September 15, 2014

The Financial Times “a better newspaper for the modern age” ignored the financial story of the century.

Sir, I refer to your new look as described in a special FT supplement on September 15.

Mark Twain said, so we are told, that bankers are those who lend you the umbrella when the sun is out, but want it back, immediately, when it looks like it is going to rain.

But for the Basel Committee bank regulators that was not enough, and so they told the bankers, if you lend while the sun is out, meaning to someone perceived credit risk wise as “absolutely safe”, then we will reward you by allowing you to hold much less capital (equity) than if you lend to someone when it rains, meaning some perceived as risky.

And so, if bankers were risk adverse before, they were now castrated… and of course they started to sing in falsetto accumulating extremely large exposures to what was officially perceive as “absolutely safe”, like AAA rated securities backed with mortgages to the subprime mortgage sector in the US, real estate in Spain and “infallible sovereigns” like Greece.

But, as if those regulations were not risk adverse enough, most financial commentators insisted on an excess of testosterone in the financial system, and so no corrections were made, and all those “risky” medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start ups, and who are the tough risky risk-takers we need to get going when the going gets tough, were left without having fair access to bank credit.

And about this story, the de-testosterone-mania that has affected and almost conquered the banks in the western world, the Financial Times has kept mum. And not that they were not informed about it. Truly amazing!

PS. Does this all mean that I would be against banks being well capitalized and therefore more risky? Of course not, requiring players to put plenty of their own skin on the line (or something private specifically related :-), increases the need for testosterone, as well as the need to know how to simultaneously control for it.

Let us aim for bankers capable of that reasoned audacity that can help our economies to move forward and avoid that risk aversion which only guarantees we will stall and fall.