September 29, 2017

Monsieur Macron, more than a finance minister/ministry, Europe needs bank regulators who know what they’re doing.

Sir, Reza Moghadam lays out a proposal for a European finance minister/ministry that, though it “stops short of Mr Macron’s vision of fiscal union, with Europe-wide taxes and spending… focuses on the essential: a collective action mechanism for managing and stabilising economies in crisis.” “Macron is right — the Eurozone needs a finance minister” September 29.

Moghadam suggests the job description for that post should answer some key questions, and among these: “How can the risk of crises, and so fiscal payouts, be minimised? What would be the role of the minister in a crisis?”

The prime answer to the first question should be:

Getting rid of current risk weighted capital requirements for banks. These only guarantee that banks will hold the least capital, when a crisis, as usual, arises because of something that was ex-ante perceived as very safe turns out ex-post to be very risky.

The prime answer to the second question should be:

Make sure any stimulus, like QEs or low interest rates, flows freely so that the market has a chance to use it as efficiently as possible. This also requires getting rid of current risk weighted capital requirements for banks. These, by allowing banks to earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity on what is perceived safe than on what is perceived risky, seriously distorts the allocation of bank credit to the real economy.

Sir, in other words, much of what Europe could need from a finance minister, could be achieved by just firing the current inept bunch of bank regulators.

Basel II’s standardized risk weights of 150% for the below BB- rated and of 20% for the AAA rated, should be more than enough evidence on how little current regulators understand of banks and of finance.

Monsieur Macron, do you know bank regulators have decreed inégalité?

PS. Perhaps Monsieur Macron could ask his wife what has a better chance of causing those big bank exposures that can result in a major bank crisis, the ultra-safe AAAs, or the ultra-risky below BB-? I am sure Mme Macron would give him a more correct answer than what Mario Draghi would do; and this even though Draghi was the previous chairman of the Financial Stability Board and is now the chairman of the Group of Governors and Heads of Supervision the oversight body of the Basel Committee of Banking Supervision.

Perhaps Monsieur Macron should also ask Mme Macron what she thinks of 0% risk weights of sovereigns. Does she really think government bureaucrats know better than the private sector how to use bank credit efficiently? Reza Moghadam, who was previously at the IMF, has not expressed any sort of concern with that… but then again he is now the vice-chairman for sovereigns and official institutions at Morgan Stanley.