April 17, 2017

Should bank shareholders really want lower capital requirements for what’s perceived as “safe” than for what’s “risky”?

Sir, Simon Samuels writes, “it may soon be time for shareholders to place their bets on how they like their banks — skinny on capital but with a ton of rules designed to cramp their riskier activities, or fat on capital with the freedom to take more risks… should [bank] shareholders celebrate or fear more lenient regulators?”, “Shareholders’ dilemma on financial regulation” April 17.

That is a faulty or at least incomplete description of the problem.

Current capital requirements are lenient for what is perceived, decreed or concocted as safe, and more severe for what is ex-ante perceived as risky. And that means, in one word, DISTORTION.

As a consequence banks will not be allocating credit efficiently, so the real economy will stall and fall, something that has severe consequences, at least for the bank shareholders’ grandchildren.

Also, though low equity against assets perceived as safe might in the interim produce high risk adjusted returns o equity, sooner or later the bank will, GUARANTEED, end up holding dangerously large exposures to something ex ante perceived as safe but that ex post suddenly turns out to be very risky.

I can understand some bank managers going for maximizing their bonuses in the short run, at whatever cost, they don’t have to give back their bonuses when shit hits the fan; but I cannot understand a bank shareholder who, aware of the regulatory distortions, find this acceptable.

Samuels ends with “shareholders should focus less on the rules the regulators set and more on how managers navigate their business. To quote Warren Buffett: “Banking is a very good business, if you don’t do anything dumb.”

On the contrary, as is, the regulators must focus on the rules the regulators set because these rules, this interference, is the greatest source of dangers for their banks and for everyone’s economy.

Sir, what good does a great run on bank profits do you if at the end of the day you find yourself standing on top of some worthless rubbles?

PS. Sir, do not forget that, amazingly, these risk weighted capital requirements are portfolio invariant.