June 25, 2018

Citigroup’s Chuck Prince said: “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance”, but bank regulators insist on playing the same 30 years old song.

Sir, Andrew Hill worries about how many of today’s banker class remember it, let alone worry, about the complacency expressed in Chuck Prince’s “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. “James Gorman, chief executive of Morgan Stanley “Amnesia dooms bankers to repeat their mistakes” June 24.

Hill hopes Gorman “is experienced enough to have detected the echoes of 2007 in the current soundtrack of rising share prices and lowering regulatory burdens… and that he teaches “more of his younger, fresher-faced staff to recognize the tune and know when to bow politely and leave the dance floor.

As for me I would much rather prefer the regulators stopped playing that very same old song of the “risk weighted capital requirements for banks”, composed in 1988 by the Basel Accord, and otherwise known as “You earn higher returns on the safe than on the risky”. That song drove bankers into an intense maniac polka, in pursuit of the very high expected risk adjusted returns offered on what was perceived (houses), decreed (Greece 0% risk), or concocted (AAA rated securities) as safe.

PS. Hill refers to John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Great Crash 1929 account of the willful errors and self-interested speculation of the great investment banks. But Galbraith also wrote “Banks opened and closed doors and bankruptcies were frequent, but as a consequence of agile and flexible credit policies, even the banks that failed left a wake of development in their passing.” Money: Whence it came, where it went” (1975)