October 14, 2014

Amir Sufi, FT, anyone… how do you explain Ben Bernanke’s change of mind?

Sir, I refer to Amir Sufi’s “Bernanke’s failed mortgage application exposes the flaw in banking” October 14.

In it Sufi refers to “research in 1983 by Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, who in studying the Great Depression argued that banks have a unique ability to intermediate credit, because of the valuable information they gather and hold. As he put it, ‘the real service performed by the banking system is the differentiation between good and bad borrowers’”.

Now, please, can someone explain to me how someone who describes banks that way, can then later agree with destroying banks powers of allocating credit in the economy with the introduction of the credit risk weighted capital requirements for banks? Did Bernanke, and his colleagues not understand that would distort it all?

And just look at how stupid it was all done. Banks, when setting interest rates and deciding on the size of exposures, considered to quite a lot of extent the credit risk information present in credit ratings. But then came the regulators and also considered the same credit ratings setting the capital requirements. That signified that credit ratings were excessively considered, and we know that something even perfect, if considered excessively becomes wrong.

And of course, what Amir Sufi writes: “the very thing that banks are meant to do well businesses to lend to, so that they can grow, invest, hire employees and boost local economies – has fallen by the wayside” … they do mortgages instead. Well that just had to happen. Compare the equity requirements for a bank giving a mortgage, so that someone can buy a house, compared to what it needs to hold when lending to a small business, which could give the house owner a job so as to be able to afford the mortgage and the utilities.

How do we get out of this? That is not easy, but we must. Without the services provided by the traditional banks of the past, it will be very difficult for our economies to remain vital and sturdy.