June 30, 2019

FT, Western liberalism might not be obsolete but it sure isn’t what it was a couple of decades ago.

Sir, with respect to Vladimir Putin’s recent claim — “that liberalism is obsolete” you opine his “triumphalism is misplaced. Not all of liberalism is under threat. The superiority of private enterprise and free markets — at least within individual nations — in creating wealth is no longer seriously challenged.” “No, Mr Putin, western liberalism is not obsolete” June 29.

You are only partly right, because nowadays-Western liberalism is not what it was. 

When regulators allow those that are perceived, decreed or concocted as safe, to be able to offer their risk-adjusted interest rates to banks leveraged many times more than those perceived as risky, as has been the case since 1988, that has absolutely nothing to do with free markets.

And assigning for the risk weighted bank capital requirements a 0% risk weight to sovereigns, and one of 100% to citizens, has nothing to do with “superiority of private enterprise” either. Those risk weights de facto imply that bureaucrats know better what to do with bank credit they are not personally liable for, than private sector entrepreneurs, and that has much more to do with statist a la Putin regimes.


June 29, 2019

Compared to the Basel Committee’s, Thomas Gresham’ manipulations seem minor.

Sir, Jerry Brotton in reference to John Guy’s biography of Thomas Gresham “Gresham’s Law: The Life and World of Queen Elizabeth I” quotes Guy in that “Gresham’s financial achievements werea harbinger of a world to come: one in which national sovereignty is answerable to the machinations of the market”. “Man with the Midas touch” June 21.

Greshham“halved the national debt in nine months in a remarkable manipulation of Europe’s markets that would dazzle today’s Brexiters”

I am not so sure of that. Slightly more than 400 years later, in 1988, with the Basel Accord, for the purpose of risk weighted capital requirements, banks regulators managed to impose on a clearly not alert enough world, a risk weight of 0% for their sovereign and 100% for the citizens.

The resulting ability of banks to leverage so much more their equity with sovereign debt, reduced the risk adjusted interest rate they charged sovereigns and, of course made them so much more willing to lend to the sovereigns. More than thirty years have gone by, and yet there is almost no questioning of that 0% risk weight, be it by Brexiters, Remainers or financial journalists. 

Sir, I am certain that had Gresham heard about this for him most surely a feat, he might consider his achievements minor in comparison.


To explain the 2008 financial crisis a two pieces puzzle could suffice.

Sir, Tim Harford writes, “Raghuram Rajan, when he was chief economist of the IMF, came closest to predicting the 2008 financial crisis. He later observed that economists had written insightfully on all the key issues but had lacked someone capable of putting all the pieces together”, “How economics can raise its game” June 29.

According to 2004’s Basel II, a corporate rated AAA to AA, could offer banks to leverage their equity 62.5 times (100%/(8%*20%)) with its risk adjusted interest rate, while one rated BB+ to BB-, or not rated at all, could only offer banks to have their risk adjusted interest rate leveraged 12.5 times (100%/(8%*100%))

Sir, I am not arguing whether it is better to be a hard or a soft economist but, any economist looking at that proposition and not seeing it would cause serious misallocation of bank credit, should either go back to school, perhaps to take some classes on conditional probabilities, or go out on Main-street, and learn a bit of what real life is about.

62.5 times leverage? What banker could dare resists that temptation and stay out of competition thinking, what if that AAA to AA rating is true?

PS. That leverage applied for European banks and US investment banks supervised by SEC.


June 28, 2019

Current bank regulators are closer to a Vladimir Putin type of regime, than to any possible Western world liberal idea.

Sir, I refer to Lionel Barber’s and Henry Foy’s interview with Vladimir Putin. ‘The liberal idea has become obsolete’ June 28.

Putin is quoted with that “the liberal idea” had “outlived its purpose”.

Sir, there are way too many interpretation of what is “the liberal idea” to know for cartain what is meant by it. That “liberal idea” flag is often waved for quite opposite positions, like more or less government intervention, to assure more or less personal freedoms… to guarantee more or less some human rights… and so on. I guess “liberal” is also something in the eye of the beholder. 

But to me my kind of “liberal idea” took a deep dive, in 1988, with the Basel Accord, one year before the fall of the Berlin wall. Because that accord, Basel I, introduced risk weighted bank capital requirements, which decreed a 0% risk weight to the debts of some friendly sovereigns, and 100% to citizens’ debts.

That de facto implied a belief that government bureaucrats know better what to do with credit they are not personally liable for, than for instance our entrepreneurs. That de facto has much more to do with a Vladimir Putin type of regime, than with any possible Western world liberal idea.


June 25, 2019

In the Eurozone’s sovereign debt mine there is a choir of canaries going silent but, seemingly, that shall not be heard.

Sir, Gideon Rachman concludes, “Almost all of the modern threats — from a resurgent Russia to climate change and trade wars — are much easier for Britain to deal with, by using the collective strength of the EU.” “Brexit is an idea left over from a bygone era” June 25, 2019.

That is correct, but only if we exclude mentioning the problems within Europe. I refer specially to the sovereign debt bombs that are ticking within the Eurozone, the agents of “the EU’s most federalising project — the euro.”

Yes, that Germany “is stubbornly resisting demands from Brussels and Paris for deeper economic union” does surely not help but the real problem is that the biggest problem with the Euro, is not really acknowledged. 

When Greece turned into a dead coalmine canary, how much discussion were there about the fact that EU authorities had assigned Greece, as to all other Eurozone sovereigns, for purposes of bank capital requirements, a 0% risk weight? And that 0% risk weight was decreed even though all Eurozone sovereigns contract debt denominated in a currency that de facto is not their own domestic printable one.

Basically no discussion at all even though that 0% risk weight guarantees European banks are going to lend way too to the Eurozone’s sovereigns. Greece was small and ended being forced by ECB to walk the plank. But if Italy’s debt bomb explodes would it accept doing so? I doubt it.

Sir, to be a Remainer without requesting from EU a clear plan on how to defuse that still ticking debt bomb that could take the Euro down and perhaps the EU with it, seems not to be a very respectful position either.


June 23, 2019

To have Green bonds really take off, the market signals must better assure the Green projects’ profitability.

Sir, Siddarth Shrikanth writes:“Estimates suggest that a mere 5 to 10 per cent of green-bond proceeds have gone towards funding biodiversity conservation projects, as the vast majority flows in to energy, buildings and transport”. “Green bond issuance leaves the planet’s wildlife behind” June 22.

The explanation to that is that it is obviously easier to construct a credible scenario for the investors’ to recover their investments, something that, no matter how good Green bonds investors’ intentions are, most of them want to do.

So, if we really want “Green bonds” to take off, these must be supported with strong market signals that helps the Green projects to be profitable, bettering the chances of the bonds being repaid.

In that sense, except from perhaps except it from all taxes, I have no clue as to what could be done with “blue bond” aimed at supporting sustainable fisheries. What I do know though is that, very high carbon taxes, with all its revenues being distributed equally back to the citizens, would signify a huge boost for the biggest majority of Green bonds.

What stands in our way in that respect, are the Green-fight and the redistribution profiteers refusal to give up one cent of their desired franchise value.

Sir, I say it again and again, if we are not able to keep the climate change fight profiteers away, we won’t be able to afford the fight against climate change. Hell, we will not even afford to mitigate some of its consequences.


June 21, 2019

How do you square negative rates with a 0% risk weight?

Paul Horne writes, “It must be a fairly dire outlook to persuade investors to pay eurozone governments to hold their capital even as there must be doubt about Bunds and French OATs being the “safest” of investments at today’s prices.” “Investors need to be aware of the other bond bubble” June 21.

Indeed, but given the risk of redenomination risk exists when the still ticking 0% Risk-Weight Sovereign Privilege assigned to Eurozone’s Sovereign bomb explodes, I guess investors might prefer being paid with Deutsche Marks than with Liras or Drachmas.


A real review of UK’s financial system requires breaching the etiquette rules of a mutual admiration club

Sir, I refer to Huw van Steenis’ “An opportunity for the Bank of England to rethink its priorities” June 21.

Is he really recommending among other for banks to “use machine learning”, so that they can better cope with even more voluminous regulations…like that on climate change that has become so fashionable nowadays?

Well no Sir. “A review of the UK’s financial system to strengthen the BoE’s agenda, toolkit and capabilities” should, foremost, include a review of the credit risk weighted bank capital requirements. 

That could start by asking Mark Carney, why do you believe that what is perceived as risky is more dangerous to our bank system than what is perceived as safe.

You could follow it up with: Does the use of this not guarantee especially large bank crisis, caused by especially large exposures to what was perceived (or decreed, like the Eurozone sovereign's 0% risk weight) as especially safe, and ended up being especially risky, against especially little capital?

You could follow it up with: Favoring so much bank lending to the safer present over that of the riskier future not risk weaken our real economy? 

But of course, asking those questions and similar that shall not be asked is not comme il fautin the central-bankers’ and regulators’ mutual admiration club.

Sir, one single capital requirement 10-15% on all bank assets would serve us much better than the BoE’s entire current rulebook, distorting less the allocation of credit and bringing back into banking all that “risky” activity that has been expelled by regulators to be handled by other intermediaries. 

But how would then ten thousands of regulators justify their salaries? 


June 20, 2019

If a firefighter had seen an explosive artifact, and not done anything in four years to defuse it, would he still be a paid firefighter?

Sir, as you might understand from my many letters to you I agree with most of what Ian Hirst opines on Martin Wolf’s article (“Weidmann casts a shadow over the ECB”, June 13) “ECB must end conjuring tricks and begin a structural overhaul” June 19.

Sadly though, no matter how “rock solid the political support for the euro is, it might already be too late, even for Jens Weidmann, to do all that needs to be done to correct the mistakes Hirst hints at.

Hirst writes: “As Mr Wolf points out, the German public, in particular, need to be told some home truths. The euro has greatly benefited their economy (while greatly damaging competitors in southern Europe). It does not work without some transfer and debt support elements, mainly funded by Germany and the Netherlands.”

100 percent correct but I ask, are they able to manage the whole truth? Included that of German banks being able to hold loans to for instance Greece and Italy against zero capital while being required to hold eight percent in capital or so when lending to an unrated German entrepreneur?

Sir, in March 2015 Mario Draghi wrote the foreword to an ESRB report on the regulatory treatment of sovereign exposures. In it he said “The report argues that, from a macro-prudential point of view, the current regulatory framework may have led to excessive investment by financial institutions in government debt. [It} recognizes the difficulty in reforming the existing framework without generating potential instability in sovereign debt markets, as well as the intrinsic difficulty of redesigning regulations so as to produce the right incentives for financial institutions… I trust that the report will help to foster a discussion which, in my view, is long overdue.”

PS. “Long overdue”? We are now in June 2019 and I ask, has the Financial Times seen Mario Draghi or the ECB doing anything about the still ticking 0% Risk-Weight Eurozone Sovereign Debt Privilege bomb

PS. "the current regulatory framework may have led to excessive investment by financial institutions in government debt" March 2015. Why did it take so long and why did they need research to only suspect that?

June 12, 2019

The still ticking 0% Risk Weight Sovereign Debt Privilege bomb awaits Mario Draghi’s successor at ECB

Sir, Martin Wolf, sort of implying Mario Draghi followed his recommendations, which of course could be true, holds that “Draghi did the right things, above all with his celebrated remark in July 2012 that ‘within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro’”. “Jens Weidmann casts a shadow over the ECB” June 11.

Did Draghi resolve that crisis for the better, or did he just postpone it for the worse?

That’s is not at all clear. In March 2015 the European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) published a “Report on the regulatory treatment of sovereign exposures.” Let me quote from its foreword:

“The report argues that, from a macro-prudential point of view, the current regulatory framework may have led to excessive investment by financial institutions in government debt. 

The report recognizes the difficulty in reforming the existing framework without generating potential instability in sovereign debt markets. 

I trust that the report will help to foster a discussion that, in my view, is long overdue.” Signed Mario Draghi, ESRB Chair

The regulatory aspect that report most refers to is, for purposes of risk weighted capital requirements for banks (and insurance companies), the assignment of a 0% risk weight to all Eurozone sovereigns. 

Though the report states that: “Sovereign defaults… have occurred regularly throughout history, including for sovereign debt denominated and funded in domestic currency”, it does not put forward that all these eurozone sovereign debts are denominated in a currency that de facto is not a domestic printable one of any of these sovereigns.

Since Mario Draghi seems to have done little or nothing since then to diffuse this 0% Sovereign Debt Privilege bomb, which if it detonates could bring the euro down, and with it perhaps EU, this is the most important issue at hand. 

So when choosing a candidate to succeed Draghi as president of ECB the question that has to be made is whether that person is capable enough to handle that monstrous challenge. Who is? Jens Weidmann? I have no idea.

Sir, it would be interesting to hear what Martin Wolf would have to say to the new president of ECB about this. What would a “Do what it takes” imply in that case? 

PS. And when Greece was able to contract excessive debt precisely because its 0% risk weight should not the European Union have behaved with much more solidarity, instead of having Greece walk the plank alone?

PS. If I were one of those over 750 members of the European Parliament here are the questions I would make and, if these were not answered in simple understandable terms, I would resign, not wanting to be a part of a Banana Union.

PS. "The current regulatory framework may have led to excessive investment by financial institutions in government debt." Really?

PS. Is there a way to defuse that bomb? Perhaps but any which way you try presents risks. One way could be to allow all banks to continue to hold all eurozone sovereign debt they current posses, against a 0% risk weight, until these mature or are sold by the banks; and, in steps of 20% each year, bring the risk weight for any new sovereign debt they acquire up until it reaches 100%... or more daringly but perhaps more needed yet set the risk weight for any new sovereign debt acquired immediately to 100%, so as to allow the market to send its real messages. 

The same procedure could/should be applied all other bank assets that currently have a risk weight below 100%, like for instance residential mortgages.

Would it work? I don’t really know, a lot depends on how the market prices the regulatory changes for debt and bank capital . But getting rid of risk weighted bank capital requirements is something that must happen, urgently, for the financial markets to regain some sense of sanity.

PS. I just discovered that Sharon Bowles, MEP, 
Chair Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee
 of the European Parliament, in a speech titled "Regulatory and Supervisory Reform of EU Financial Institutions – What Next?
 at the Financial Stability and Integration Conference,
 2 May 2011, said the following:

“I have frequently raised the effect of zero risk weighting for sovereign bonds within the Eurozone, and its contribution to removing market discipline by giving lower spreads than there should have been. It also created perverse incentives during the crisis.”

That is very clear warning that something is extremely wrong... and yet nothing was done about it.

June 09, 2019

America, warning, industrial policy fertilizes crony statism

Sir, Rana Foroohar argues that America has chosen “to support a debt-driven, two-speed economy rather than one that prioritises income and industry” “Plans for a worker-led economy straddle America’s political divides” June 9.

“Debt-driven” indeed, but that has mostly been by prioritizing the safety of banks and the financing of the government.

In 1988 the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave signed up to a statist and risk adverse bank regulation system. The Basel Accord favors “the safer present”, for instance lending to the sovereign and financing the purchase of houses, over that of “the riskier future’, like lending to entrepreneurs. 

In 1988 when a 0% risk weight was assigned to it, the US debt was $2.6Tn. Now it is $22Tn, and still has a 0% risk weight. And just look at how houses have morphed from being homes into being investment assets.

There’s no doubt the report issued by Marco Rubio, as the chair of the Senate small business committee, is correct in that “the US capital markets had become too self-serving and were no longer helping non-financial business... and that public policy could play a role in directing capital to more productive places — away from Wall Street, and towards Main Street.”

But that does not mean the US, in order to “successfully compete with state-run capitalism” like China, has now to turn to industrial policy and thereby risk being captured by even more crony statism.

Regulators assigned a 20% risk weight to what, because it has an AAA rating could really create dangerous levels of bank exposures, and one or 150% to what is below BB- rated, and which banks do usually not want to touch with a ten feet pole. So why should we believe that governments who appoint such regulators, have better ideas than the market on how to funnel capital to the most productive places, connecting the dots between job creators and education.

Therefore the public policy most urgently needed is that of freeing America (and the rest of the world) from that public policy distortion of the allocation of bank credit, that which builds up dangers to the bank system, and weakens the real economy.

PS. Germany has benefitted immensely from so many eurozone nations helping to keep the euro much more competitive for it than what a Deutsche Mark would be. Therefore it is not really correct to bring up the “success” of Germany as an argument in favor of more state intervention.


June 03, 2019

There are issues much more important for the future of the euro and the EU than who becomes Draghi’s successor at ECB

Sir, Wolfgang Münchau holds that “Draghi’s successor needs intellectual curiosity and a willingness to admit errors” “How not to select the next ECB president” June 3.

Of course, that should be a sine qua non quality of all candidates. The real problem though is that anyone chosen to become the new president of ECB could get trapped in a web of groupthink, and solidarity requirements, which impede the admittance of the mistakes.

Therefore, before choosing the next president some questions vital to the future of the euro and EU need to be made, not only to denounce mistakes, but to listen what the candidates have to say about it.

For instance if I was a newly elected first time European Union parliamentarian, at the first opportunity given I would ask: 

Fellow parliamentarians: I have heard rumors that even though all the Eurozone sovereigns take on debt denominated in a currency that de facto is not their own domestic printable one; their debts, for the purpose of the risk weighted bank capital requirements, have been assigned a 0% risk weight by European authorities. Is this true or not?

If true does that 0% risk weight, when compared to a 100% risk weight of us European citizens not translate into a subsidy of the Eurozone sovereigns’ bank borrowings or in fact of all Europe's sovereigns?

If so does that not distort the allocation of bank credit in the sense that sovereigns, like Greece, might get too much credit and the citizens, like European entrepreneurs, get too little? And if so would that not signify some regulators, behind our backs, have imposed an unabridged statism on our European Union?

If so, does that not mean that some Eurozone sovereign could run up so much debt they would be seriously tempted to abandon the euro and thereby perhaps endanger our European Union?

Colleagues, I do not know who should answer us these questions, but the candidates to succeed Mario Draghi as president of ECB, should they not at least give us their opinions on it?


John Kenneth Galbraith could very well have been asking for the impeachment of current bank regulators.

Sir, Rana Foroohar writes “Americans still fundamentally accept the idea that the private sector always allocates resources more efficiently than the public sector. It is a truism that dies hard” and she uses John Kenneth Galbraith… “concept of countervailing power”, put forth in his 1952 book American Capitalism… a critique of the “market knows best”, as back up. “Old economists can teach us new tricks”, June 3.

Indeed but for a different perspective she should also read John Kenneth Galbraith’s ““Money: Whence it came where it went” 1975. 

I quote: “For the new parts of the country [USA’s West]… there was the right to create banks at will and therewith the notes and deposits that resulted from their loans…[if] the bank failed…someone was left holding the worthless notes… but some borrowers from this bank were now in business...[jobs created]… 

The function of credit in a simple society is, in fact, remarkably egalitarian. It allows the man with energy and no money to participate in the economy more or less on a par with the man who has capital of his own. And the more casual the conditions under which credit is granted and hence the more impecunious those accommodated, the more egalitarian credit is… Bad banks, unlike good, loaned to the poor risk, which is another name for the poor man.”

So, what would Galbraith had said about current regulator’s risk weighted bank capital requirements? Those that favor credit going even more to those who perceived as safe are already favored, and less to those perceived as risky who already have to pay higher interest rates and get less credit? That which guarantees especially large bank crises, from especially big exposures to what’s perceived as especially safe, against especially little capital?

Sir, I believe Galbraith could very well have joined me in a “Let’s impeach those regulators”.

And for the why these regulations are not sufficiently questioned, let me also quote Galbraith: “If one is pretending to knowledge one does not have, one cannot ask for explanations to support possible objections”

PS. More than forty years ago, in Venezuela, John Kenneth Galbraith autographed my heavily underlined pocketbook version of “Money”


June 02, 2019

Excessively low interest rates, and excessively low capital requirement for banks, put house prices on steroids.

Sir, Edward Ballsdon warns about how “excessively low interest rates fuelled real estate booms built on debt.” “Once-virtuous circle has turned vicious” May 31.

That is true, but in much those excessively low interest rates are the direct result of excessively low capital requirement for banks against residential mortgages.

Had banks needed to hold as much capital as they are required to when lending to entrepreneurs, houses would not have morphed so clearly from being homes into being investment assets.


June 01, 2019

Should not the private marketing of $31tn sustainability investments at least get the same scrutiny as the Green New Deal?

Sir, Richard Henderson writes about a “$31tn push to … address the world’s ills — from climate change and child labor to the dearth of female executives.” “Europe leads $31tn charge into sustainable investing” June 1.

What? An amount about 40% of the world’s GDP, about 80% of Europe’s and the US’s GDP, to be invested, mostly by some few, into projects that might not have any chance to recover the investment, or that could produce a much lower than expected contribution to the solving of the problems than offered. It sounds just like an Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’ Green New Deal.

The Financial Stability Board has a Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) because: “The Disclosure of climate-related financial information is a prerequisite for financial firms not only to manage and price climate risks appropriately but also, if they wish, to take lending, investment or insurance underwriting decisions based on their view of transition scenarios.”

As I see it FSB needs, even more than the TCFD, a task force to consider the risks of all these help-to-the world investments; at least to make sure that the final result is not that of mostly having enriched the intermediaries.

Sir, I do not take the threat to climate change lightly but, if we are going to be able to do something important about it, we must keep an eye on the spending. Otherwise the consequences could be even worse… like if not being able to prevent global warming then not either being able to afford mitigating some of its consequences.

And before $ trillions are poured into good intention but adventurous projects, lets make sure the market signal are working at full intensity, for instance by means of a very high revenue neutral carbon tax, that is shared out equally to all citizens.

Why does the private marketing of $31tn in sustainability investments not get the same scrutiny as the Green New Deal?