June 22, 2018

How can banks price risks correctly when regulators interfere and alter the payouts?

Sir, Gillian Tett writes: “If you peer into the weeds of global finance, you will see peculiarities sprouting all over the place… there is [a] pessimistic explanation: years of ultra-loose monetary policy have made investors so complacent that they are mis-pricing risk.” “Markets appear calm but are behaving abnormally” June 22.

Years of ultra-loose monetary policy, QEs or asset purchase program have indeed distorted the markets so there has to be much mis-pricing going on. But that’s not all.

The expected winnings (the dividends or payouts times the odds of winning) is exactly the same for all possible bets in a game of roulette. This is why roulette functions as a game. The credit markets with all the signals read and emitted, by all its many participants, givers and takers, continuously work towards equal payouts. And achieving these is what an efficient credit allocation is all about. 

But what if someone altered the payouts in roulette, like the regulators, with their risk-weighted capital requirements for banks did in the market of bank credit, how long would roulette survive as game?

Sir, just remember the 0% risk weight assigned by European central bankers to Greece. Those allowed banks immense leveraging and see such ROE payout possibilities that it went overboard lending to Greece; just in the same way Greece went overboard borrowing too much. 

And what about mispricing the risk of securities with a 20% risk weight in Basel II, which allowed banks to leverage 62.5 times only because some human fallible rating agencies had assigned these an AAA to AA rating? Frankly, is not the current bunch of bank regulators the mother of all mispricers ever?

So, to blame the investors, markets, banks for mispricing risks while blithely ignoring the regulatory (and other) distortions that exists is irresponsible; and could only be understood in terms of wanting to favour bank regulators… something which you hold in your motto you do not. 

Sir, let’s get rid of as many distortions as possible, so as to let investors, markets, and our banks stand a decent chance to do a good job allocating credit. The future of our grandchildren depends on it.

For a starter, and though the road there is full of difficulties, we must get back to one single capital requirement (8-15%) for banks, so that these can leverage the same against absolutely all assets.