July 21, 2018

To tell us “What really went wrong in the 2008 financial crisis” might require more distance to the events

Martin Wolf reviewing Adam Tooze’ “Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crisis Changed the World” refers to the author’s question of “How do huge risks build up that are little understood and barely controllable?” “What really went wrong in the 2008 financial crisis?” July 18.

May I suggests as one cause, the nonsensical ideas that can be developed through incestuous groupthink in mutual admiration clubs of great importance, such as bank regulators gathering around with their colleagues of the central banks in the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision.

Wolf writes: “The crisis marked the end of the dominant consensus in favour of economic and financial liberalisation” 

Not so! The end in “favour of economic and financial liberalisation” happened much earlier when the regulating besserwissers decided they knew enough about making our bank systems safer, so as to allow themselves to distort the allocation of bank credit.

In 1988, the regulators, with the Basel Accord, Basel I, surprisingly, with none or very few questioning them, decided that what’s perceived as risky was more dangerous to our bank system than what’s perceived as safe, and proceeded to apply such nonsense with their risk weighted capital requirements for banks. More risk, more capital – less risk, less capital. 

That meant that banks could then leverage more their regulatory capital (equity) with “the safe” than with “the risky”; which translated into banks earning higher expected risk-adjusted returns on equity with “the safe” than with “the risky”. That would of course from thereon distort the allocation of bank credit more than usual in favor of the safe and in disfavor of “the risky”.

That of course ignored the fact that what is perceived as risky has historically proven much less dangerous to the bank system than that which is perceived as safe. 

Basel I, which already included much fiction, like assigning a 0% risk weight to sovereigns and 100% to citizens, was bad enough but then, in 2004, with Basel II, the regulators really outdid themselves allowing for instance banks to leverage 62.5 times their capital with assets that had an AAA to AA rating, issued by human fallible rating agencies was present.

We have already paid dearly for that stupidity, as can be evidenced by the fact that absolutely all assets that detonated the 2007/08 crisis had in common generating especially low capital requirements for banks, because these were perceived (houses), decreed (Greece) or concocted (AAA rated securities) as safe.

I have ordered it but of course I have not read Adam Tozze’s book yet. When I do I will find out if it makes any reference to this. If not, I might just have to wait for other historians who are more distant from the events.

@PerKurowski

When huge mistakes that hurt all of us are made, but no one is even publicly ashamed for these, what does that hold for our future?

Sir, John Authers writes about “The power unwittingly vested in ratings agencies. Regulations steered fund managers into credits with a certain minimum quality. Banks knew the capital they had to hold as a buffer depended on the rating the agency gave credits they held. The result was fund managers left judgment on credit quality to the agencies, while trying to bamboozle agencies into granting higher ratings than many securities deserved.” “Consultants’ claims and the evasion of responsibility” July 20.

“Unwittingly”? Meaning …without being aware; unintentionally? 

No! John Authers should allow the regulators to get away with that!

One needed not to be an expert on bank regulations to know that assigning so much power into the credit rating agencies was (is) simply wrong.

A letter I wrote to the Financial Times that was published in January 2003, stated: “Everyone knows that, sooner or later, the ratings issued by the credit agencies are just a new breed of systemic error to be propagated at modern speeds. Friends, please consider that the world is tough enough as it is.”

And as an Executive Director of the World Bank, in a workshop for regulators who in May 2003 were discussing Basel II, I opined: “I simply cannot understand how a world that preaches the value of the invisible hand of millions of market agents can then go out and delegate so much regulatory power to a limited number of human and very fallible credit-rating agencies. This sure must be setting us up for the mother of all systemic errors.”

And in a formal statement at the Executive Board of the World Bank in March 2003 I prayed: “The sole chance the world has of avoiding the risk that Bank Regulators in Basel, accounting standard boards, and credit-rating agencies will introduce serious and fatal systemic risks into the world, is by having an entity like the World Bank stand up to them”.

So unwittingly it was not! And, really, if it was, then the more reasons to get rid of all those regulators fast.

Authers writes: “The problem is that when nobody takes responsibility, bad decisions can flourish”. Indeed, it is seriously critical for all of us that those who make serious mistakes are held accountable for it. 

So let me ask Sir: How many regulators have been fired or at least been publicly ashamed for this issue of the excessive importance to credit ratings, or for that matter for the much larger and serious issue of the utterly faulty risk weighted capital requirements for banks? Not a single one?

Could that partly be because you Sir, and too many of your colleagues, for whatever reasons of your own, have treated these regulators with the softest of the soft kid gloves?

Sir, as far as I know, you have not even been able to ask the regulators why they think that what is perceived as risky is more dangerous to our bank system than what is perceived safe.

Could it be because “Without fear and without favors” does not want or dare to hear the answer, or ask friends that question?

@PerKurowski

July 20, 2018

Don’t help bank regulators get away from being held accountable for their mistakes by politicizing the issue.

Sir, Gillian Tett commenting on Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner comments on the 10-year anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse writes:“Critics on the right complain that markets have been hopelessly distorted by government meddling” “European banks still have post-crisis repairs to do” July 20.

Frankly, you do not have to be from “the right” to “complain that markets have been hopelessly distorted by government meddling”

In 1988 bank regulators, based the risk weighted capital requirements for banks they were introducing on the nonsense that what was perceived as risky was more dangerous to our bank system than what was perceived as safe. With that they dangerously distorted the allocation of credit to the economy… and caused the crisis.

Would the Lehman Brothers have suffered the same collapse had not the SEC authorized it in 2004 to follow Basel II rules, and it could therefore (just like the European banks) leverage 62.5 times with securities backed with subprime mortgages, if these counted with an AAA to AA rating issued by human fallible credit rating agencies. Of course no!

But here we are a decade later and this major flaw of current bank regulations is not even discussed. What especially excessive exposures to something perceived decreed or concocted as safe are banks in Europe, America and elsewhere building up only because of especially low capital requirements, and which will guarantee, sooner or later, especially large crises? That should be the concern.

But, come to think of it, it could be that Ben Bernanke, Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner and Gillian Tett, still believe in the story the Basel Committee told them, perhaps because they want so much to believe that a fairy could make banks safe and still be able to serve the economy. 

@PerKurowski

July 19, 2018

Where would America be today had not bank regulators distorted credit and central bankers kicked the crisis can forward?

Martin Wolf, expressing concerns we all deeply share asks, “Who lost “our” America?” and he answers: “The American elite, especially the Republican elite… They sowed the wind; the world is reaping the whirlwind. “How we lost America to greed and envy” July 16.

I respectfully (nowadays not too much so) absolutely disagree. That because supposedly independent technocrats generated the two following events:

First, in 1988 regulators with their so sweet sounding risk weighted capital requirements, promised the world a safer bank system, but then proceeded to design these around the loony notion that what was perceived as risky was more dangerous than what was perceived as safe. That distorted the allocation of bank credits in favor of the "safer" present and against the "riskier" future. That must have stopped much of any ordinary social and economic mobility.

Then in 2007/08, instead of allowing the crisis to do its natural clean up, central bankers, starting with the Fed but soon to be eagerly followed by ECB and other central banks, just kicked the can forward, favoring sovereigns and existing assets. Just as an example, with their repurchase of the failed securities backed with mortgages to the subprime sector, they saved the asses of many investors and banks (many European) while very little of that sacrifice flowed back to those who, in the process, had been saddled with hard to serve mortgages.

Martin Wolf, and you too Sir, would benefit immensely in trying to imagine how the world would be looking now, without that unelected and inept technocratic interference! What had specifically Republicans, or Democrats, to do with that interference?

As I see it if that had not have happened Trump would not even have been thinking of running as a candidate.


July 17, 2018

For some, Lloyd Blankfein will be not kindly remembered and one of those who financed Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro

Sir, Robert Armstrong, Laura Noonan and Arash Massoudi write that “Mr Blankfein may be remembered as the last leader of a Goldman Sachs that ruled Wall Street and the first leader of a sedate provider of financial services” “Blankfein’s legacy still up for grabs at Goldman” July 17.

Many, or at least some of us Venezuelans, will with fury remember Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, as one that helped finance a regime that publicly and notoriously violates human rights.

I just wonder if the Britain of Financial Times had had a regime like that of Nicolas Maduro, what is it would be saying of the legacy of someone who had helped to finance it? “Doing God’s work”? Well definitely not my God’s Sir.

Or is it too political incorrect for the elites to hold one like Lloyd Blankfein accountable for his doings? If so, what truly poor elites the world has to count on.

@PerKurowski

For transparency, all candidates to chair ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism, should publicly answer one question.

Sir, I refer to Claire Jones and Rachel Sanderson reporting on the selection by the European Central Bank, of the person to substitute for Danièle Nouy as the chair of the Single Supervisory Mechanism. “ECB banking watchdog seeks new chief” July 17.

A major turning point for our Western world liberal order, in truth for our whole civilization, was when regulators, surprisingly, 1988, with no one questioning them, decided that what is perceived as risky is more dangerous to our bank system than what is perceived as safe, and proceeded to apply such nonsense with their risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

We have already paid dearly for their stupidity, which excessively boosted bank exposures to AAA rated securities, house mortgages and sovereigns (like Greece), and has made it harder for SMEs and entrepreneurs to access bank credit.

Therefore, in the name of that transparency we all deserve, which of course includes all at the Financial Times, all candidates to chair ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism should give their public and reasoned answer to the following question: 

What is more dangerous to our bank system, that which is perceived as risky, or that which is perceived as safe?

Will those involved in the selection process, and who might clearly have a vested interest in it remaining a question that shall not be asked, dare to ask it?


@PerKurowski

July 16, 2018

If you want accurate data on bank risks, you have to start by removing all the incentives for banks to misrepresent their data

Charles Taylor, a former chair of the supervision and implementation group of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision writes: “big banks should always be able to paint an up-to-date, comprehensive picture of the risks they face… [But] management often seem not to care” “Banks’ approach to risk data is deeply inadequate” July 16.

Sir, if a big bank reported an increase risk in a category of assets, what would the regulators most likely response be? To “either restrict banks’ activities or boost their capital requirements”… even Charles Taylor dixit.

While, especially the large banks are more in the business of obtaining their highest risk adjusted returns on equity, not by traditional lending but by minimizing capital requirements, that will simply not happen. And to believe it could, is just further proof of how naïve the current bank regulators are.

Taylor writes: “One of the lessons of the 2008 financial crisis was that watchdogs need timely information for the system as a whole.” Nonsense! The prime lesson from that crisis is that the watchdogs have no idea about what they’re up to. Imagine, just for a starter, their risk weighted capital requirements are based on such crazy theorem that holds that what is perceived as risky is more dangerous to the bank system than what is perceived as safe.

Sir, just as an example, we are talking of a “watchdog” that thought it was ok for banks to leverage 62.5 times if only a human fallible credit rating agency had assigned an assets and AAA to AA rating.

The “watchdog” seems to invest a lot of hope in “the Legal Entity Identifier [will] make it easier to track specific buyers and sellers” Ok, but what are they supposed to do with that? Make the risk weighted capital requirements for banks portfolio variant? Good luck with that! But please remember, bankers can screw up the portfolio of their bank, while regulators could do the same with all banks, simultaneously.

Taylor writes: “By 2017, only three of the 30 “global systemically important banks” were up to snuff” And so the question that has t be made is, could those three not be the most able to game it all? Like Volkswagen gamed carbon emission tests?

What to do? Although the road there is full of dangers, the final destination must be one single capital requirement (10%-15%) against all assets. No more distortions! 

Sir, again, I am amazed on how FT can, at this late stage of the game, still buy in so much into what the so utterly inept Basel Committee regulators try to sell. 

@PerKurowski

July 14, 2018

There are those interested in some economic data being classified as “Data that shall not be observed”

Sir, Tim Harford, in view of the continuously increasing availability of data, discusses some tools that could be used by the science of economics. “Data impel economists to leave their armchairs” July 14.

Not a second too late. I have for years wondered in what “laboratory full of bubbling flasks, flashing consoles and glowing orbs” regulators could have come up with their theorem that states that what is ex ante perceived as risky, is more dangerous to bank systems than what is perceived as safe. With that under their arms they went out and imposed their risk weighted capital requirements on banks.

If some real data on that would now appear in a research paper, like on that which caused the 2007-08 crisis, what will all those who have with their silence reinforced that crazy theorem do? Act as any neo-inquisitor, and just burn that paper up?


@PerKurowski

July 13, 2018

When it comes to recklessness, the whizz-kids are small fry when compared to current bank regulators

Sir, Gillian Tett, referring to “the 2008 financial crisis writes: “Regulators were largely toothless because the whizz kids were creating financial instruments that straddled national borders, regulatory silos and outdated laws” “Cambridge Analytica scandal echoes the financial crisis” July 13.

Hold it there! If the regulators were “toothless”, what on earth were they doing regulating in the first place?

And, really, how much damage could reckless whizz kids have caused, if regulators had not, for instance allowed banks to leverage their capital with securities backed with mortgages to the subprime sector, 62.5 times, only because a human fallible credit rating agency had assigned that instrument an AAA to AA rating?

And what whizz kids have ever been involved with something as reckless as when regulators assigned a risk weight of 0% to sovereigns like Greece?

If we take this all to the issue of misuse of data, what are we to say about regulators who seem to keep a low profile on the fact that whatever data Cambridge Analytica laid there hands on, that was nothing when compared to the so much more extensive data social media, like Facebook, already possess. Could these regulators, in a Basel Committee for Data Supervision, really be crafting adequate policy responses that will not have serious “unexpected” consequences?

What if that data had now to be shared with governments, would that not make any autocrats’ “Big-Brother is Watching You” wet dreams come true?

@PerKurowski

The UK needs its banks to get rid of equity minimizing financial engineers and call back savvy loan officers (perhaps some like George Banks)

Sir, Martin Wolf writes he now “rather suspect”, that “the BoE’s views on risk weights might be leading to an economically unproductive focus on property lending”. “Labour’s productivity policy is a work in progress” July 13.

Banks are allowed to leverage more with what’s perceived, decreed or concocted as safe, like with mortgages, loans to sovereigns and AAA rated securities, than with what’s perceived as risky, like with loans to small and medium enterprises and to entrepreneurs.

That means clearly that banks are allowed to earn higher expected risk-adjusted returns on equity with “the safe” than with “the risky”; without any consideration given to the purpose for which the financing is to be used. In essence, regulators have decreed that “the safe” are worthier borrowers than “the risky”.

And of course, since risk taking is the oxygen of any development that is doomed to negatively affect the productivity of the economy.

Sir, I’ve written hundreds of letters to Mr. Wolf about “imprudent risk-aversion” for over more than a decade, and so of course I am glad he has reached the stage of “rather suspecting” all this is true. 

Wolf here refers to a report prepared for the Labour party by Graham Turner of GFC Economics that as a solution mentions, “the establishment of a “Strategic Investment Board” to deliver the government’s industrial strategy, use of the Royal Bank of Scotland to deliver lending to small and medium businesses and creation of an “Applied Sciences Investment Board” to deliver public sector financing of research and development.”

How can I convince Wolf that long before any statist Hugo Chavez like ideas that he still considers “half-baked” are tried out, we need to get rid of the distortions produced by the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks.

As Martin Wolf mentions, it could start with someone “wondering why securing financial stability is the only official aim for bank lending”; perhaps adding for emphasis the why on earth, in all bank regulations, there is not a single word of the purpose for banks beyond that of being safe mattresses into which to stash away cash.

But we could also question for instance BoE’s Mark Carney and Andy Haldane, on why they believe that what is made innocous by being perceived as risky, is more dangerous to the bank system than what is perceived as safe.

PS. On “the City of London being a global entrepot with little interest in promoting productive investment in the UK” I can only remind you and Wolf that could precisely be one of the reasons for why George Banks decided to quit banking and go fly kites instead 

@PerKurowski

July 12, 2018

What do we all have left to counter any major new round of debt-failures with?

Sir, Jonathan Wheatley reports that according to the Institute of International Finance “Total debt owed by households, governments, and financial and non-financial corporations were $247.2 tn at the end of March 2018 and, relative to gross domestic product, exceeded 318 per cent” “EM exposure Surging debt puts pressure on global financial system” July 12.

Emerging markets? What about all of us?

Households count on their income and worth of assets, basically houses, to pay back their debt… and their increased debt, anticipated demand, means they cannot help each other as much as they used to.

Non-financial corporates, which have become much more leveraged, count on business remaining healthy, though indebted households and governments will find it harder to keep up the demand they need.

Governments depend mostly on tax revenues, and these will depend on how it goes for households and non-financial corporations.

Financial corporates depend on deriving some profitability intermediating for the other three sectors, and on In God We Trust 

Looking at the harrowing figures three questions come to my mind.

The first, where would we all be if we in 2007-2008 had gone for the hard landing I suggested in 2006, instead of pushing the crisis can forward?

The second, where would our banks and all our debts be if banks had needed to hold for instance 10% in capital against all assets?

The third, WTF do we all have left to counter any major new round of debt-failures with?

@PerKurowski

July 11, 2018

High bankers bonuses results from having to remunerate very little shareholders’ capital


What would they be paid if the bank needed to hold 10% in capital against all assets? The equity minimization is the prime driver of high bonuses. 

@PerKurowski

Martin Wolf, ask the Greeks: Who is more dangerous, Trump with his trade tariffs, or​ ​bank regulators with their risk-weights?

Sir, Martin Wolf lashes out against the President of the United States’ “administration’s trade actions and announced [trade] intentions defining him as an “ignoramus” “Trump creates chaos with a global trade war” July 11.

I just know central bankers and bank regulators should know more about their specialized line of activity, than what a real estate developer should know about trade policy. And so, when it comes down to the title of world-class ignoramus, in my mind that one should clearly go to those who came up with the senseless idea of the risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

Dare to explain to a Greek that European technocrats assigned a 0% risk weight to their government, and that this was what led bankers into lending to it way over its capacity to use the loans. And then ask the Greek who is more dangerous, Donald Trump with his trade war, or bank regulators with their war, with subsidies and tariffs, on the allocation of bank credit?

Yes, Trump poses a threat to significant part of world trade, but the besserwisser in the Basel Committee have dangerously distorted most of the allocation of bank credit in the world.


@PerKurowski

When analyzing labor markets, do not ignore the time being wasted/used consuming distractions.

Sir, (as usual) I read with much interest Sarah O’Connor’s article on “labour shortages being reported gloomily all over the developed world” “Labour scarcity helps heal workers’ deep financial scars” July 11.

I think she forgot to include in her analysis the fact that more and more time is used during working hours in distractions. On a recent visit to a major shop in the Washington area, 8 out of the 11 attendances I saw were busy with some type of activity on their i-phones, and I seriously suspect they were not just checking inventories.

Less hours effectively worked, should translate not only in labor shortages but also into higher real salaries. And I also frequently ask myself what would our economic data be telling if treated the distractions as consumption. Could productivity have been increasing fabulously without us noticing it?

@PerKurowski

July 09, 2018

The Basel Committee stupidly made banks substitute savvy loan officers with equity minimizing financial engineers

Sir, John Plender, reviewing Philip Augar’s “The Bank That Lived a Little” writes: Not so long ago banking was a relatively simple business whose main focus was on deposit-taking and lending. Then in the 1980s everything changed as a powerful tide of deregulation swept through the industry… courtesy of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher”, “Head rush”, July 7.

Was it “deregulation” or plain missregulation? The main change that was introduced in banking, in 1988, with the Basel Accord, was the risk weighted capital requirements for banks. 

That meant that from there on, the risk-adjusted returns on bank equity were not to be maximized by savvy loan officers, but by equity minimizing financial engineers.

And clearly “increasing amounts of risk in relation to dwindling cushions of capital” allowed the bonuses of bankers to be so much higher.

Has banking “turned into an ethics-free zone”? Yes, but blame the regulators for much of that. Now, 30 years later, I would think there is no room to put the blame on Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher. 

Frankly, since FT has not dared to ask regulators why banks have to hold more capital against what is dangerous perceived as safe than against what is made innocous by being perceived as risky, as I see it, FT is so much more responsible for all this mess.

@PerKurowski

July 04, 2018

Jesus said, “Put out in the deep”. Regulators tell banks “Fish in shallow waters… preferably from the shore”

Sir, Martin Wolf writes, “Mr Trump’s narrowly transactional approach, driven by ignorance and resentment, risks disaster” “Donald Trump’s war on the liberal world order” July 3.

I agree there is room for serious concern with respect to what President Trump might do but, for the time being, for the umpteenth time, much more than what he might be sabotaging the liberal world order, bank regulators already did.

This Sunday, in the Swedish church in New York, they read us how Jesus invited the Apostles to "put out into the deep" for a catch: "Duc in altum" (Lk 5:4). "When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish" (Lk 5:6).

With their risk weighted capital requirements for banks, more perceived risk, more capital – less perceived risk, less capital, the regulators de facto told our banks to fish in shallow waters… preferably from the shore.

To assign a 20% risk weight to a corporation rated AAA to AA, and 100% to an unrated corporation 100%, and "generously" permitting the possibility of risk weighing small entrepreneurs with only 75%, has absolutely nothing to do with a liberal world order.

Moreover to assign a 0% risk weight to sovereigns and one of 100% to citizens, reads just like a communist world order.

“Armoured by ignorance”? Indeed, those regulations guarantee excessive exposures to what is especially dangerous as it is perceived, decreed or concocted as safe; against especially little capital… in other words it dooms our banks to especially severe crises.

Good job Basel Committee!

@PerKurowski

June 30, 2018

Those who sell us a universal basic income as a total solution, could just be wanting for it to fail

Sir, I refer to Tim Harford’s “Basic income or basic jobs?” June 29. The theme has become more fashionable because of robots and artificial intelligence, but the lack of jobs is not a new concern.

In 2003 in an Op-ed I wrote: “There’s a hint of all coming to a standstill in the theory about how globalization will optimize the world economy, by ensuring that merchandise will always be produced at the lowest marginal cost. What good does it do us to have products where the cost of the labor component gets smaller by the minute, if workers can’t buy the very products they produce?”

I ended that in jest with “Friends, let’s give one another jobs, scratching each other’s backs—paying each other good salaries of course.”

In 2012, while I was still not censored in Venezuela, in another Op-Ed titled “We need decent and worthy unemployments” I began it with: “What politician does not speak up for the need to create decent and well paid jobs for young people? But, if that's not possible, and the economy is not able to deliver that on its own ... What on earth do we do?”

In search of the answer I there asked: “Which is better: educating for a source of employment likely to be absent and therefore only create frustration, or educate for unemployment, and suddenly perhaps reaching, when on that route, the pleasant surprise of some jobs?”

Therefore Sir, in the choice between a basic income and a basic job, I clearly go for the first. The waste that could result, especially in uncertain times like these to develop guaranteed jobs, would surely be too big.

But that does not mean I consider that a Universal Basic Income either can or should be designed to satisfy all needs. For the time being it should just be a tool to help people get out of bed and reach up to whatever job opportunities might be around.

How much? Start with little. For instance, if there are pressures to increase the minimum wage $3 per hour then, for a fulltime 160 hour per month that signify $480. So why not start a UBI at that level and let time tell us where it can go? The additional demand that could be generated will, at existing salary levels, generate many jobs too.

What I most fret though are the redistribution profiteers. Concerned with seeing the value of their franchise erode, they might sell UBI’s promises excessively, both in amounts and purpose, so as to make the whole idea of a social dividend collapse, in order for them to get back in the saddle again. It behooves us all to stop them.

@PerKurowski

The financial crisis can was just kicked forward. At any moment it will roll back on us, with vengeance.

Sir, Raghuram Rajan, though indicating problems, writes: “The world economy has finally managed to recover from the financial crisis” “Bond markets send signals of a looming recession” June 29.

Sir, on the surface the signs of a recovery are there but, under the surface there are huge build-ups of asset values, shares and house prices, and of personal, public and corporate debt, that herald difficult times.

In August 2006, when trouble was already in the air, you published my letter titled “The long term benefits of a hard landing”. Clearly nothing of what I there argued was considered.

With QEs, Tarps, Asset Purchase programs, fiscal deficits, low interest rates and the keeping of much of the insane low capital requirements for banks, the crisis can was just pushed forward. 

Add to that Eurozone, China, Brexit, robots grabbing jobs, trade wars, migrant issues and so many unresolved problems, and one can perhaps begin to understand a not to be named reason for how so many want to legalize the use of marihuana.

Sir, again, much of the current mess is directly produced by the frantic efforts of regulators and central bankers to hide their responsibility in causing the 2007-08 crisis and ensuing hardships.

For God’s sake! In Greece they are hauling in front of courts a statistician for telling the truth, while those that with their absurd and irresponsible 0% risk weighing of that nation doomed it to excessive public debt, are free to roam and lecture us about good economics. 

@PerKurowski

June 28, 2018

If regulators, or even FT, do not questions the 0% risk weight of sovereigns, why should ordinary citizens care about public sector deficits?

Sir, Janan Ganesh writes“Americans no longer care about deficits, or at least no longer care enough. Their concern about them has waned since the mid-nineties” "How America learnt to love the budget deficit” June 28.

In 1988, with the Basel Accord, regulators introduced risk weighted capital requirements for banks and for that purpose assign risk weights to sovereigns of 0%. And European central banks assigned such 0% even to Greece, and Greece drowned in public debt, and yet no one, not even FT questions that 0% risk weight.

So Sir, why should ordinary Americans care about fiscal deficits when supposedly these can be financed with a 0% risk… because the government controls the money-printing machine?

Ganesh should not worry solely about America, with these statist bank regulators we are all being set up for a horrible crash. 

@PerKurowski

June 27, 2018

Odiously inept bank regulators consider ex ante that the entrepreneurs are less worthy of credit than house buyers

Sir, Daniel Davies discussing the work-outs of small business failures seemingly based on what some bad apples did, writes that “unpleasant realities [are swept] into grubby corners so that the banking system can look clean and efficient” “The finance industry’s Achilles heel”, June 27.

Sincerely, as one who has been proudly involved as a consultant in many workouts of all types for more than two decades in Venezuela, before the failure of that nation, I must say that I do not identify much with what Davies writes. For instance what’s wrong with that when real estate loans are renegotiated there is often a “change of valuation basis”? It would surely be more of an Achilles heel for the finance industry, if its valuation of assets did not change with changing circumstances.

Davies wants us to “Consider what happens when an entrepreneur is classified as a “distressed borrower” rather than a “start-up founder”… at that point, the person has been put into a category in which their word is not as good as other people’s.” 

But classifying an entrepreneur ex post, quite naturally, as a distressed borrower, cannot be remotely as bad as when regulators, ex ante, by allowing banks to leverage more when financing “safe” houses than when financing “risky” entrepreneurs are, de facto, saying that the word of an entrepreneur is worth less than that of house buyers. 

If there has been any sweeping of unpleasant realities into grubby corners, that is the role the regulators, with their foolishly risk adverse risk weighted capital requirements, have played in putting bank crisis and economic stagnation on steroids. Had for instance any credit rating agency assigned a 0% risk to Greece and with that doomed that country to a tragic over indebtedness, it would probably be hauled in front of judge… but there are the regulators still regulating as if they had done nothing.

And Sir, you know I think FT has quite shamefully helped the regulators with much of that sweeping.


@PerKurowski

We need worthy and decent unemployments

Sir, I refer to Martin Wolf’s “Work in the age of intelligent machines” June 27.

In 2012 (while I was still not censored in Venezuela) I wrote an Op-Ed titled “We need worthy and decent unemployments”. In it I held “The power of a nation, and the productivity of its economy, which so far has depended primarily on the quality of its employees may, in the future, also depend on the quality of its unemployed, as a minimum in the sense of these not interrupting those working.”

That is the reason why I am absolutely sure our societies have to start urgently, even if from a very low level, to implement an unconditional universal basic income (UBI).

And referring also to Sarah O’Connor’s “Minimum wage laws still fall short for those on the bottom” June 27, let me point out that while minimum wages raises the bar for the creation of jobs, UBI is a stepping stool that allows you to reach up to the mostly low paying jobs of the gig economy. 

PS. You want to increase the minimum wage $2 per hour? Better pay $2x40x4 $320 in universal basic income to all.

@PerKurowski

June 26, 2018

Flags need also to be raised, when influential multilateral financial institutions help to blow up bubbles

Agustín Carstens, the general manager of the Bank for International Settlements writes: “A decade of unusually low interest rates and large-scale central bank asset purchases may have left many market participants unprepared, and contributed to a legacy of overblown balance sheets” “It is precisely when pressure starts to build that flags need to be raised” June 26.

Indeed, but to that we should add the presence of extraordinary low capital requirements for banks when lending to what’s perceived as safe, like to house buyers and sovereigns. These have helped to explode the exposure to this type of loans, as well as distort the signals sent to the markets, something that of course has also helped to inject a lot of liquidity. 

Carstens also opines: “At the BIS, we have come to appreciate how unrewarding it can be to flag risks when markets are running hot. Yet that is precisely when risks tend to be highest.” 

Indeed, that is the same difficulty all influential institutions like the IMF face since, whenever they flag a risk, they could be accused for helping to set off a crisis. But now they all have themselves to blame for making the flagging problem so much worse. By assigning risk-many sovereigns a risk weight of 0% they painted themselves into a corner. When you know that risk weight is absolutely wrong, how do you go about to change it without scaring the shit out of the markets?

@PerKurowski

June 25, 2018

Citigroup’s Chuck Prince said: “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance”, but bank regulators insist on playing the same 30 years old song.

Sir, Andrew Hill worries about how many of today’s banker class remember it, let alone worry, about the complacency expressed in Chuck Prince’s “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. “James Gorman, chief executive of Morgan Stanley “Amnesia dooms bankers to repeat their mistakes” June 24.

Hill hopes Gorman “is experienced enough to have detected the echoes of 2007 in the current soundtrack of rising share prices and lowering regulatory burdens… and that he teaches “more of his younger, fresher-faced staff to recognize the tune and know when to bow politely and leave the dance floor.

As for me I would much rather prefer the regulators stopped playing that very same old song of the “risk weighted capital requirements for banks”, composed in 1988 by the Basel Accord, and otherwise known as “You earn higher returns on the safe than on the risky”. That song drove bankers into an intense maniac polka, in pursuit of the very high expected risk adjusted returns offered on what was perceived (houses), decreed (Greece 0% risk), or concocted (AAA rated securities) as safe.

PS. Hill refers to John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash 1929 account of the willful errors and self-interested speculation of the great investment banks. But Galbraith also wrote “Banks opened and closed doors and bankruptcies were frequent, but as a consequence of agile and flexible credit policies, even the banks that failed left a wake of development in their passing.” Money: Whence it came, where it went” (1975)

@PerKurowski

June 23, 2018

Regulators gave banks great incentives to smoke around drum barrels marked “empty”, and to stay away from drums marked “full”.

Gillian Tett writes “before 2008 the big banks spent a great deal of time fretting about issues that seemed obviously risky — hedge funds or highly leveraged companies — but tended to ignore anything that seemed safe or boring, such as AAArated mortgage-backed securities” “What the Hopi culture teaches us about risk” June 23.

Sir, if you go to my TeaWithFT blog and click on Gillian Tett, you will find that over the years I must have written her at least 100 letters explaining that what is perceived as risky, drums marked “full”, is never as dangerous than what’s perceived as safe, drums named “empty”. 

But, if a 70 year old paper by US fire-safety inspector Benjamin Lee Whorf, based a lot on Hopi Native American culture, is more convincing to Ms. Tett than my arguments, so be it.

My real complaint though is that Ms. Tett only refers to what bankers did, and does not mention the fact that bank regulators, on top of it all, with their risk weighted capital requirements, allowed banks to smoke (leverage) much more around drums named “empty”, than around drums named “full”. 

So when Ms. Tett writes: “In theory, this danger has now receded: banks have been trained to take a more holistic view of risk and to question whether even AAA ratings are always safe”, let us not forget that with Basel II, regulators allowed bank to leverage a mindboggling 62.5 times if only an AAA to AA rating was present. Since that besserwisser regulatory mentality still prevails, and risk weighting derived incentives still exists, unfortunately I do not share the hope that dangers have receded. New dangerous “absolutely safe” always lurk around the corners.

And Sir, come on, we have European central bankers who told banks “You can smoke as much as you like around that 0% risk weighted drum named Greece”; and they have still not been made accountable for that… and, between you and I, you FT is not entirely without blame for that.

PS. The sad complement to this analysis is that what regulators decreed as drums marked “full”, and made banks stay away from, includes entrepreneurs and SMEs, something which must erode the dynamism of the economy. 

@PerKurowski

June 22, 2018

How can banks price risks correctly when regulators interfere and alter the payouts?

Sir, Gillian Tett writes: “If you peer into the weeds of global finance, you will see peculiarities sprouting all over the place… there is [a] pessimistic explanation: years of ultra-loose monetary policy have made investors so complacent that they are mis-pricing risk.” “Markets appear calm but are behaving abnormally” June 22.

Years of ultra-loose monetary policy, QEs or asset purchase program have indeed distorted the markets so there has to be much mis-pricing going on. But that’s not all.

The expected winnings (the dividends or payouts times the odds of winning) is exactly the same for all possible bets in a game of roulette. This is why roulette functions as a game. The credit markets with all the signals read and emitted, by all its many participants, givers and takers, continuously work towards equal payouts. And achieving these is what an efficient credit allocation is all about. 

But what if someone altered the payouts in roulette, like the regulators, with their risk-weighted capital requirements for banks did in the market of bank credit, how long would roulette survive as game?

Sir, just remember the 0% risk weight assigned by European central bankers to Greece. Those allowed banks immense leveraging and see such ROE payout possibilities that it went overboard lending to Greece; just in the same way Greece went overboard borrowing too much. 

And what about mispricing the risk of securities with a 20% risk weight in Basel II, which allowed banks to leverage 62.5 times only because some human fallible rating agencies had assigned these an AAA to AA rating? Frankly, is not the current bunch of bank regulators the mother of all mispricers ever?

So, to blame the investors, markets, banks for mispricing risks while blithely ignoring the regulatory (and other) distortions that exists is irresponsible; and could only be understood in terms of wanting to favour bank regulators… something which you hold in your motto you do not. 

Sir, let’s get rid of as many distortions as possible, so as to let investors, markets, and our banks stand a decent chance to do a good job allocating credit. The future of our grandchildren depends on it.

For a starter, and though the road there is full of difficulties, we must get back to one single capital requirement (8-15%) for banks, so that these can leverage the same against absolutely all assets.

@PerKurowski

June 21, 2018

Is the Eurozone intent on once again give Greece's government a much lower risk weight than that assigned to a Greek entreprenuer?

Sir, Jim Brunsden writes: “Eurozone finance ministers are poised to give Greece debt relief —The plan is to help convince investors that Greece is ready to return to markets when its bailout programme expires in August.” “Creditors set to reach agreement over Athens debt deal” June 21.

That sure does sounds scary if the “convincing of the investors” once again includes giving the Greek government, for the purpose of the capital requirements of banks, a lower risk weight than it merits. That would be sheer cruelty.

Let us never forget (though the statists have classified it as something that should not be named) that it was the insane 0% risk weight assigned to Greece by European central bankers that got that country into its so tragic difficulties.

In my opinion the Greeks (or at least Yanis Varoufakis) should have taken those central bankers to the European Court of Justice long time ago. Imagine what would have happened to a credit-rating agency had it assigned such 0% risk weight to Greece?


@PerKurowski

June 20, 2018

Do we not need a Martin Act to crack down on regulators who dare regulate banks without having a clear idea about what they are doing?

Sir, Brooke Masters writes “global banks and other big financial services groups have lived in fear of an old New York state anti-fraud law. The Martin Act has been used to crack down on biased Wall Street research, insurance bid-rigging and “dark pools” said to mislead traders, among many things” “Loosening the law that haunts bankers puts us at risk” June 20.

Great! But why is there not anything similar when for instance European regulators and central bankers assign a 0% risk weight to Greece. Of course they must have known Greece was not worth it, no sovereign is, and yet they went ahead. And the final consequence of that have been horrible sufferings resulting from excessive public debt, but without the slightest indication of holding those responsible for it accountable.

Yes “The US system relies on fears of prosecution and giant fines to help keep banks and insurers honest”, but what do we have to keep technocrats from regulating when they obviously have no idea about what they are doing… like for instance when they think that what is ex ante perceived as risky poses ex post more dangers to our bank system than what is ex ante perceived as risky.

@PerKurowski

Way too little has been done in 20 years to counter the Eurozone losing its foreign exchange adjustment tool.

Sir, Martin Wolf writes: “Andreas Kluth wrote in Handelsblatt Global this month: ‘A common currency was supposed to unite Europeans. Instead, it increasingly divides them.’ He is right” “The Italian challenge to the eurozone” June 20. 

Of course he is!In 1998, on the eve of the Euro, in an Op-ed titled “Burning the bridges in Europe” I wrote: 

“The Dollar is backed by a solidly unified political entity, i.e. the United States of America. The Euro, on the other hand, seems to be aimed at creating unity and cohesion. It is not the result of these.

The possibility that the European countries will subordinate their political desires to the whims of a common Central Bank that may be theirs but really isn’t, is not a certainty. Exchange rates, while not perfect, are escape valves. By eliminating this valve, European countries must make their economic adjustments in real terms. This makes these adjustments much more explosive. High unemployment will not be confronted with a devaluation of the currency which reduces the real value of salaries in an indirect manner, but rather with a direct and open reduction of salaries or with an increase of emigration to areas offering better possibilities.”

So clearly “All of this was predicted” Yes, but why has so little been done about it? Why have EU technocrats instead wasted their time on so many other minutiae?

What I did not foresee though, really because I had no idea of it, was that with the risk weighted capital requirements for banks, that which assigned a risk weight of 0% to sovereigns and 100% to citizens, fatal distortions in the allocation of bank credit were introduced, causing “high level of public debt” and making it all so much harder on the eurozone.


@PerKurowski

June 19, 2018

A major difficulty for EU is that what caused the last crisis, and attempts against its economic dynamism, shall not be named

Sir, Judy Dempsey writes that Merkel’s “conservative bloc would not buy into an agreement that would require Germany to spend more to bail out badly run economies” “Macron and Merkel will struggle to present a united front” June 19.

Have Merkel’s “conservative bloc” been told that their bank regulators assigned a risk weight of 0% to Greece and so that therefore Greece got way too much money?

Have Merkel’s “conservative bloc” been told that their regulators require banks to hold more capital against loans to German unrated entrepreneurs, than against loans to any EU sovereign?

Sir, I am sure that if central bankers and regulators were hauled in front of some really independent authority, and asked to comprehensibly explain so much of the crazy things their risk weighted capital requirements for banks entail, that would help clear the air and lead to much more constructive discussions in the EU about its future.

Who knows, perhaps such real discussions that would at long last hold some EU technocrats accountable, could even tempt a reversal of Brexit.

@PerKurowski

Capital requirements for banks based on how much “distressed debts” hedge funds raise money?

Sir, Joe Rennison’s and Lindsay Fortado’s “Distressed debt tempts investors in anticipation of the next downturn”, June 19, raises the following question:

Could an index that tracks how “US hedge funds specialising in distressed debt are raising money in anticipation [of] the next economic downturn” be useful to base bank capital requirements on? 

At least it should be much better than current regulations, which allow banks to build up dangerous exposures to what is perceived as safe, against especially low capital requirements, especially when a Jason Mudrick, founder of $1.9bn Mudrick Capital can state “This economy is roaring right now”

@PerKurowski

June 18, 2018

It is the run of banks to what is perceived, decreed or concocted as safe that is scary

Sir, you opine: “If there was ever a moment for bankers to take on too much risk, thereby planting the seeds of a nasty downturn, it is now”, “The unsettling return of bullish investment banks” June 18.

Given current regulation a more exact phrasing of “to take on much risk” would be “to build up risky exposures to assets that are perceived (houses), decreed (sovereigns) or concocted (AAA rated securities) as safe against the least capital possible” 

When you write: “there are other indications of a cyclical top. Assets remain expensive worldwide, and in the US business confidence is at a peak, unemployment is very low and tax cuts have delivered a big fiscal stimulus”… you are describing a world in which the regulators with their risk weighted capital requirements, more than warning the banks are spelling out a go ahead. Their countercyclical capital requirements when leaving in place the distortions of risk weighing are a joke. 

Bank crisis never result from exposures to what is ex ante perceived as risky but only from exposures to something perceived as safe. By allowing those risky sized exposures to build up against especially little capital, the regulators have set bank crises on steroids.

The regulator’s tiny countercyclical capital requirements are, when leaving in place the distortions of risk weighing, just a joke. 

If only banks went for much more of the truly “risky”, like loans to entrepreneurs or SMEs. Those exposures would of course also be hurt in a crisis but, meanwhile, they could at least help our economies to move forward in a more dynamic way. Risk-taking is the oxygen of development. God make us daring!

@PerKurowski

Optimally the utilities’ long-term views should result from their local connections.

Sir, Jonathan Ford describes in very clear terms why “private equity firms shouldn’t own regulated utilities, full stop. In very long-term businesses providing essential services, investors should have time horizons to match.” “Why private equity investors and utilities should not mix” June 17.

But there is more to this issue. In 2000, Electricidad de Caracas, EdC, the electrical utility of Caracas, Venezuela, that had been founded and managed by a local family for 105 years, was sold off to a big time international player, AES. I was in shock, and so I wrote in several Op-Eds

Not only would we lose the natural accountability of the management that exists when these are your neighbors and suffer the same service failings that you do; but it would also take that company out of the hands of electrical engineers and place it into the hands of financial engineers. 

Yes, the new owners proceeded to sell assets, repurchase shares, take up new loans and pay out dividends, leveraging the company up to the tilt… and many needed investments were delayed.

While EdC was being negotiated I wrote: "From my local electrical distributor, what I'm interested in seeing are good engineers with colorful helmets, accompanied by competent accountants with simple calculators, which only serve to add and subtract. I do not like to observe the presence of lawyers, financiers, brokers, publicists and other professionals little or nothing related to bring me the light home…. I get very scared when I hear terms like ‘unfriendly takeovers’ ‘poison pills’ and ‘golden parachutes’.”

To that I should have added “And I absolutely want my neighbors to hold management control and a clear majority of shares in that company.”

PS. The EdC story had an even sadder ending. In 2007, after trying to negotiate tariffs with a loony government, AES withdrew. Unfortunately, the Local that stood up to forcibly repurchase it, was Pdvsa… and you probably know what happens to anything that is in the hands of the current Pdvsa.

@PerKurowski

June 17, 2018

FT, that what is perceived risky is as dangerous to banks than what is perceived as safe, is not a “roughly right analysis”

Sir, you write: “The world may not return to what was normal before the global financial crisis… Still, consumers, investors and businesses should take some comfort that the central banks of the world’s biggest market economies have roughly the right analysis of where they are and how they might react in a downturn.” “Central banks correctly go their separate ways” June 16.

No way! With their continuous support of the risk weighted capital requirements for banks, central bankers evidence they have not understood “where they are know”. They are not “roughly right” but totally wrong. What can generate those excessive exposures that can endanger bank systems is not what is ex ante perceived as risky, but what is ex ante perceived as safe. 

Certainly central bankers the regulators did not commit this mistake on purpose, but the fact remains that they have produced much suffering; just think what their 0% risk weighting did to Greece. To hold then somewhat accountable, should we parade them down the D.C. Mall wearing dunce caps?

@PerKurowski

June 12, 2018

Europe (and the rest of the world) needs to get rid of the distortions produced by QEs and risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

Sir, Karen Ward, discussing ECB’s asset purchase programme writes: “It’s very hard to get the population to worry about government borrowing when interest rates seem impervious to how much the government wants to borrow”… “to truly put the European economy on a long-term sustainable footing it may be time for the ECB to step back and let the market do its job”… “Bond vigilantes are an essential part of the micro economy and vital for a thriving macro economy” “Investors should resist urge to run for the hills if ECB calls time on asset purchases” June 12.

Absolutely! Right on the dot! But besides suspending the distorting asset purchase program, there is also much need for to eliminate the risk weighted capital requirements for banks, that which so much and so uselessly distorts the allocation of bank credit to the economy.

PS. “Mario Draghi, ECB’s president, is under pressure to provide guidance” Forget it! Draghi is one of those regulators who decided to assign a 0% risk weights to sovereigns like Greece, and thereby helped to cause the crisis. Therefore Draghi should be prohibited to provide any further guidance.


@PerKurowski

June 08, 2018

The euro did not derive from a union but was used to build a union, and that still poses great-unresolved challenges.

Sir, I refer to Philip Stephens’“Trump, Italy and the threat to Germany” June 8.

Stephens writes: “Germany has been a “taker” — importing stability from neighbors and allies.” Indeed, but Germany has also imported the economic weaknesses from neighbors benefitting from a euro lower than what it would be if responding solely to Germany.

Yes, “The euro did not cause Italy’s economic ills, but it does close off the old escape route of devaluation”, except of course for those economies that, on the margin are the strongest, e.g. Germany.

Knowing they were benefitting unduly from the euro was perhaps the reason why the ordinarily much more disciplined Bundesbank Germans supported that insane notion of assigning, for the purpose of the capital requirements for banks, a risk weight of 0% to euro partners like Greece. For a while growing public indebtedness hid the costs of a stronger than suited for the weaker economies euro, but that lifeline has now clearly run out of steam.

What should the eurozone do know in order to survive? The answer must be finding a sustainable solution to the immense challenge that existed from the very start, when elites decided to build a union based on the euro instead of having a euro derived from a union.

Americans dream as American. How many Europeans dream as European?

June 07, 2018

Instead of Andreas Georgiou, Greek courts should prosecute those who assigned Greece a 0% risk weight

Sir, Ulrich Baumgartner, Eduard Brau, Warren Coats and otherformer senior staff of the IMF launch a spirited defense of Mr Andreas Georgiou. They write that Georgiou, a respected authority in statistics, has been pursued relentlessly during seven years with lawsuit after lawsuit, for “bringing harm to Greece and dereliction of duty by refusing to falsify the figures.” “Greece should not hound man who refused to falsify the figures” June 7.

What “Georgiou and his Greek staff, helped by international experts” did was to produce corrections, “which showed a much bleaker picture than the earlier data, were vetted by Eurostat and accepted by the European Central Bank, the EU and the IMF as the basis for major financing.”

Amazing! If anything the courts should prosecute all those European central bankers and regulators who, for the purpose of their risk weighted capital requirements for banks, and knowing it did not merit it, assigned a 0% risk weight to Greece. Had it not been for that the governments of Greece would not have been able to build up that gargantuan level of public debt that was the primary cause of its crisis.

Since IMF, with its silence on it, has de facto endorsed that 0% risk weight, perhaps those here defending Mr Andreas Georgiou should start with a mea culpa. The world would very much appreciate that. It is way overdue.


Just imagine what would happen to a credit-rating agency if it was proven that it had knowingly assigned an undeserved an AAA rating?

What if a credit rating agency had knowingly assigned an undeserved AAA rating? European central bankers assigned an even worse 0% risk weight to Greece, which doomed Greece to excessive public debt… and they have yet not been held accountable for it in the slightest.

@PerKurowski

June 06, 2018

To make banks safer, stop allowing besserwisser regulators distort the allocation of credit.

Sir, Martin Wolf writes: “147 individual national banking crises occurred between 1970 and 2011. These crises … were colossally expensive, in terms of lost output, increased public debt and, not least, political credibility” “Why the Swiss should vote for ‘Vollgeld’” June 7.

Sir, in the years before those crises, did the economy grow in the same way? No one seems to be interested in the quality of the booms, as they are all too fixated on the damages of the busts. John Kenneth Galbraith, in his “ Money: Whence it came, where it went” (1975) wrote: “Banks opened and closed doors and bankruptcies were frequent, but as a consequence of agile and flexible credit policies, even the banks that failed left a wake of development in their passing.”

Wolf writes: “it is often easiest for banks to justify lending more just when they should lend less, because lending creates credit booms and asset-price bubbles, notably in property.” But Wolf, probably being one of those “insiders” Yanis Varoufakis refers to in his “Adults in the room”, refuses to point out how regulators, by allowing banks to leverage much more with “safe” residential mortgages, than for instance with loans to “risky” entrepreneurs, helped feed the property bubble.

The regulators, when interfering with their capital requirements for banks based on the ex ante perceived risks that would usually be cleared for solely by the market, obfuscate market signals, and thereby distort the allocation of bank credit making the economy weaker and the bank system riskier… and there is no way around that! 

PS. Does an ordinary British citizen know, for instance, that their bank regulators allows banks to hold much less capital against loans to Germany than against loans to British entrepreneurs? Sir, don’t you think they have a right to know that? Or is it a case of the risk-weights that shall not be named?

@PerKurowski

Yes, cities can be great, but these can also be dangerous bombs in the making.

Sir, Edward Luce writes about how trying to attract big companies like Amazon to the cities might make it harder on the poor in the city. “Beauty contest reveals ugly truths” June 6.

Yes, of course, the weaker, the poorer, they will always be relatively more squeezed by any development that occurs in cramp conditions where there will be a fight for space.

But it is when Luce quotes Richard Florida with, “America’s most dynamic cities have played right into the company’s hands, rushing to subsidise one of the world’s largest corporations rather than building up their own economic capacities.” where the real discussion should start.

Why would a city want to bet so much of its future on so few actors as would here be the case with Amazon? Have they not seen what happened to Motor City Detroit? If you want to use incentives to attract jobs, which is of course to start “a race to the bottom”, why bet all on a number, would you not be better off diversifying your bets? 

If I was responsible for a city, one of the first things I would be doing is to analyze how its riskiness would be rated compared to other cities? For instance, what are the chances that suddenly another city offers your city’s wealthy, the possibility of moving to a place that has not accumulated impossibly high debts that will need to be served, supposedly primarily by them?

And, if your city faces a financial crash, what would be ones’ first priorities, to help the poor, or to make sure the rich do not leave without being substituted for by other rich?

PS. Luce writes: “Big fund managers… are putting cash into global urban real estate portfolios. As a result, property prices are becoming a function of global capital movements rather than local economic conditions”

Again, for the umpteenth time, what initially feeds high property prices is the inordinate ease of access to financing it, provided among others by regulators allowing banks to leverage much more with “safe” residential mortgages than with “risky” loans to entrepreneurs. 

The fund managers are just following the results of it… when that regulation-easing plan begins to be reversed, which will happen sooner or later, they run the risk of being left holding the bag. 

@PerKurowski

June 02, 2018

If you want real profound gender diversity at company boards, think of nominating housemothers

Sir, Daniel Thomas discusses the issue of having more women on corporate boards “Shareholders can do more to bring about boardroom diversity”, June 2.

More than a decade ago, as an Executive Director at the World Bank, I told my colleagues “We all have, more or less, quite similar backgrounds. If we were by means of a lottery substitute a plumber and a nurse, for two of us directors at the board, I am sure we would have a much wiser board”. I do not remember what my colleagues replied… or if they did.

Now, hearing the currently so frequent demand for more gender diversification, I feel the same. Having women educated similarly to the men they are to substitute for, brings much less diversity into the boardroom than what could be expected. 

If you want deeper meaning gender diversification, then invite housemothers to work some hours as board directors. The challenges mothers have to confront in their daily routines are way often much harder and much different from those that their then men board colleagues face.

Also, as an economist, to guarantee more gender income equality, start by arguing for parents, most usually women, to be remunerated for their socially so important work of taking care of their children or elderly. Unfortunately housemothers, just as the unemployed, do not have unions to take care of their interests. 

@PerKurowski

To salvage the European Union, its authorities must be held responsible for the travails of Italy, Greece and other.

Sir, with respect to what’s happening in Italy you write: “The guardians of the single currency failed to mend the roof while the sun was shining… Even if disaster has been averted on this occasion, the economic and political fragility of the eurozone remain all too clear” “Italy sets a stress test for the eurozone, again” June 2.

True. From the very start, soon 20 years ago, it must have been clear for all the proponents of the Euro that adopting it, meant for all countries using it giving up the possibility of adapt to different economic circumstances through foreign exchange rates adjustments.

And a Germany would benefit with a too weak for it Euro, and others, like Italy and Greece would suffer a too strong for them Euro.

What have the Eurozone authorities done to meet that challenge? Way too little! They busied themselves with all other type of lower priority issues and outright minutia. Worse yet, they also stupidly silenced the full disequilibrium signals that the interest rates on the Euro members’ public debt level could send the markets by assigning to all a 0% risk weight. Something that made the sun seem shine brighter than what it really did!

Fabio Panetta, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Italy in a speech in London in February 2018, with respect to the possibility of raising the capital requirements on sovereign debt had the temerity to say: “The problem of high public debt should be addressed by Governments directly, with determination. It should not be improperly tackled with prudential regulation.”

If I were an Italian or a Greek, given a chance I would have told (shouted) him: 

“With your 0% risk weighing you regulators imprudently created temptations for our politicians to be able to take on much more public debt at much lower rates than would otherwise have been the case, and now you argue they should have been able to resist such temptations? Just the same way you argue that banks should have resisted the temptations to leverage over 60 times with assets that carried an AAA rating? Have you and your colleagues no shame?” 

Sir, while regulators keep on giving banks more incentives to finance the “safer” present consumption than the future “riskier” production, the chances for Europe (and America) to get out of its problems lie, at least in the case of Italy, as so many times before, in the strength of its economia sommerza.

@PerKurowski

May 31, 2018

Let’s make sure that environmental, social and governance investing does not just signify ESG profiteering, or access to indulgences for paying worse sins.

Sir, John Authers writes: “On the side of the devil, ESG offers a rebranding for an unpopular industry, an excuse for data providers to crunch a lot of data and then charge for it” “Pressure for ESG presents fund management chiefs with a moral dilemma” May 31.

That is right on the dot. In all these political correct issues, what is by far the most present is the profit motive for those preaching it... morality is much absent

In terms of defending the environment, I would much rather prefer a huge revenue neutral carbon tax, meaning all its revenues paid out in equal shares to all its citizens, than having the climate change fight profiteers gaming the fight and taking their cut. It is sufficiently difficult and expensive as is.

And in terms of “social” it is much better to use all potential profits to help fund a Universal Basic Income than to help fund the social fighters.

But what really upsets me is that good governance is on the list of good socially conscious investments. Much better, much clearer, would be to make sure bad governance is never ever financed.

Let me be absolutely clear. I would much rather prefer a Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein being socially sanctioned, never ever more invited to a party in New York, for helping to finance a human rights violating regime like Venezuela’s Maduro’s, than allowing him to be able to purchase indulgencies to pay for his sins, by (profitably) financing some other “good” guys.


@PerKurowski

May 30, 2018

“Co-operate more” is often argued by multilateral technocrats only for them to interfere more

Sir, Martin Wolf writes: “Countries that contain substantial populations in relative domestic decline are consumed by the politics of rage. Yet, if progress is to be sustained and the dangers are to be managed, peaceful co-operation is necessary” and he ends with “Am I optimistic that the world will rise to the challenge? The answer is: No”, “The world’s progress brings new challenges” May 30.

I am not optimistic either. In 1998 in an Op-Ed: “History is full of examples of where the State, by meddling to avoid damages, caused infinite larger damages”, and in 1999: what “scares me the most, is [what] could happen the day those genius bank regulators in Basel, playing Gods, manage to introduce a systemic error in the financial system, which will cause its collapse”. 

And with the risk weighted capital requirements that distorts the allocation of bank credit to the real economy, the peacefully cooperating regulators in the Basel Committee realized my worst fears.

And that horrendous mistake, which included assigning risk weights of 0% to sovereigns, like Greece and Italy, and which brought us the 2007/08 crisis, and that is to blame for much of the stagnation in productivity, is not yet even discussed. There’s a total lack of transparency and accountability among those that Yanis Varoufakis rightly holds belong to a network of insiders.

Why? As Varoufakis explains in his “Adults in the room” journalists, I would argue like Martin Wolf, are also “appended, however unconsciously, to a network of insiders… [and] This is how networks of power control the flow of information.”

Wolf also refers to Kishore Mahbubani, the author of “Has the West Lost It?” arguing: “The lesson the west — above all, the US — must learn is… to interfere far less and co-operate far more [with] multilateral rules and agreements. It cannot run the world. It needs to stop its arrogant and usually foolish interventionism.” 

But again: The worst “arrogant and foolish interventionism”, that which really has the West really losing it, as it put banker’s risk aversion on steroids, is what was concocted by the Basel Committee for Banking Supervision. And its interference is like a cancer tumor that keeps on growing thousand of pages a year.

A call to “co-operate more” is always justified but, when cooperating, let us not ignore that is precisely what multilateral technocrats often ask for, only in order for them to do more besserwisser interference.

The best multilateral agreement we now could have with respect of our banks, is to set one capital requirement against all assets, a one pager regulation, and then carefully manage the process of getting the banks from here to there, while minimizing the hurting.


PS. The best way to fight pollution, climate change [and inequality], is by means of a carbon tax with all its revenues shared out to citizens. But, since that does not allow for interesting profit opportunities that could be captured, and that could be ruled, the intervention profiteers much prefer the Paris accord on climate change.

@PerKurowski