October 01, 2013

At long last, the truth about the incestuous relation between banks and sovereigns, is coming out of the closet

Sir, at last someone in the highest spheres, Jens Weidmann, the president of the Deutsche Bundesbank, speaks out. In “Stop encouraging banks to load up on state debt” October 1, he dares to admit that the banks’ “Sovereign exposures are privileged by low or zero capital requirements”

What Weidmann now denounces is that viciously incestuous relation I have denounced for more than a decade and which can be described in terms of: “I government allow you banker to lend to me without capital, and I in my turn will guarantee your obligations to the market” 

And as Weidman daringly admits: “This undermines market discipline for governments and reduces their incentive to carry out the necessary reforms” and “banks, which can obtain unlimited cash against sovereign collateral from the central banks, are protected from discipline from investors who provide the funding.”

In this respect let me remind you of my letter to you, published on November 18, 2004, and which said:

Our bank supervisors in Basel are unwittingly controlling the capital flows in the world. How many Basel propositions will it take before they start realizing the damage they are doing by favoring so much bank lending to the public sector (sovereigns)? In some developing countries, access to credit for the private sector is all but gone, and the banks are up to the hilt in public credits. Please, help us get some diversity of thinking to Basel urgently; at the moment it is just a mutual admiration club of firefighters

As an Executive Director at the World Bank 2002-04, I also protested loudly against privileging the sovereign, but to no avail.

Over many years I have not seen anyone in the Financial Times even mentioning the issue of how privileging so much the sovereign, and others like the AAAristocracy, completely distorts the allocation of bank credit to the real economy. I must say that speaks quite badly about your journalists, unless of course you want to excuse them by having to push a political agenda.

So will some of them now, again, bash Jens Weidman’s rational arguments for being excessively austere?

Of course, Mr. Weidman seems to just recently be waking up to the problem, and is not yet totally clear about it. For instance when he states “No market participant would judge a French bond to be as risky as the Greek one: the riskiness of each is reflected in their prices” he is probably not aware that he is with that really explaining why the whole idea of setting capital requirements for banks, based on an ex ante perceived risks, as Basel regulations does, is so utterly dumb, and only dooms banks to overdose on perceived risk.