January 24, 2017

Financial protectionism could be just as bad or even worse than trade protectionism

Sir, I refer to the so plentiful anti-trade-protectionism writings, in FT and everywhere, and which all warn about the dangers of what Big Bad Donald Trump is up to. Many of these, not all, are solidly argued. Yet these contrast so much with the almost absolute silence against the financial protectionism that is imbedded in current bank regulations.

The risk weighted capital requirements for banks allow banks to leverage more with assets perceived, decreed or concocted as safe, than with assets perceived as risky. That means banks will earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity on the “safe” than on the “risky; so banks will favor with credit or investments what’s safe over what’s risky.

Is this not how it always is. Yes but before the introduction of these capital requirements the perceived risk was cleared for by the size of the exposure and the risk premiums charged. Now when capital requirements are also based on the same perceived risks, the effect of these in the allocation of bank credit to the real economy are augmented and so distort.

Here are some risk-weights of Basel II. Sovereign=0%, AAArisktocracy=20%, residential housing=35%, not rated “We the People”, like SMEs=100%, below BB-rated=150%.

Those who do not see how those with lower risk weights have their access to bank credit protected, against that of the risky, are not interested, dumb or trapped, almost irreversibly, by the mother of all confirmation biases.