May 22, 2016

FCA, if bank regulators distort the allocation of credit to the real economy, is it good conduct or criminally stupid?

Sir, I refer to Caroline Binham’s interesting story on how FSA, later FCA, investigated at a cost of £14m, a case of insider trading that led to the conviction of five men, “Spectrum: Watching the ‘insiders’” May 21.

In it Binham quotes Mark Steward, the Australian who leads the enforcement team at the FCA with: “We need to look at the potential for our markets to be undermined by systemic and organized crime – people who organize themselves to commit this kind of crime. And we are doing exactly that.”

But what if technocrats that can only be accused of criminal stupidity, unwittingly undermine our markets?

If there is ever a FCA investigation that is really needed, urgently, that is the one about the validity of the risk weighted capital requirements for banks.

By allowing banks to leverage more with assets perceived as safe than with assets perceived as risky, banks were allowed to earn higher expected risk adjusted returns on equity on safe assets than on risky assets; and that obviously dangerously distorted the allocation of credit to the real economy.

And for no reason at all! Never are major bank crises caused by excessive exposures to something ex ante considered as risky. The regulators assigned a risk weight of 20% for the prime AAA rated, and one of 150% for what is highly speculative and worse below BB- rated. Is one as a regulator really allowed to know so little about banks and be so stupid? Not to me!