September 20, 2015

Without the endorsement by regulators, banks would never have leveraged their equity 60 times to 1 with any asset.

Sir, Gary Silverman writes: “exempting the derivatives known as credit default swaps from more rigorous federal regulation…[was] one of the biggest mistake leading to the financial crisis”, “Why it is wrong to forget Lehman’s fall” September 20.

That is not so. Again, for the umpteenth time, I will explain prime cause of the financial crisis, namely the capital requirements for banks, and this by using the examples of Lehman Brothers, AIG and Greece.

The regulators in June 2004, with Basel II, decided that against AAA rated private sector assets, and against any sovereign rated as Greece was until November 2009, banks needed to hold only 1.6 percent in capital, meaning banks could leverage their equity with those assets over 60 times to 1. In comparison, when holding “risky” assets like loans to entrepreneurs and SMEs, banks were only allowed to leverage 12 times to 1. 

On April 28, 2004 the SEC decided that what was good for the Basel Committee was good enough for them, and so allowed Lehman to leverage over 60 times to 1 with AAA rated securities guaranteed with mortgages to the subprime sector… Since Europe were allowing their banks to do the same… the demand for these AAA securities became so huge that it overpowered all the quality controls in their manufacturing and packaging process… and Bang!

If AAA rated AIG guaranteed an asset, banks could also dramatically reduce the capital they needed to hold against that assets, and this overwhelmed AIG’s capacity to resist selling “very profitable” loan default guarantees… and Bang!

And Greece was of coursed offered loans in such amounts, and in such generous terms, so that its governments could not resist the temptations… and Bang!

As can be seen the above has nothing to do with deregulation, or with exempting anything from rigorous federal regulation, and all to do with imposing extremely bad and distorting regulations. On their own, and without the direct endorsement of regulators, banks would never ever have dreamt of leveraging their equity 60 times or more, with any asset… no matter how safe it looked.

If we are not going to spell out the real reasons why Lehman Brothers fell, then we better all forget Lehman’s fall.