economists like Martin Wolf, even when being told that the safer is riskier and the riskier is safer, can’t get a grip on the issue.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Reflections on Terracotta Warriors, credit ratings, and capital requirements for banks

I read in Latin American Herald Tribune of January 14, 2017: “A Chinese state-run newspaper reported that armed with clubs authorities destroyed a museum with 40 fake Terracotta Warriors that tricked numerous tourists and prompted some complaints”

Oh I can already hear it! “Tom, you see, I told you those terracotta soldier boys they took us to see seemed fake. Why did you not listen to me? Why did we have to show those photos to Nancy and George? Do you think we could now sue the Chinese tourism authorities for those terra-whatever being fakes, or at least for disclosing those as fakes after the fact?

My head started to spin too. Some years ago I bought some small Terracotta Warriors in China. Because of their size and pricing, I always thought these to be absolute fakes. No problema! But are these now exposed to being crushed by some Chinese regulator? Might someone over there have a copyright on these that has been infringed?

Come to think of it, do we not need some Chinese Terracotta Authenticity rating agencies? 

Perhaps, but, if those rating agency fall for the temptations to be most certainly offered to them by shady Terracotta Warrior suppliers, hey we’re talking China here, could we ask our government to sue these agencies? 

I mean like the US has done with Moody’s and S&P with respect to their worse than lousy rating processes that produced totally unworthy AAAs for some of the securities backed with mortgages to the subprime sector in the US.

But then again, if these terracotta rating agencies mislead us, would we see some of the money from the fines, or would that only go to those who, to begin with, excessively empowered the rating agencies? 

And should then regulators in China request the vendors of Terracota Warriors to hold more capital, against the risk of being sued, the faker the rating shows its product to be; somewhat like what is being done with banks and their risk weighted capital requirements?

I would not think so. I would have bought my Terracota Warriors even if rated very fake; since the price was right.

Of course, the real problem, like in the case of the AAA rated securities, would be an AAA rated Terracota Warrior, and for which partly because of that rating, billions had been paid for at an auction, if it then later proves to be fake.

Does this mean that the better a Terracota Warrior would be rated, the more capital should the suppliers hold? Yes! Precisely! That’s what fundamentally current bank regulators got wrong.

The safer an asset is ex ante perceived, decreed concocted or rated, the riskier it could be ex post. They completely ignored Voltaire’s “May God defend me from my friends, I can defend myself from my enemies

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The SEC Regulatory Accountability Act is even more needed for the case of Fed / FDIC bank regulations

The SEC Regulatory Accountability Act, sponsored by Financial Services Committee member Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), passed 243-184.

Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), the Chairman of the Financial Services Committee explained it: 

“Ill-advised laws like the Dodd-Frank Act empower unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats to callously hand down crushing regulations without adequately considering what impact those regulations have on jobs…The true cost of Washington red tape includes the jobs not created, the small businesses not started and the dreams of our children not fulfilled.”

Now under the bill, before issuing a regulation the SEC will be required to:
identify the nature and source of the problem its proposed regulation is meant to address;
utilize the SEC’s Chief Economist to assess the costs and benefits of a proposed regulation to ensure the benefits justify the costs;
identify and assess available alternatives; and
ensure that any regulations are consistent and written in plain language.

Further, the legislation requires the SEC to engage in a retrospective review of its regulations every five years and conduct post-adoption impact assessments of major rules.

What great news! Not a moment too soon. Now the Financial Services Committee needs to, as fast as possible, issue a similar bill with respect to the regulations applied by the Fed and FDIC to the banks… because in their case they never even defined the purpose of banks before regulating these.

The current risk weighted capital requirements for banks are totally senseless.

Not only has regulators no business regulating based on perceived risks already cleared for by banks, as they should primarily require some capital reserves to face uncertainties, but these regulations also cause banks to no longer finance the “riskier” future but mainly refinance the “safer” present and past, at great costs for the real economy and for future generations.

Here are some questions I have not been able to have regulators to answer; perhaps the Financial Service Committee needs not to go on a hunger strike to manage that.