April 20, 2009

The regulatory innovations are the ones to blame, not the financial.

Ben Bernanke in his most recent speech, April 17, 2009 said “Where does financial innovation come from? In the United States in recent decades, three particularly important sources of innovation have been financial deregulation, public policies toward credit markets, and broader technological change. I'll talk briefly about each of these sources.”
As for the public policies Bernanke mentions the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (CRA) and the government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Nowhere does Bernanke mention the greatest source for the financial innovations that proved disastrous, namely the regulatory innovations that were put in place during the very last decade. Could it be because he also is among the ones to blame?
The regulators in Basel innovated as regulators never innovated before, and thought they could control for default risk, and therefore allowed incredible leverages as long as the default risks of borrowers were perceived as low or non-existing by the official risk sentries the credit rating agencies. After that the regulators being so sure about the value of their innovations went to sleep… but that is of course nothing new or innovative.
At the end of the day the simple truth is that the costs of regulatory innovations far exceeded the costs of financial innovations, and that the benefit from financial innovations far exceeded the benefits from regulatory innovations. Try to live with it FT!