Why fiscal sustainability matters
Willem Buiter 10 January 2014
Fiscal sustainability has become a hot topic as a result of the European sovereign debt crisis, but it matters in normal times, too. This column argues that financial sector reforms are essential to ensure fiscal sustainability in the future. Although emerging market reforms undertaken in the aftermath of the financial crises of the 1990s were beneficial, complacency is not warranted. In the US, political gridlock must be overcome to reform entitlements and the tax system. In the Eurozone, creating a sovereign debt restructuring mechanism should be a priority.
Does fiscal sustainability matter only when there is a fiscal house on fire, as was the case with the Greek sovereign insolvency in 2011–12? Far from it.
Financial markets Global crisis International finance Macroeconomic policy
eurozone, sovereign debt, capital flows, financial crisis, credit booms, fiscal policy, emerging markets, global financial crisis, banking, banks, Eurozone crisis, Currency wars, fiscal sustainability, banking union, sovereign debt restructuring, balance-sheet recession
Gambling for resurrection in Iceland
Friðrik Már Baldursson, Richard Portes 06 January 2014
In 2008, Icelandic banks were too big to fail and too big to save. The government’s rescue attempts had devastating systemic consequences in Iceland since – as it turned out – they were too big for the state to rescue. This column discusses research that shows how this was a classic case of banks gambling for resurrection.
The demise of the three large Icelandic banks, just after the fall of Lehman Brothers, was a key event in the spread of the financial crisis. A couple of weeks before its collapse in October 2008, Kaupthing bank announced that the Qatari investor Sheikh Mohammed Bin Khalifa Bin Hamad al-Thani had bought a 5.01% stake. This briefly boosted market confidence in Kaupthing (Financial Times 2008). What market participants did not know was that Kaupthing illegally financed the deal, which was without risk to al-Thani.
Iceland, financial crisis, moral hazard, banking, banks, gambling for resurrection
Dark side of housing-price appreciation
Indraneel Chakraborty, Itay Goldstein, Andrew MacKinlay 25 November 2013
Higher asset prices increase the value of firms’ collateral, strengthen banks’ balance sheets, and increase households’ wealth. These considerations perhaps motivated the Federal Reserve’s intervention to support the housing market. However, higher housing prices may also lead banks to reallocate their portfolios from commercial and industrial loans to real-estate loans. This column presents the first evidence on this crowding-out effect. When housing prices increase, banks on average reduce commercial lending and increase interest rates, leading related firms to cut back on investment.
Policymakers around the world often worry about decreases in real-estate prices and other asset prices, and take measures to prevent them. For example, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve has engaged in large-scale asset purchases – especially of mortgage-backed assets – to support the housing market and, in turn, the overall economy.
Financial markets Monetary policy
housing, Federal Reserve, investment, asset prices, banks, lending, real estate
Good corporate governance is bad for bank capitalisation
Deniz Anginer, Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Harry Huizinga, Kebin Ma 10 November 2013
Bank capitalisation determines the probability of a bank failure. This column discusses how bank’s corporate governance affects its capitalisation. Corporate governance, in which the bank acts in the interest of its shareholders, is defined as a good one. Such governance, however, can lead to lower bank capitalisation. It also has possibly negative implications for financial stability.
A failing bank can be defined as one that has insufficient capital. Bank capitalisation strategies thus are crucial in determining the probability of a bank failure. Confirming this, Berger and Bouwman (2013) find that higher levels of pre-crisis capital increase a bank’s probability of survival during a banking crisis. Beltratti and Stulz (2012) and Demirguc-Kunt, Detragiache and Merrouche (2013) find that banks that were better capitalised before the crisis had a better stock-market performance during the crisis.
corporate governance, bank capitalisation, banks
A game changer: The EU banking recovery and resolution directive
Thomas Huertas, María J Nieto 19 September 2013
To end moral hazard, investors, not taxpayers, should bear the loss associated with bank failures. Recently, the EU took a major step in this direction with the Banking Recovery and Resolution Directive. This column argues that this is a game changer. It assures through the introduction of the bail-in tool that investors, not taxpayers, will primarily bear the cost of bank failures, and it opens the door to resolving banks in a manner that will not significantly disrupt financial markets.
To end moral hazard and “too big to fail”, investors, not taxpayers, should bear the loss associated with bank failures. Recently, ECOFIN took a major step in this direction. It agreed a common position with respect to the Banking Recovery and Resolution Directive. If confirmed in the trialogue with the Commission and the European Parliament, the Directive will:
moral hazard, Too big to fail, banks
How much capital should banks have?
Lev Ratnovski 28 July 2013
After much negotiation, Basel III regulations set capital requirements to be between 8% and 12%. This column suggests this may not be enough. It looks at how much capital banks would need to fully absorb asset shocks of the size seen in OECD countries over the last 50 years. The answer is 18% risk-weighted capital, corresponding to 9% leverage. This benchmark is highly conservative, so the true 'optimal' bank capital may be lower.
There is an active debate on how much capital banks should have. Yet establishing an 'optimal' level of bank capital is more art than science. Any conclusion is model-specific and contains a degree of judgement. The purpose of this column is to contribute to the debate by offering one more benchmark.
banks, BASEL III, capital ratios
Supranational supervision: How much and for whom?
Thorsten Beck, Wolf Wagner 20 July 2013
The proper level for bank supervision is mired in detail. This column argues that the higher the cross-border externalities and the lower the country heterogeneity, the more likely supranational regulation is desirable. This framework informs the various initiatives for improving cross-border supervision, including a better understanding of the sources of political-economy constraints that so frequently are an obstacle to integration.
The question of how to regulate and supervise banks across countries has taken the centre stage in the debate on the reform of the banking sector. The failure of internationally active financial institutions, such as Lehman Brothers, and cross-border banks, such as Fortis, Dexia or the Icelandic banks, played a prominent role during the Global Crisis. As a consequence, there is a growing recognition that Memorandums of Understanding and Supervisory Colleges are not sufficient to deal with large and systemically important cross-border financial institutions.
banks, supranational regulation, regulatory cooperation
Everything the IMF wanted to know about financial regulation and wasn’t afraid to ask
Sheila Bair 09 June 2013
Does anybody have a clear vision of the desirable financial system of the future? This column has one. It gives simple answers to 12 simple questions panellists at a recent IMF conference failed to answer.
I was honoured when the IMF asked me to moderate the Financial Regulation panel at this year’s Rethinking Macro II conference. And while naturally, I delivered one of the more enlightening and thought-provoking policy discussions of the conference, I did fail in my duties as moderator to make sure my panellists covered all the excellent questions our sponsors submitted to us.
financial regulation, banks, capital ratios
New challenges for bank competition policy
Lev Ratnovski 02 June 2013
Bank competition policy seeks to balance efficiency with incentives to take risk. This calls for an intermediate degree of competition. This column argues that although the traditional policy tools are rules on entry/exit and the consolidation of banks, the Crisis showed that a focus on market structure alone is misplaced. There are other, newer ways in which competition policy can support financial stability: dealing with too-big-to fail and other structural issues in banking, as well as facilitating crisis management.
Bank competition policy has been a focus of much research and policy debate. The reason for this is the special nature of banks. In the non-financial sector, competition policy mainly focuses on efficiency (competitive pricing). Yet for banks there is another relevant dimension: systemic risk. When the degree of competition adversely affects banks’ risk-taking incentives, bank competition policy should have a macroprudential component.
Competition policy Global crisis International finance
banking, banks, Competition policy, Basel
Hair of the dog that bit us: New and improved capital requirements threaten to perpetuate megabank access to a taxpayer put
Edward J Kane 30 January 2013
Do financial institution managers only owe enforceable duties of loyalty, competence and care to their stockholders and explicit creditors, but not to taxpayers or government supervisors? This column argues that in the current information and ethical environments, regulating accounting leverage cannot adequately protect taxpayers from regulation-induced innovation. We ought to aim for establishing enforceable duties of loyalty and care to taxpayers for managers of financial firms. Authorities need to put aside their unreliable, capital proxy: they should measure, control, and price the ebb and flow of safety-net benefits directly.
This column is a lead commentary in the VoxEU Debate "Banking reform: Do we know what has to be done?"
financial regulation, global crisis, Too big to fail, banks, Finance, taxpayers