June 11, 2014

Fasten your seatbelts… according to the roads´ safety ratings?

Sir, I refer to John Kay´s “How the health and safety culture can curb moral hazard” June 11.

In it Kay writes “Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would never have assembled such bloated balance sheets had those who lent to the US state-run mortgage finance companies not believed… that the government would protect creditors from any default” Why? If the mortgages were awarded correctly why should they not?

And I could equally say “Had it not been for regulators allowing banks to hold only 1.6 percent in capital against securities if rated AAA to AA, an authorized leverage of 62.5 to 1, there would never ever have been such a demand for such securities which drove everyone crazy and caused mortgages to be awarded badly.

When you tell people to fasten their seatbelts that makes sense… when you tell people that they have to fasten their seatbelts depending on the safety rating on the road… you are getting into very shady problems.

Kay also writes “If creditors are protected from risk, the long-term effect will be more risk in the system” Indeed but what if that more risk in the system serves a purpose, like loans to small businesses and entrepreneurs who could help to avoid our unemployed youth to become a lost generation?

As is, with the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks, we are only getting much more risk into the banking system by means of higher leverages on what is believed to be absolutely safe, something which is precisely the stuff that bank crises are made off and seemingly for no good purpose at all.

PS. With respect to the safety culture it can be taken too far. Yesterday in a row boat, in a small lake, probably surrounded by hundreds of security officers, we saw several European leaders sitting there with life vests on. I bet that Winston Churchill would never ever have thought of putting a life west on in such circumstances, much less if haven his photo taken.