October 15, 2014

Warning: The “much more bank equity” puritans, while correct, if told to implement it, might be extremely dangerous

Sir, I refer to John Plender’s “Prospect of fund outflows puts banks in tricky territory” October 15.

In it he writes: “Bloomberg has estimated that the cost of equity of 300 large banks was 13 per cent at the end of March, 5 percentage points higher than its 2000-05 average. The authors [of The International Monetary Fund’s Global Financial Stability Report] reckon that the return on equity at banks accounting for 80 per cent of total assets of the largest institutions is lower than the cost of capital demanded by shareholders. This return on equity gap casts doubt on their ability to build up capital buffers to address the next crisis.”

That should be a clear indication of the difficulties that lie before the banks, and a warning sign of having to be very careful with all those puritans out there screaming for much more bank equity, no matter what, and not caring one iota about how to get from here to there.

PS. The first article I ever published, in June 1997, was titled “Puritanism in banking”. In it I wrote: “If we insist in maintaining a firm defeatist attitude which definitely does not represent a vision of growth for the future, we will most likely end up with the most reserved and solid banking sector in the world, adequately dressed in very conservative business suits, presiding over the funeral of the economy. I would much prefer their putting on some blue jeans and trying to get the economy moving.”… It seems like time has stood still.