April 28, 2022

Why does the world ignore regulations that totally disrupt the allocation of bank credit?

Sir, I refer to Martin Wolf’s “Shocks from war in Ukraine are many-sided. - The conflict is a multiplier of disruption in an already disrupted world” FT April 27.

The concentration of human fallible regulatory power in the Basel Committee has, since 1988, resulted in bank capital requirements mostly based on that what’s perceived as risky e.g., loans to small businesses and entrepreneurs, is more dangerous to our bank systems than what’s perceived or decreed as safe e.g., government debt and residential mortgages; and not on misperceived risks or unexpected events, like a pandemic or a war. 

What can go wrong? I tell you Sir.

When times are good and perceived risks low, these pro-cyclical capital requirements allow banks to hold little capital, pay big dividends & bonuses, do stock buybacks; and so, when times get rough, banks stand there naked, just when we need them the most.

And of course, meanwhile, these capital requirements, by much favoring the refinancing of the safer present over the financing of the riskier future, have much disrupted the allocation of credit

Why has the world for decades ignored this amazing regulatory mistake?

Sir, perhaps you could ask Martin Wolf to explain that to us.

PS. Two tweets today on bank regulators’ credit risk weighted bank capital requirements.

What kind of banks do we want?
Banks who allocate credit based on risk adjusted interest rates?
Or banks who allocate credit based on risk adjusted returns on the equity that besserwisser regulators have decreed should be held against that specific asset?

Bank events' matrix
What’s perceived risky turns out safe
What’s perceived risky turns out risky
What’s perceived safe turns out safe
What’s perceived safe turns out risky
Which quadrangle is really dangerous?
Covered by current capital requirements?
NO!

March 11, 2022

Chile can also set a great example for the developed world.

Sir, in “Chile can set an example for the developing world” FT, March 10, 2022, you refer to “the risk of European levels of debt”

With bank capital requirements mostly based on perceived credit risks, not on misperceived risks or unexpected events, like a pandemic or a war in Ukraine, you can bet that, at any moment, many banks will stand there naked, precisely when they’re most needed. 

When that happens Chile could set a great example for the developed world… and FT could provide much help with a Big Read that describes better than I can, how Chile so intelligently managed their huge 1981-1983 bank crisis.

The main elements of Chile’s plan were, in general terms:

a. The purchase of risky/defaulted loans by the Central Bank by means of long-term promissory notes accruing real interest rates and with a repurchase obligation out of the profits of the banks' shareholders before those promissory notes came due, plus some limitations on the use of their operative income… e.g., limits on bonuses. 

b. A forced recapitalization of the banks, in those pre-Basel days one capital requirement against all assets, and in which any shares not purchased by current shareholders, would be acquired by the Central Bank, and resold over a determined number of years. 

c. And finally also an extremely generous long-term plan for small investors to purchase equity of banks. 

Just think about where e.g., Deutsche Bank could be, if the Bundesbank and Germany’s Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin), had applied a similar mechanism during the 2008 crisis?


@PerKurowski

March 05, 2022

FT, on banking and finance who are you to believe, Francis Fukuyama or Paul Volcker?

Sir, Francis Fukuyama in “The war on liberalism” FT March 5, writes:

Liberals understand the importance of free markets — but under the influence of economists such as Milton Friedman and the “Chicago School”, the market was worshipped and the state increasingly demonised as the enemy of economic growth and individual freedom. Advanced democracies under the spell of neoliberal ideas trimmed back welfare states and regulation, and advised developing countries to do the same under the “Washington Consensus”. Cuts to social spending and state sectors removed the buffers that protected individuals from market vagaries, leading to big increases in inequality over the past two generations.

While some of this retrenchment was justified, it was carried to extremes and led, for example, to deregulation of US financial markets in the 1980s and 1990s that destabilised them and brought on financial crises such as the subprime meltdown in 2008.”

Paul A. Volcker in his autobiography “Keeping at it” of 2018, penned together with Christine Harper, with respect to the risk weighted bank capital requirements he helped to promote and which were approved in 1988 under the name of Basel I wrote:

The assets assigned the lowest risk, for which capital requirements were therefore low or nonexistent, were those that had the most political support: sovereign credits and home mortgages. Ironically, losses on those two types of assets would fuel the global crisis in 2008 and a subsequent European crisis in 2011. The American “overall leverage” approach had a disadvantage as well in the eyes of shareholders and executives focused on return on capital; it seemed to discourage holdings of the safest assets, in particular low-return US government securities."

Sir, in reference to advising developing countries with the “Washington Consensus”, in November 2004 you kindly published a letter in which I wrote:

Our bank supervisors in Basel are unwittingly controlling the capital flows in the world. How many Basel propositions will it take before they start realizing the damage they are doing by favoring so much bank lending to the public sector? In some developing countries, access to credit for the private sector is all but gone, and the banks are up to the hilt in public credits.”

So, there are two completely different bank systems:

Before 1988, one in which banks needed to hold the same capital against all assets, credit was allocated based on risk adjusted interest rates and the market considering the bank’s portfolio, accurately or not, values its capital.

After 1988, one risk weighted capital requirement banks where credit is allocated based on risk adjusted returns on equity, something which clearly depends on how much regulators have allowed their capital to be leveraged with each asset... clearly favoring government credit, which de facto implies bureaucrats know better what to do with (taxpayers') credit than e.g., small businesses and entrepreneurs. Communism!

Sir, I am of course just small fry, not even a PhD, but, if you have to choose between describing what has happened in the financial markets since 1988 as a “deregulation”, as Fukuyama opines, or an absolute statist and politically influenced misregulation, as Volcker valiantly confesses, who do you believe?

Sir, is this topic taboo… or just a too hot potato for the “Without fear and without favour” Financial Times?

PS. In Steven Solomon’s “The Confidence Game” 1995 we read: “On September 2, 1986, the fine cutlery was laid once again at the Bank of England governor’s official residence at New Change… The occasion was an impromptu visit from Paul Volcker… When the Fed chairman sat down with Governor Robin Leigh-Pemberton and three senior BoE officials, the topic he raised was bank capital…

@PerKurowski

February 25, 2022

What if the State of Maryland USA, where I live, was treated by the Fed as Italy is by its EU bank regulators?

Sir, Tony Barber writes: “Paradoxically, as Italy’s debt has ballooned in size, it has become more manageable. Particularly over the past two years, the crucial factor has been European Central Bank support” “Reforms and ECB help are key to Italy debt sustainability” February 25.

Although already Maryland, as all other US states is already treated quite (too) generously by bank regulators, since it cannot print dollars on its own, the capital banks need to hold when lending to it, do at least depends on its credit ratings. 

Not so in the Eurozone. Though none of its sovereigns, like Italy, can print euros on their own, and independent of their credit ratings, the banks in EU can lend to all Eurozone sovereigns, against zero capital. Something much agreed by and pushed by Mario Draghi.

It’s been hard for me to understand, especially after Brexit, why FT has kept so much silence on this Eurozone’s sovereign debt ticking bomb.

@PerKurowski

February 23, 2022

For inflation, where the money supply goes, matters a lot too

Sir, I refer to Martin Wolf’s “The monetarist dog is having its day”, FT February 23.

Yes, the money supply impacts inflation, no doubts but, when it comes to how much, that also depends on where that money supply goes.

If central banks inject liquidity through a system where, because of risk weighted capital requirements, banks can leverage more, meaning easier obtain higher risk adjusted returns on equity with Treasuries and residential mortgages, than with loans to small businesses and entrepreneurs, does that not favor demand over supply?

It does, and you should not have to be a Milton Friedman to understand that sooner or later that can only help inflate any inflation.

Wolf holds that “Central banks must be humble and prudent” Yes, and that goes for bank regulators too.

“Humble” in accepting there are huge limits to their knowing what the real risks in an uncertain world are; and “prudent” as in knowing bank capital requirements are mainly needed as a buffer against the certainty of misperceived credit risks and unexpected events, and not like now, mostly based on the certainty of perceived credit risks.

@PerKurowski

February 18, 2022

Compared to more than three decades ago, what is the current leverage ratio of our banks?

Sir, Martin Wolf, in FT on July 12, 2012, in “Seven ways to clean up our banking ‘cesspit’” opined: “Banks need far more equity: In setting these equity requirements, it is essential to recognize that so-called “risk-weighted” assets can and will be gamed by both banks and regulators. As Per Kurowski, a former executive director of the World Bank, reminds me regularly, crises occur when what was thought to be low risk turns out to be very high risk. For this reason, unweighted leverage matters. It needs to be far lower.”Soon a decade since, are bank capital requirements much higher and really sufficient?

No! Though bank capital requirements are mostly needed as a buffer against the certainty of misperceived credit risks & unexpected events, in this uncertain world, these are by far, still mostly based on the certainty of the perceived credit risks.

Consequently, when times are rosy, regulators allow banks: to lend dangerously much to what’s perceived as very safe; to hold much less capital; to do more stock buybacks and to pay more dividends & bonuses. Therefore, banks will stand there naked, when most needed. 

The leverage ratio is also important because it includes as assets, loans to governments at face value, and thereby makes it harder for excessive public bank borrowers to hide behind Basel I’s risk weights of 0% government, 100% citizens. No matter how safe the government might be, those weights de facto imply bureaucrats know better what to do with credit they’re not personally responsible for than e.g., small businesses and entrepreneurs.

November 19, 2004, in a letter you published I wrote: “Our bank supervisors in Basel are unwittingly controlling the capital flows in the world. How many Basel propositions will it take before they start realizing the damage they are doing by favoring so much bank lending to the public sector?” That this factor, in the face of huge government indebtedness, is not even discussed, as I see it can only be explained by too much inbred statism.

Before the Basel Committee Accord became operative in 1988, Basel I, banks were generally required to hold about 10 percent of capital against all assets, meaning a leverage ratio of 10.

Where do banks find themselves now? I know well it’s hard, and extremely time consuming, to make tails and heads out of current bank statements, but I’m absolutely sure most financial media, if they only dared and wanted, have the capacity to extract that information.

Should not such basic/vital data be readily available and perhaps even appear on front pages? It’s not! Why? Has media been silenced by capital minimizing/leverage maximizing dangerously creative financial engineers?

Sir, I’m not picking especially on financial journalists, the silence of the Academia, especially the tenured one, is so much worse.

@PerKurowski

How can you hold governments accountable, while their borrowings are being non-transparently subsidized?

Sir, Aveek Bhattacharya discusses various options to improve the productivity and effectiveness of public spending. “A future case for the ‘retro’ policy of public sector reform” FT February 18, 2022.

He fails to mention: Current bank capital requirements are much lower for loans to the government than for other assets. This translates into banks being able leverage much more their capital – and so making it easier for them to earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity when lending to the government than when lending to the citizens. That, which de facto implies bureaucrats know better what to do with credit they’re not personally responsible for than e.g., small businesses, turns into a subsidy of the interest rates government has to pay on its debts. Top it up with that the quantitative easing carried out by central banks is almost all through purchases of sovereign debt, and then dare think of what sovereign rates would be in the absence of such distortions.


Sir, in a letter you published in 2004, soon two decades ago I asked “How many Basel propositions will it take before regulators start realizing the damage, they are doing by favoring so much bank lending to the public sector?” Do you think this only applied to developing nations? If so, please open your eyes.

@PerKurowski

February 07, 2022

If we want public debt to protect citizens today and tomorrow, it behooves us to make sure it cannot be too easily contracted.

Sir, I refer to John Plender’s “The virtues of public debt to protect citizens” FT February 7, 2022.

Sir, as a grandfather I do fear debt burdens we might impose on future generations, but I’m absolutely not an austerity moralist. I know public debt is of great use if used right but also that the capacity to borrow it a reasonable interest rates (or the seigniorage when printing money), is a very valuable strategic sovereign asset, especially when dangers like war or a pandemic appear, and which should therefore not be irresponsibly squandered away.

In 2004, when I just finished my two-year term as an Executive Director of the World Bank, you published a letter in which I wrote “Our bank supervisors in Basel are unwittingly controlling the capital flows in the world. How many Basel propositions will it take before they start realizing the damage, they are doing by favoring so much bank lending to the public sector?”

1988 Basel I’s risk weighted bank capital requirements decreed weights of 0% the government and 100% citizens. It translates into banks being allowed to hold much less capital - being able to leverage much more, with loans to the government than with other assets.

Of course, governments, when their debts are denominated in the currency they issue, are, at least in the short-term and medium term, and in real terms before inflation might kick in, less risky credits. But de facto that also implies bureaucrats/ politicians/apparatchiks know better how to use taxpayer’s credit for which repayment they are not personally responsible for than e.g., small businesses and entrepreneurs. And Sir, that I do not believe, and I hope neither you nor John Plender do that.

Such pro-government biased bank regulations, especially when going hand in hand with generous central bank QE liquidity injections, subsidizes the “risk-free” rate, hiding the real costs of public debt. In crude-truth terms, the difference between the interest rates sovereigns would have to pay on their debts in absence of all above mentioned favors, and the current ultra-low or even negative interests they pay is, de facto, a well camouflaged tax, retained before the holders of those debts could earn it.

But of course, they are beneficiaries of all this distortion, and therefore many are enthusiastically hanging on to MMT’s type Love Potion Number Nine promises.

@PerKurowski

November 02, 2021

The Basel Committee blocks development

I refer to Aleksandr V Gevorkyan’s “Small economies require new development model” November 5.

What would FT opine on a development model that include bank regulations based on:

1.- Bureaucrats know better what to do with credit than entrepreneurs; 
2.- It is better to refinance the safer present than financing the riskier future, and 
3.- Residential mortgages are more important than small business loans?

I ask because that’s precisely what the credit risk weighted bank capital requirements ordain, those globally marketed by the Basel Committee and capital minimizing/leverage maximizing financial engineers.

Do you really think the developed world would have been able to develop as much with those regulations? Is not risk-taking the oxygen of all development?

On another topic Gevorkyan mentions “involving the entrepreneurial and investment potential of the large expatriate community (diaspora) that is now a feature of most small economies.” Absolutely but, let us not ignore the sad fact that in many countries it is the family remittances that help to keep in power the governments that caused the diaspora to have to emigrate.

PS. At the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Developing at the United Nations, New York, October 2007, I presented a document titled “Are the Basel bank regulations good for development?” Fourteen years later, that question is still not discussed

October 18, 2021

Martin Wolf, again, any good economic plan needs, sine qua non, to get rid of bank credit distorting regulations.

Sir, I refer to Martin Wolf’s “Without an economic plan, patriotism is Johnson’s last refuge” FT, October 18, 2021

In Martin Wolf’s Economist Forum of October 2009, FT published an opinion I titled “Please free us from imprudent risk-aversion and give us some prudent risk-taking” (The link is gone, I wonder why)

In that article, commenting partly on the 2008 crisis, I held that getting rid of the risk weighted bank capital requirements, that which distorts the allocation of credit to the real economy, was an absolute must. 

Now, 11 years later, I must still insist in that, without doing so, there’s no economic plan that can deliver sustainable results.

October 01, 2021

The history I’ll tell my grandchildren has little to do with Philip Stephens’ history.

Sir, Philip Stephens writes: “Twenty-five years ago… the world belonged to liberalism. Soviet communism had collapsed. Historians will record the 2008 global financial crash as… the moment western democracies suffered a potentially lethal blow. The failure of laissez-faire economics was visible before the collapse of Lehman Brothers.” “The west is the author of its own weakness” Financial Times, October 1, 2021.

The history I will be telling my grandchildren is quite different.

Thirty-three years ago, the world belonged to liberalism and Soviet communism was collapsing. Historians will record how in 1988, one year before the Berlin Wall fell, the western world’s bank regulators introduced risk weighted bank capital requirements that distorted the allocation of credit. That put an end to any laissez-faire economics. With risk weights of 0% the government and 100% citizens, as if bureaucrats know better what to do with credit than e.g., entrepreneurs, communism took over. 

The 2008 global financial crash resulted from banks being allowed to leverage their capital/equity/skin-in-the game a mind-boggling 62.5 times, with assets that human fallible credit rating agencies had assigned a AAA to AA rating.

Yes, the west is the author of its own weakness… it much renounced to the willingness to take risks that had made it great. 

Sadly though, there are way too many interested in not disclosing what really happened… and therefore our banks are still in hand of insane risk aversion. “Insane”? Yes, because those excessive exposures that could become dangerous to our bank systems, are always built-up with assets perceived as safe, never ever with assets perceived as risky.

July 01, 2021

Do we know of a display of hubris greater than “risk weighted bank capital requirements”?

Sir, Gillian Tett in “Economists can’t predict the future — policy should reflect that” July 1 wrote: “Robert Rubin, Peter Orszag and Joseph Stiglitz called on economists to embrace ‘copious amounts of humility’ when projecting the future.”

One of the magnificent displays of hubris, the antonym of humility, came into being when bank regulators imposed, risk weighted bank capital requirements, as if they, from their desks, have any real bankable notion, of what the future really entails.

And on that, this trio, as the rest of the Academia, as Gillian Tett, as FT too, have all kept total silence.

June 28, 2021

The main ingredient of any safe pension system is a healthy and sturdy economy.

Sir, I refer to Martin Wolf’s “It is folly to make pensions safe by making them unaffordable” FT, June 28.

Wolf writes: “We also need true risk-sharing within and across generations, which is absent from today’s defined-contribution schemes”

But the current risk weighted bank capital requirements, with lower risk weights for financing the “safer” present, e.g., loans to governments and residential mortgages, than when financing the riskier future, e.g., small businesses and entrepreneurs, is a clear example of how that intergenerational holy bond Edmund Burke wrote about has been violated.

In order to have a jolly good time, boomers placed a reverse mortgage on the economy, and all, young and old, will pay dearly for it.

“Radical uncertainty”? Give me a more stupid radical certainty than credit risk weighted bank capital requirements.

And way back, when observing how many Social Security System Reforms were based on the underlying assumption that they will be growing 5 to 7 percent in real terms, I also warned, time and time again, that it was not possible for the value of investment funds to grow, forever, at a higher rate than the underlying economy, unless they are just inflating it with air, or unless they are taking a chunk of the growth from someone else. In this respect the 'chickens are only coming home to roost'.

PS. Historically, through all economic cycles, there is nothing that has proven so valuable in terms of personal social security as having many well-educated loving children to take care of you, and that you can’t, in real terms, beat that with any social security reform.


@PerKurowski

June 16, 2021

Spurn bank regulators' false promises.

Sir, Martin Wolf makes a good case for “We should not throw liberal trade away for the wrong reasons and in the wrong way”, “Spurn the false promise of protectionism” FT June 16.

Yet, when regulators, decades ago, decided to throw liberal access to bank credit, by imposing credit risk weighted bank capital requirements, something which completely distorted the access to bank credit, Wolf and 99.99 percent of those who should have spoken up, kept mum.

Though I’ve no idea whether they read it, in a 2019 letter I wrote to the Executive Directors and Staff of the International Monetary Fund, I argued that these risk weights are to access to credit, precisely what tariffs are to trade, adding “only more pernicious” 

Wolf writes that “the US economy has suffered from high and rising inequality and a poor labour force performance” and includes among other explanations the “rent-extracting behaviour throughout the economy”

But anyone who reads “Keeping at it” 2018 in which Paul Volcker’s 2018 valiantly confessed: “The assets assigned the lowest risk, for which bank capital requirements were therefore low or nonexistent, were those that had the most political support: sovereign credits and home mortgages”, should be able to understand that rent-extraction also occurs by means of cheaper and more abundant access to credit.

And boy did regulators throw away unencumbered access to credit in “the wrong way”

Here follows four examples: 

To establish their risk weights, they used the perceived credit risks, what’s seen “under the street light” while, of course, they should have used the risks for banks conditioned on how credit risks were perceived. 

By allowing banks, when the outlook was rosy, to hold little capital, meaning paying high dividends, lots of share buy backs, and huge bonuses, they placed business cycles on steroids.

Very little of their capital requirements cover misperceived credit risks or unexpected events. Therefore, just as in 2008 with the collapse of AAA rated mortgage back securities, and now with a pandemic, banks were doomed to stand there with their pants down.

With risk weights of 0% the sovereign and 100% the citizens, which de facto imply bureaucrats know better what to do with credit they’re not personally responsible for than e.g., entrepreneurs, they smuggled communism/statism/fascism into our banking system.

“We will make your bank systems safe with our credit risk weighted bank capital requirements” Sir, what amount of wishful thinking must have existed for the world, its Academia included, to so naively have fallen for the hubristic promises of some technocrats.

@PerKurowski


June 12, 2021

Central banks and regulators cancelled the creative part of destruction.

I refer to Martin Wolf’s comments on Philippe Aghion, Céline Antonin and Simon Bunel’s “The Power of Creative Destruction”, “The innovation game” FT June 11, 2021 

John Kenneth Galbraith in “Money: Whence it came where it went” of 1975 wrote: “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]” That’s creative destruction in action.

The current risk weighted bank capital requirements allow banks to earn much higher risk adjusted returns on equity when financing what’s perceived (or decreed) as safe e.g., loans to the government and residential mortgages, than when lending to the “risky” small businesses and entrepreneurs. That’s creative destruction inaction. 

Would the development Galbraith describes have been possible with these regulations? No! Such risk-averse regulations do not help promote innovations.

Sir, in august 2006, in reference to an FT editorial mentioning the possibilities and impact of a “global housing slowdown”, you published a letter I wrote in which I referred to “The long-term benefits of a hard landing.” When the global financial crisis erupted in 2008, there was too much interest in trying to avoid collecting any of these benefits, and the crisis-can was kicked forward... and then much upward with QEs. 

The result? Way too little creative destruction and way too many surviving zombies… and here we are, on a much higher mountain of public and private debt. That will cause pure destruction.

“Risk weighted bank capital requirements”. Sir, if that’s not sophisticated technocratic demagoguery, what is?

June 10, 2021

Bank regulators never considered the unexpected, like a pandemic

Sir, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau and Erna Solberg opine: “The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that the costs of prevention and early response are small compared with the consequences of under-investment.” “G7 should pay lion’s share of costs to help end the pandemic” FT June 10.

That’s correct but it should not have taken a pandemic to understand that banks need also to have sufficient capital so as to be able to respond to unexpected events. Unfortunately, instead of basing their bank capital requirements on such possibilities, or on that of misperceived credit risks e.g., 2008’s AAA rated mortgage-backed securities, bank regulators, the Basel Committee, doubled down on perceived credit risks, those which were already being cleared for by banks. 

The result? Though so many don’t want the innocent child to be heard, the banks now stand there naked.

Sir, again, if what’s perceived as safe is safe, and what’s perceived as risky is risky, would banks need capital. Not much. 

Bank regulations need a complete overhaul, meaning going back to the humbling reality of risks being hard to measure; instead of digging us down even deeper in the hole with Basel IV, Basel V and so on.

PS. July 12, 2012 Martin Wolf wrote: “Per Kurowski, a former executive director of the World Bank, reminds me regularly, crises occur when what was thought to be low risk turns out to be very high risk.” Martin Wolf clearly heard me, but he did not listen.

@PerKurowski

May 25, 2021

It’s sad when we need to remind regulators to prepare for the unexpected

“The time to prepare for the next threat is now”, that’s how Bill Emmott ends his “How to build global resilience after the pandemic” FT, May 25.

Sir, Mark Twain, supposedly, said: “A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it looks to rain”

Today, if alive, with respect to Basel Committee’s risk weighted bank capital requirements, Mark Twain would have opined: “A bank regulator is a fellow who allows banks to hold little capital when the sun shines, so these can pay lots of bonuses and dividends and buy back lots of stock, but wants banks to hold much more capital, the moment the rain starts”

PS. Emmott writes “But there must be an international accord on debt restructuring, akin to the Brady Plan in the early 1990s.” I lived through that restructuring. It was made feasible by developing countries being able, because US$ interest rates were high, to very inexpensively purchase US$ 30 years zero coupon bonds issued by the US, in order to guarantee the repayment of the principal of their debts. In a world of ultra-low, even negative interest rates, what’s the price of such bonds?

@PerKurowski

May 16, 2021

Should the Louvre, a homage to inequality, have to be culturally cancelled?

Sir, I refer to Ruchir Sharma’s “The billionaire boom” FT Weekend, May 15.

In this case, as so often happens in articles about the wealthy, it is illustrated with yachts.

As likewise always happens, the fact that the wealthy froze their earned in “good or bad industries” money, or their outright ill-gotten money, by handing it over to those building or selling the yachts, and most probably committing to employing a yacht crew, is an issue of no interest. 

Just as with respect to taxes on wealth the question of what assets and to whom are the wealthy to sell these in order to raise the money to pay for the taxes on wealth it, is scrupulously avoided by the tax proponents.

Where the wealthy’s money flows, should be an integral part of the overall analysis. Then we would be more alert to the possibility that taxing it, and handing over the money to bureaucrats, for them to decide on its use, could lead to the most unproductive use of wealth.

Sir, a personal anecdote. Walking around the museum Louvre in Paris I suddenly saw an 1560 by Pierre Reddon for King Charles IX. I then asked myself who in his sane mind would request this type of absolutely useless shield? Clearly it had to be someone extremely wealthy and powerful, someone who did not care one iota about his own security being threatened on a close range, or about its enormous costs.


In that moment it suddenly dawned on me that basically nothing of what I was seeing at the museum would exist, if it had to be produced by a society where income and wealth was equally distributed. In other words, all this art around me, to have become a reality, has actually required a very unequal society. 

In other words, Shhh... just between you and me Sir... since the museum of Louvre is, unwittingly, a homage to inequality, should it be cancelled?

PS. Sharma writes “Sweden has long abandoned central elements of the social democratic agenda, including wealth and inheritance taxes, as impractical.” There might indeed have been certain policy intermezzos, but legend holds that when Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, chief strategist of the 1974’s Carnation Revolution in Lisbon, told Sweden’s social democrat leader Olof Palme: “In Portugal we want to get rid of the rich”, Palme replied, “how curious, in Sweden we only aspire to get rid of the poor”

PS. And, as I have written to you soon 3.000 times, those “subprime banking regulations”, with their risk weighted capital requirements, impede that much of that money the wealthy are sloshing around, is efficiently allocated to the real economy. Now, whose fault is that?

@PerKurowski

May 11, 2021

The “Parable of talents” is currently quite inapplicable to any wealth tax.

Sir, I refer to “Why the toughest capitalists should root for a wealth tax” Martin Sandbu, FT, May 10.

Much of the current wealth is the direct result of huge liquidity injections, and which are distorted by risk weighted bank capital requirements that, among other, so much favors the debts of the government over debts to the citizens… all as if bureaucrats/politicians know better what to do with credit for which repayment they are not personally responsible for, than e.g., small businesses and entrepreneurs.

To favor such wealth tax, besides removing such distortions, I would also like to know what assets, and to whom, the wealthy should sell in order to raise the money to pay such taxes… and what would be the resulting overall productivity of such resource transfer. I believe a full review of the current productivity of all government spending is long overdue.

So, in this respect, taxing wealth with its revenues seemingly not being sufficiently productive, an understatement, sort of reminds me of a Harry Belafonte & Odetta song titled “A Hole in the Bucket

Sandbu also writes that “a net wealth tax…is the tax version of the New Testament’s parable of the talents” I’m not at all sure that’s currently really so.

I extract the following from Matthew 25: 24-27: 24 “Master,’ 25 I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. 26 “His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So, you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned, I would have received it back with interest.”

First, we now have regulators who, with bank capital requirements, tell banks that when they scatter and sow, they should be risk averse, guarding it all in safe gold, e.g., loans to governments and residential mortgages; staying away from what’s risky, e.g., entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Second, to top that up, with QEs central banks are injecting money thereby keeping interest rates ultra-low.

So, are we allowing bankers to exploit their talents? No! 
Will that produce good interest rates for the depositors? No! 
And if inflation takes off, will they receive their real money back? No!

Sir, with respect to risk taking, and even though I am a protestant, let me finally quote Pope John Paul II: Our hearts ring out with the words of Jesus when one day, after speaking to the crowds from Simon's boat, he invited the Apostle to "put out into the deep" for a catch: "Duc in altum" (Lk 5:4). Peter and his first companions trusted Christ's words, and cast the nets. "When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish" (Lk 5:6).

May 08, 2021

Will this tweet be ignored by FT?

How much hubris is needed for regulators to impose risk weighted bank capital requirements, as if they know what the risks are?
How much wishful hoping is needed when even Nobel Prize winners in Economic Sciences believe that the regulators do know?

April 22, 2021

About Italy, there are serious questions that FT, and others, should not silence.

Sir, I refer to “Draghi plots €221bn rebuilding of Italy’s recession ravaged economy” Miles Johnson and Sam Fleming, and to “Europe’s future hinges on Italy’s recovery fund reforms”, Andrea Lorenzo Capusella, FT April 22, and to so many other articles that touch upon the issue of Italy’s future, in order to ask some direct questions.

Do you think Italy’s chances of a bright future lies more in the hands of Italy’s government and its bureaucrats, than in hands of e.g., Italian small businesses and entrepreneurs?

I ask this because, with current risk weighted bank capital requirements, regulators, like Mario Draghi a former chairman of the Financial Stability Board, arguably arguing Italy’s government represents less credit risk, do de facto also state it is more worthy of credit. I firmly reject such a notion.

Yes, Italy clearly shows a stagnant productivity, but could that be improved by in any way increasing its government revenues?

Italy, before Covid-19, showed figures around 150% of public debt to GDP and government spending of close to 50% of GDP. I am among the last to condone tax evasion… but if Italian had paid all their taxes… would its government represent a lower share of GDP spending, and do you believe its debt to GDP would be lower?

One final question: Sir, given how Italy is governed, excluding from it any illegal activities such as drug trafficking, where do you think it would be without its shadow eeconomy, its economia sommersa? A lot better? Hmm!

PS. As you know (but seemingly turn a blind eye to), Italy’s debt, even though it cannot print euros on its own, has, independent of credit ratings, been assigned by EU regulators, a 0% risk weight.

No remittances without representation!

Sir, you write “Poor government plagues Central America”, “Central America needs a bold gesture from the US”, FT April 22.Those migrants who often see no choice in life than to depart, with their family remittances produced their efforts far away from home, too often only help to keep in power those who caused them to depart.

An ambitious process such as that one referred to by FT, requires time to acquire political feasibility, and moments of sharp internal divisions might not be the best moment to find it.

In this respect I argue that to help the migrants acquire much more political representation in their homelands, would be a better place to start.

And the migrants sure have economic ammunition they could use. For some of these countries the GDP they help generate in e.g., USA, is larger than the whole GDP registered in their respective homeland.

March 24, 2021

If our pied-à-terre falls into the hands of a Climate Stability Board, we’re toast.

Climate change dangers require:
Spending fighting it, trying to hinder it 
Spending adapting to it, to avoid its worst consequences
Saving, in order to be able to mitigate its worst effects
How should we budget for that to best avoid ending up toast?

Sir, let me begin with a very brief take on the last three decades of bank regulations.

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for” John A. Shedd. 

And neither are the banks, but that was ignored.

Before Basel Committee’s risk weighted bank capital requirements, everyone, whether perceived as a risky or as a safe credit, paid risk adjusted interest rates. After these were introduced, bank credit is allocated based on risk adjusted returns on equity.

The “safe”, meaning e.g., governments (bureaucrats/politicians), assets with high credit ratings and residential mortgages, pay relatively lower rates, because banks can leverage their capital/equity many times more with the net margin they provide. The “risky”, meaning e.g., small businesses and entrepreneurs, must pay comparatively higher rates, in order to compensate for the fact that banks must leverage less capital/equity with their net margins.

That has caused banks to overpopulate the safe harbors of the past and present, and to explore the riskier oceans much less than the future of our children and grandchildren needed.

Of course, all for nothing, since those excessive exposures that can become dangerous to our bank systems, are always built up with assets perceived as safe, never ever with assets perceived as risky.

And since current bank capital requirements are mostly based on expected credit risks banks should clear on their own; not on misperceived credit risks, 2008’s AAA MBS, or the unexpected, COVID-19, banks now stand there naked, though few dares to call out the Emperor on that.

So, how did we end up with all this? There are many reasons but, if I must pick one, that would be, “mutual admiration clubs”.

Sir, in November 2004 you published a letter in which I wrote: “The Basel Committee is just a mutual admiration club of firefighters seeking to avoid bank crisis at any cost - even at the cost of growth. Unwittingly it controls the capital flows in the world, and I wonder when will it realize the damage they’re doing, by favoring so much bank lending to the public sector.”

In “A new dawn for globalization” FT, Life & Arts, March 20, Mark Carney is allowed to write: “As chairs of the Financial Stability Board, Mario Draghi and I were at the forefront of efforts to reform the global financial system. Our aim was a system that once again valued the future, financed innovation and was prepared to take action in the event of failure. As its performance during the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated, although far from perfect, the financial system is now safer, simpler and fairer”

If that’s not spoken as a member of a club that will not call him out on anything, what is?

And now Carney wants “a set of networks that can turn the existential threat of climate change into the greatest commercial opportunity of our time… and the Institute of International Finance’s Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets is developing a large-scale, high-integrity carbon offset market.”

A new powerful mutual admiration club, backed enthusiastically by all climate-change fight profiteers. Scary indeed!

PS. As I read it, Pope Francis, when nailing his “Encyclical Letter LAUDATO SI’” to the web, denounced carbon credits to be just like the indulgences Martin Luther protested, when he nailed his “95 Thesis” to the church door.

PS. Why do you not ask Mark Carney to comment on Chris Watling’s “Now is the time to devise a new monetary order”, FT, March 19.

@PerKurowski

March 23, 2021

A new monetary order requires the old regulatory order.

I refer to Chris Watling’s “Now is the time to devise a new monetary order” March 19.

Sir, it is hard for me to understand how Watling, correctly pointing out so many distortions in the allocation credit and liquidity, can do so without specifically referencing the role of the risk weighted bank capital requirements.

For “the world economy [to] move closer to a cleaner capitalist model where financial markets return to their primary role of price discovery and capital allocation is based on perceived fundamentals”, getting rid of Basel Committee’s regulations is a must.

For such thing to happen, discussing and understanding how distorted these are, is where it must start.

E.g., Paul Volcker, in his 2018 “Keeping at it” penned together with Christine Harper valiantly confessed: “The assets assigned the lowest risk, for which bank capital requirements were therefore low or nonexistent, were those that had the most political support: sovereign credits and home mortgages”.

Sir, why is that opinion of Volcker rarely or perhaps even never quoted? Could it be because in a mutual admiration club it’s not comme-il-faut for a member to remark “We’re not wearing any clothes?

Volcker mentions “The US practice had been to assess capital adequacy by using a simple ‘leverage ratio’- capital available to absorb losses on the bank’s total assets”

Going back there, would return banks to loan officers; and send all those dangerously capital minimizing/leverage maximizing creative financial engineers packing.

@PerKurowski

 

March 08, 2021

Has Thatcherism run its course, or has Thatcherism been run off its course?

Sir, Martin Wolf asks “once we accept that Thatcherism has run its course, what follows?” “Sunak takes an axe to Thatcher’s low-tax ideology” FT, March 8.

Sir, to keep it brief, let me just ask three questions:

What would Margaret Thatcher have said about risk weighted bank capital requirements that de facto imply Britain’s bureaucrats/politicians know better what to do with credit for which repayment they’re not personally responsible for, than e.g. Britain’s small businesses and entrepreneurs?

What would Margaret Thatcher have said about risk weighted bank capital requirements that de facto imply the financing of residential mortgages is more important to Britain’s economy than the financing of its small businesses and entrepreneurs?

What would Margaret Thatcher have said about risk weighted bank capital requirements that de facto imply that what’s correctly perceived as risky, is more dangerous to Britain’s bank systems than what’s perceived as safe?

Sir, can you dare your Mr. Wolf to answer those questions?


@PerKurowski

March 03, 2021

Before aiming at any target, central banks must cure their shortsightedness

Sir, I refer to Martin Wolf’s “What central banks ought to target” FT, March 3.

With risk weighted bank capital requirements, the regulators are targeting what’s perceived as risky, thereby de facto fostering the creation of the excessive exposures to what’s perceived as safe, but that could end up being risky, which is precisely what all major bank crises are made off. In other words, they are putting future Minsky moments on steroids.

And if to the distortions in the allocation of credit to the economy that produces, you add the QEs, then you end up with such a mish-mash of monetary policy that no one, not even Mr. Wolf, should be able to make heads and tails out of it.

Wolf writes, “Central banking is art, not science… it must be coupled to deep awareness of uncertainty”. Sir, I ask, can you think of anything that evidences such lack of awareness of uncertainty than the risk weighted bank capital requirements?

So, before discussing what else to target, it is essential that central banks and regulators get their shortsightedness corrected.

Of course, “the central bank [should] set a rate that is consistent with a macroeconomic equilibrium” but, what would those rates be if banks needed to hold as much money when lending to the sovereign (the King) than when lending to citizens?

And when Wolf reports that “the New Zealand government has told its central bank to target house prices”, that makes me ask: Is anyone aware of the implications of having a central banks placed in the middle of that real, though not named, class war between those who have houses as investment assets and those who just want affordable homes?

Finally, as so many do, Wolf also signs up on that: “If people want less wealth inequality, they should argue for wealth and inheritance taxes”. But just as most do, he does so without explaining what assets, and to whom, the wealthy should sell, in order to reacquire that cash/purchase power needed to pay the tax that they handed over to the economy when they bought these. Not doing so, leaves one quite often a sort of populist aftertaste.


@PerKurowski

February 23, 2021

Bank capital requirements or bank leverage allowances?

Martin Wolf referring to Windows of Opportunity by David Sainsbury writes that growth is “exploiting new opportunities that generate enduring advantages in high-productivity sectors and so high wages… developing something fundamentally new is often costly and risky” “Why once successful countries get left behind” February 22.

Indeed, but as Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte" reminded us of the words of Jesus when one day, he invited the Apostles to "put out into the deep" for a catch: "Duc in altum" [and] "When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish".

Sir, “risk weighted bank capital requirements” reads like a very sophisticated tool that, when it comes to keeping our bank systems safe, is expected to assure great prudence. For instance, a 20% risk weight assigned to AAA rated asset and 100% to loans to unrated entrepreneurs and using Basel Committee’s basic 8% capital requirement, translates into 1.6% in capital for AAA rated assets and 8% for loans to unrated entrepreneurs. At first sight, that seems quite reasonable, because of course AAA rated could be five times riskier than what’s not rated.

But there is another side of that coin, that of a very costly risk-taking avoidance. It becomes much clearer if we label the former as “risk weighted bank leverage allowances”. 

Doing so we observe banks are allowed to leverage 62.5 times to one with assets rated AAA, but only 12.5 times with loans to unrated entrepreneurs. The question then is: if banks are allowed to leverage 50 times more their capital with AAA rated assets, why would any bank lend to unrated entrepreneurs, that is unless these pay much more in interest rates would in order to make up for that regulatory discrimination?

Sir, John A. Shedd wrote “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for” and I am sure FT agrees that applies to banks too. Unfortunately, current regulations have banks dangerously overpopulating “safe” harbors, e.g. residential mortgages, while leaving those deep waters that need to be explored in order for once successful countries not ending up left behind.


January 31, 2021

Basel Committee’s risk weighted bank capital requirements is fodder for our wishful thinking hopes.

I refer to Tim Harford’s “From forgeries to Covid-denial" On how we fool ourselves: Whether believing implausible statistics or falling for frauds, humans are addicted to wishful thinking” FT, January 30, 2021.

Sir, I ask, the Basel Committee’s risk weighted bank capital requirements, could that just be a forgery made to satisfy our deep wishes of our banks always being safe?

Now why so little objections? Edward Dolnick explained it with: “Experts have little choice but to put enormous faith in their own opinions. Inevitably, that opens the way to error, sometimes to spectacular error.”

By the way. Where has Academia been on all the regulatory distortion of the allocation of bank credit?

January 28, 2021

Macroeconomic theory stands no chance while autocratic regulators distort the allocation of bank credit.

Sir, in reference to Martin Sandbu’s “The revolutions under way in macroeconomics”, January 28, I must ask: What macroeconomic theory stands a chance against the Basel Committee’s risk weighted bank capital requirements? 

Lower bank capital requirements when lending onto the government than when lending to citizens, de facto implies bureaucrats know better what to do with credit they’re not personally responsible for than e.g. entrepreneurs. 

Lower bank capital requirements for banks when financing the central government than when financing local governments, de facto implies federal bureaucrats know much better what to do with credit than local bureaucrats.

Lower bank capital requirements for banks when financing residential mortgages, de facto implies that those buying a house are more important for the economy than, e.g. small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Lower bank capital requirements for banks when financing the “safer” present than when financing the “riskier” future, de facto implies placing a reverse mortgage on the current economy and giving up on our grandchildren’s future.


@PerKurowski

January 27, 2021

What America (and much of the rest of the world) needs is to free itself from the clutches of statist/communist bank regulators.

Sir, Martin Wolf, opines that “Joe Biden may be a last chance for US democracy” “Competency is Biden’s best strategy” January 27. 

Oh, if only all was that easy and in Biden’s hands. When compared to what some dark hands through bank regulations are doing to America (and to much of the world), both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are small fry.

Paul Volcker in his 2018 autography “Keeping at it” wrote: “The assets assigned the lowest risk, for which capital requirements were therefore low or nonexistent, were those that had the most political support: sovereign credits and home mortgages”. Volcker continued with “Ironically, losses on those two types of assets would fuel the global crisis in 2008 and a subsequent European crisis in 2011”. That compared to all other that has been said about and quoted from Paul Volcker, has been totally ignored, or outright censored. 

But what does it really mean?

Lower bank capital requirements when lending to the government than when lending to citizens, de facto implies bureaucrats know better what to do with credit they’re not personally responsible for than e.g. entrepreneurs. 

Lower bank capital requirements for banks when financing the central government than when financing local governments, de facto implies federal bureaucrats know much better what to do with credit than local bureaucrats.

Lower bank capital requirements for banks when financing residential mortgages, de facto implies that those buying a house are more important for the economy than, e.g. small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Lower bank capital requirements for banks when financing the “safer” present than when financing the “riskier” future, de facto implies placing a reverse mortgage on the current economy and giving up on our grandchildren’s future.

Sir, I just ask, would America have even remotely become the great land it is, if that kind of risk adverse bank regulations had welcomed the immigrants when arriving at Ellis Island / Liberty Island... to the Home of the Brave?

Wolf also uses new-confirmed Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, to endorse what he himself have argued so many times namely: “With interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big” Again, where would those historic low rated be without the Fed’s QEs and without the regulatory favors mentioned? Really? Historic lows or historical communist subsidies?


@PerKurowski

December 14, 2020

Restoring healthy economic growth requires, sine qua non, getting rid of the distortions in the allocation of bank credit.

Restoring healthy economic growth requires, sine qua non, getting rid of the distortions in the allocation of bank credit.Sir, Martin Wolf writes: “we are missing a profound transformation in how macroeconomic stabilisation will have to be conducted. Whether we like it or not, we must rely on active fiscal policy.” “Restoring growth is more urgent than cutting public debt” December 14.

Of course, we need active fiscal policy, but what about the private sector? E.g. we must be able to rely on effective allocation of bank credit. And that, because of the risk weighted bank capital requirements, is simply not happening. Two examples: 

Much lower bank capital requirements when lending to the government than when lending to citizens, de facto implies bureaucrats/politicians know better what to do with credit they are not personally responsible for than e.g. entrepreneurs. And unless we are communist, or in love with taking decisions with other people’s money, we know that’s not true.

Banks are also allowed to leverage their equity much more with residential mortgages than with loans to small businesses/entrepreneurs, those who create the jobs that helps service mortgages and pay utilities. That favors the increase of house prices and weakens the economy. Insane!

Wolf argues: “It is essential to lock in low interest rates. The maturity of UK public debt has always been relatively long. The aim now should be to make it as long as possible, by taking advantage of exceptional borrowing conditions.”

But, those “exceptional borrowing conditions” are artificial. What would the free market rate on UK public debt in absence of QEs and the low bank capital requirements mentioned? And is not the difference between that rate and current ultra-low interests, de facto, not a well camouflaged tax, retained before the holders of those debts could earn it?

We all, Martin Wolf included, should be able to have confidence in that our banks are regulated by sensible and competent people. For a starter that requires regulators understanding that those excessive exposures that could be dangerous to our bank systems, are always built up with assets perceived as safe, never ever with assets perceived as risky.

Sir, July 12 2012, Wolf wrote that when "setting bank equity requirements, it is essential to recognise that so-called “risk-weighted” assets can and will be gamed by both banks and regulators. As Per Kurowski, a former executive director of the World Bank, reminds me regularly, crises occur when what was thought to be low risk turns out to be very high risk." 

Seemingly he still does not ​really ​understand what I meant.


@PerKurowski


December 09, 2020

What would the Milton Friedman of 50 years ago, have thought of the Martin Wolf of today?

Sir, I refer to Martin Wolf ‘s “Friedman was wrong on the corporation” December 9.

Wolf writes that among his contributions to the ebook Milton Friedman 50 Years Later, and in relation to what a “good game” would look like, that this is “one in which companies would not kill hundreds of thousands of people, by promoting addiction to opiates; one in which companies would not lobby for tax systems that let them park vast proportions of their profits in tax havens; [and] one in which the financial sector would not lobby for the inadequate capitalisation that causes huge crises”.

Really? Would Friedman have promoted “addiction to opiates”?

Really? What is parked in tax havens? Profits, or titles to assets that are for the most, 99.99%, not parked in these tax havens?

But yes, the financial sector certainly lobbied for a low capitalization, but why should this sector be more blamed than those regulators who, based on the nonsense that what’s perceived as risky is more dangerous to our bank systems than what’s perceived as safe, allowed it?

Wolf quoted Friedman with “there is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.” Yes, that’s true. But what should not be allowed though are for instance regulators setting much lower bank capital requirements when lending to the government than when lending to citizens, something which de facto implies bureaucrats know better what to do with credit they’re not personally responsible for than e.g. entrepreneurs.

Wolf writes about "unbridled corporate power has been a factor behind the rise of populism, especially rightwing populism". For me worse is much more unbridled technocracy power. What's more populists than a Basel Committee telling the world: "We know all there is to know about what's to our bank systems, so we have decreed credit risk weighted bank capital requirements".

Sir, Wolf says he used to believe Friedman, but that he was wrong. I just wonder what Milton Friedman would have thought of the Martin Wolf of today

A final question, Martin Wolf, what if corporations taking upon themselves to act in a “corporate socially responsible way” generated less employment and had less profits, and therefore paid less taxes?

@PerKurowski

December 07, 2020

Thou shall not sell carbon emission indulgences

Sir you write: “Polluters can purchase “carbon credits” to mitigate the effects of their activities. This allows them to continue with their existing business while claiming that they are doing their bit to combat climate change” “The merits of a global carbon offset market” December 7.

For more than a decade I have argued that “carbon credits” are like the indulgences sold by the Catholic Church for the forgiveness of sins, and which Martin Luther protested. And carbon credits are currently much promoted by Germany.

In his 2015 Encyclical Letter LAUDATO SI’ Pope Francis wrote: "171. The strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors."

So, in a strange twist of history, it seems the Catholic Church is now telling the Lutheran Church “Thou shall not sell carbon emission indulgences”

December 06, 2020

Could the Basel Committee learn enough from puzzles and poker so as to correct their misinformation?

Sir, I refer to Tim Harford’s “What puzzles and poker can teach us about misinformation” FT Weekend December 5.

When deciding on what’s more dangerous to banks the regulators in the Basel Committee, with “expert intuition” and great emotion shouted out the “below BB-” and, for their risk weighted bank capital requirements, assigned these a 150% risk weight, and a very smallish 20% to what’s rated AAA.

But, with what type of assets can those excessive exposures that could really be dangerous to our bank systems built-up, with assets rated below BB- or with assets rated AAA?

Never ever with assets perceived as risky, always with assets perceived as safe.

Sadly, the regulators had missed their lectures on conditional probabilities.

And their “expert intuitions” are so strong that they were not able to understand the clear message sent by the 2008 AAA rated MBS. 

What does Tim Harford think regulators could learn from puzzles and poker to correct their misinformation?


@PerKurowski

December 01, 2020

The need for debt to equity conversions is an inescapable reality

Sir, Martin Wolf writes: “It will be crucial to deal with debt overhangs. As the OECD stresses, converting debt into equity will be an important part of this effort”, “A light shines in the gloom cast by Covid” December 1.

Indeed, with so much corporate debt in being pushed down by Covid-19 into junk rated territory, both debtors and creditors will need massive debt to equity conversions, in order to buy the time needed to reactivate assets, before these also become junk. And whether highly indebted companies, are important and viable enough to merit help from taxpayers, from money printers or from banks, by grants or other means, the proof in the pudding is precisely first seeing hefty debt to equity conversions.

The credit rating agencies could also be helpful by indicating how much of each investment grade rated bonds that has been downgraded to junk, should be converted into equity so as to have the remainders of those bonds recover an investment grade rating.

Now, with respect to the restructure emerging and developing countries’ debts, given the current very low interest rates, we unfortunately do not count with the highly discounted US 30 years zero coupon bonds, those which helped create the guarantees that allowed the Brady bonds to become so useful when restructuring many Latin American debts in 1989. 

@PerKurowski

November 30, 2020

12 years since, and yet the true cause of the 2008 crisis shall seemingly not be told

Sir, John Flint a former Before chief executive of HSBC writes: “Before 2008, regulators’ approach to conduct risk in banking was what they called “principles based” — deliberately light touch. It relied too much on banks’ abilities to govern themselves and it failed.” “Warning lights are flashing for Big Tech as they did for banks” November 30.

“principles based”? Yes, but tragically with risk weighted bank capital requirements based on a very wrong principle, namely that what’s perceived as risky is more dangerous to our bank system than what’s perceived as safe.

“It relied too much on banks’ abilities to govern themselves and it failed.”? No, it relied way too much on some very few human fallible credit rating agencies, a systemic risk.

“deliberately light touch”? If as Basel II allowed​, ​ banks could leverage a mindboggling 62.5 times their capital with assets rated AAA to AA, I would not call that a “light touch”, I would call it putting Minsky Moments on steroids.

“This time it is the technology sector rather than the financial that is leaving us all exposed.”

Sir, current bank capital requirements, 12 years since the 2008 crisis, are still mostly based on the expected credit risks banks clear for on their own; not on misperceived credit risks, 2008’ AAA rated MBS, or unexpected dangers, like COVID-19. Therefore, banks will again stand there with their pants down. A good job Sir?

@PerKurowski



November 24, 2020

FT you have the manpower to analyze how risk weighted bank capital requirements distort the allocation of bank credit.

Sir, Megan Greene writes: “Stubbornly low interest rates have failed to generate significant aggregate demand. That suggests the world has been stuck in a prolonged liquidity trap.” “Financial policymakers are right to fight the last war”, November 24.

FT would do all a favor if it sends out its savvy journalists to investigate bank rates given the current different capital requirements. That should cover assets risk-weighted 20%, 50%, 100% and 150%. And then they should try to analyze how these rates relate to each other and how this compares the relation of interest rates for similar assets, before the introduction in 2004 of the risk weighted bank capital requirements for private sector assets.

That would allow FT to understand how these regulations distort the allocation of credit in favor of those who being perceived as safe are favored anyway, and against those who perceived as risky are anyhow disfavored.

But what fighting the last war is Greene talking about? The 2008 crisis was caused by AAA rated securities turning out risky but our bank regulations still are mostly based on the expected credit risks banks should clear for on their own; not on misperceived credit risks or unexpected dangers, like COVID-19. As a consequence, banks will now stand there with their pants down. Good job!


@PerKurowski

November 09, 2020

By not asking all the questions that need to be asked, journalists also fail society.

Sir, Henry Manisty writes “financial journalism plays a vital role in upholding the integrity of financial markets”, “EU regulators have form on obstructing journalists” November 9.

Indeed, but in many respects, financial journalists have often failed society by not doing that. For instance, here are just three examples of questions that should have been posed directly to the regulators, long ago.

We know that those excessive bank exposures that can be dangerous to banks and bank systems are always created with assets perceived as safe, never ever with assets perceived as risky. Therefore, can you please explain your risk weighted bank capital requirements based on that what’s perceived as risky is more dangerous than what’s perceived as safe?

Before risk weighted bank capital requirements credit was allocated on the basis of risk adjusted interest net margins and a view on the portfolio. After that it is allocated based on risk adjusted returns on equity; which obviously those that banks can leverage less with, e.g. “risky” SMEs and entrepreneurs. Explain how this does not distort the allocation of bank credit?

Even though none of Eurozone sovereigns can print euros on their own, for your risk weighted bank capital requirements you decreed a zero-risk weight for all of their debts. What do you think would have happened in the USA if it had done the same with its 50 states?

Sir, paraphrasing Upton Sinclair one could say that “It's difficult to get a journalist to ask something, when his salary, or being invited to Davos, depends on his not asking it.”

PS. My 2019 letter to the Financial Stability Board (FSB)