November 18, 2014

The Fed’s regressive bank regulations, makes it a biased source of information

Sir, Tom Braithwaite’s writes that “stock and bond prices for the banks would be more accurate if [the market] knew what the Fed thought about the strength of these banks and their management”, “Smoke needs to clear over Fed supervision of US banking system”, November 17.

Indeed, that sounds extremely rational but, unfortunately, if the views of the Fed are biased, the signals it sends out will of course make it worse for the economy as a whole.

I say this because it is clear that the Fed agrees with regressive regulations which much favors bank lending to the infallible, in detriment of lending to the risky, and so opining based on such mistaken criteria cannot lead to anything good.

Just look at the “Camels” ratings that Braithwaite refers to and that many want to be disclosed. These cover “capital adequacy, asset quality, management, earnings, liquidity and sensitivity to market risk”; with no indicator for what is most important for the real economy, and thereby implicitly in the medium and long run is also vital for the banks, namely if the bank allocates credit efficiently to the real economy.

And so, even if in the land of the free and the home of the brave, the Fed would rate much higher a bank that exclusively lends to the sovereign and the AAAristocracy, than a bank that dares lending to “risky” citizens and their small businesses. And if that helps anyone, that might be those very elderly in want of short-term safety, and clearly not the young who need banks to take risks in order to have a future.

And what is really hard to understand is when Braithwaite refers to Jose Lopez, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, opining in 1999 that the disclosure of Fed’s Camels ratings “could benefit supervisors by improving the pricing of bank securities and increasing the efficiency of the market discipline brought to bear on banks”. Does the Fed need the market to reassure it by reaffirming the Fed’s own biases? Is it not doing enough damage as is?