October 19, 2016
Sir, Martin Wolf mentions that BoE’s Mark Carney, noted monetary policy has distributional consequences but “it is for broader government to offset them if they so choose”. “The unwise war against low interest rates” October 19.
The risk weighted capital requirements for banks has distributional consequences too, in this case with respect of bank credit.
For instance, a risk weight of 35% when financing residential housing, and a risk weight of 100% for loans to SMEs, helps the young to have more availability of basements in which to live with their parents, than perspectives of a new generation of jobs.
And the blatantly statist 0% risk weighting of the sovereign, skews the distribution of credit away from the private sector and towards government bureaucrats.
So the question is: Should we now try to add a new layer of non-transparent complications so as to try to offset those credit distributional consequences, or should we simply get rid of risk-weighted capital requirements altogether?
I clearly favor the latter option but, doing so, I have to continuously confront those who like Martin Wolf know, quite correctly, that a below BB- borrower is risky (150% risk weight) but, unfortunately, do not have the necessary wisdom to fathom that what’s AAA rated, and therefore only 20% risk weighted, is, or will be made by this, much more dangerous to bank systems.
Wolf also states: “Lower interest rates need not worsen pension deficits; that depends on what happens to the value of assets held by pension funds. Normally, lower interest rates should raise the latter. What would lower both real interest rates and asset prices is greater pessimism about economic prospects. Central banks do not cause such pessimism but try to offset it.”
That is so very wrong! The only moment when the value of assets held by pension funds is really important, is when these have to be sold in the market in order to access purchasing power for the pensioners. And with these risk weighted bank regulations that impede banks from financing the risky future, and have these only refinancing the safer past and present, you can bet that the future economy will not be strong enough to pay well for those assets.
Of course Wolf might think it is the bankers’ duty to overcome such regulations, but that would be to ignore completely the overriding objective of bankers which is to maximize the risk adjusted returns on equity (and their bonuses).
PS. On the issue of low interest rates, let me as a financial consultant with extensive main-street experience, remind you that few things stimulate projects to advance faster from plans into income generating realities, than high interest rates. Low interest rates feed a lot of project execution laziness into the active real economy.