February 09, 2018

Why does the “Without Fear and Without Favour” FT, not ask bank regulators questions I have suggested for a decade?

Sir, Gillian Tett writes: “The financial world faces at least three key issues, with echoes of the past: cheap money has fuelled a rise in leverage; low rates have also fostered financial engineering; and regulators are finding it hard to keep track of the risks, partly because they are so fragmented. “The corporate debt problem refuses to recede” January 9

Sorry, it is much worse than “regulators finding it hard to keep track of the risks”. It is that regulators have no understanding of how they, with their risk weighted capital requirements for banks, have in so many ways distorted the reactions to risks.

And much more than cheap money fueling a rise in leverage, it is the bank regulators who, like with Basel II in 2004, allowed banks to leverage a mind-blowing 62.5 times with assets only because they possessed an AAA to AA rating, started it all. . 

And when it comes to financial engineering, it is the regulators who caused banks to send into early retirement many savvy loan officers, in order to replace these with skilled equity minimizer modelers, who allowed for the highest expected risk adjusted returns on equity (and the biggest bonuses). 

The regulators, by favoring what is “safe” on top of what is perceived as “safe” is usually favored, only guarantee that safe-havens will become dangerously overpopulated, against especially little capital. Great job chaps!

Why has Ms. Tett, or many other in FT, not asked regulators, for instance what I believe I the quite interesting question of: Why do you want banks to hold more capital against what, by being perceived as risky, has been made innocous to the bank system, than against what, precisely because it is perceived as safe, is so much more dangerous?

One explanation that comes to my mind is John Kenneth Galbraith’s “If one is pretending to knowledge one does not have, one cannot ask for explanations to support possible objections”, “Money: Whence it came, where it went” (1975)

Sir, the Basel Committees’ “With the risk-weighted capital requirements we will make banks safer”… is cheap and dangerous populism hidden away in technocratic sophistications. Sadly it would seem the Financial Times has fallen for it, lock, stock and barrel.

Oops! I guess I will never be invited to a "Lunch With FT"