May 07, 2009

Do not undercut in any way the disciplinarian role of the market

Sir as an Executive Director at the World Bank 2002-2004 and as member of its Audit Committee I remember as one of my biggest frustrations continuously warning about counterparty risks and always ending up being answered along the lines of... “What counterparty risks? Don’t you know that a triple-A is a triple-A is a triple-A?”

This is why I take strong exception when Matthew Richardson and Nouriel Roubini in “Insolvent banks should feel market discipline”, May 7, though correctly advocating more of Schumpeterian creative destruction, are surprisingly lenient in the case of counterparty risk. They even write “But unlike with Lehman, the government can stand behind any counterparty transaction”. No!

What is counterparty risk? The risk that for example the insurance company you have insured yourself with cannot pay up when it should. This risk is clearly not a risk that an ordinary citizen should have to bear but for the financial system’s overall health it is an absolute must that all the qualified institutional participants bear with the full consequences of it.

In fact, in case they have not read it, current third pillar of the otherwise so discredited bank regulations from Basel – named the market discipline, “aims to encourage market discipline by developing a set of disclosure requirements which will allow market participants to assess key pieces of information on the scope of application, capital, risk exposures, risk assessment processes, and hence the capital adequacy of the institution.” And that of course means the evaluation and the taking of counterparty risks.

And by the way, just as the markets would benefit from more creative destruction, let me also remind you that so would our financial regulators