October 23, 2010

Should we not have a serious man to man conversation with our bank regulating chaps at the Basel Committee?

Sir, if you and I were going to design some capital requirements for banks based on the risk of default of borrowers as measured by the credit rating agencies, would we use the default rates those credit ratings generally imply, or would we use the default rates suffered by the banks after the bankers received that credit rating information? I am sure you and I would agree on using the second alternative, since the first really makes no sense as it would imply that bankers do not take notice of the credit ratings, something that with the capital requirements based on these ratings, we are really making sure they do.

If we so then use the default risk for banks after credit rating information, would we also adjust our risk-weights to the fact that those perceived as riskier are charged much higher interest by the banks than those perceived as less risky? I am sure we would definitely consider that important risk mitigation factor and do so, since otherwise we would be perceived as foolishly assuming that all borrowers paid the bank the same interest rate.

But since we now know that our bank regulating chaps at the Basel Committee did nothing of the sort, they just used gross default rates unfiltered by the bankers applying their own credit analysis criteria, and they completely ignored the mitigation of a higher default risk provided by higher interest rates, isn´t it time we call them home so as to have a serious man to man conversation about what they are up to? I mean before they go on to tackle even much bigger problems like counter-cyclicality and systemic risk. I mean so as to inform them about the fact that they, in their own right, are becoming our greatest source of systemic risk.
I believe we should. Just consider the mess they did by making the banks stampede after some lousy securities just because these were rated triple-A; and all the small businesses and entrepreneurs who have seen their access to bank credit curtailed or made more expensive just because their odious regulatory discrimination against perceived risk.

A verse of a Swedish Psalm reads: “God, from your house, our refuge, you call us out to a world where many risks await us. As one with your world, you want us to live. God make us daring!”

“God make us daring!” That is indeed a prayer that the members of the Basel Committee do not even begin to understand the need for.

Psalm 288 Text: F Kaan 1968 B G Hallqvist 1970, Music Chartres1784