February 05, 2013

How on earth did we end up discussing bank lending ratios of 25 or 33 to 1?

Sir, Alistair Darling, the former UK chancellor of the exchequer, refers to the Vickers proposal of bank capital of 4 percent, a lending ratio of 25 to 1 and to George Osborne’s proposal o 3 percent, a lending ratio of 33 to 1. He also rightly “suspects” that a requirement to hold more capital is a far greater buffer against calamities than a ringfence. “In a crisis, it will take a firewall not a ringfence” February 5.

And I must ask, how on earth have we ended up discussing bank lending ratios of 25 or 33 to 1? Don’t we all realize these lending ratios are sheer lunacy? Even if a bank loans are solely to “the absolutely infallible”? What funny thing happened on the way here?

No! Banks need to hold more capital, I would say between 8 or 10 percent, and, if they don’t have that capital, then help them get it for Pete’s sake, by for instance introducing special tax-exemptions on dividends produced by any banks willing to hold a basic 8 or ten percent in capital against all its assets.

That would not only help to make our banks safer, it would also reduce the distortions produced by different capital requirements based on the perceived risk of the bank asset, and it could also lead to attract a new set of shareholders, like some widows and orphans, who would be willing to accept lower bank returns in exchange for a much lower risk.

Sir, the simple truth is that the real economy cannot afford paying off those speculative shareholders who could be attracted to banks allowed to leverage 25 to 1. It is as easy as that!