January 09, 2016

By giving weight to credit rating forecast that already had weight, bank regulators poisoned these Pringles.

Sir, I refer to Tim Harford’s “Why predictions are a lot like Pringles” January 9.

He argues than when we hear a forecast because “we imagine it happening… other scenarios, equally plausible, fade into the background” and also that “forecasts offer us a lazy way to understand a complex world… it will probably be wrong. But at the instant it is consumed, it gratifies… a lot like Pringles

And Pringles, although they can seriously dent your losing weight plans, basically just gives you “the fleeting pleasure of consuming them”, and that’s it.

But what if you bet on the predictions, like on credit ratings, if you then see an AAA and the rest of possibilities “fade into the background” and you use them as a “lazy way to understand a complex world” then those Pringles carry poison.

For instance bank regulators, with Basel II, set the risk weight of an AAA rated asset at 20 percent while the risk-weight of a below BB- rated asset was 150 percent… which (with a basic capital requirement of 8 percent) meant banks were allowed to leverage their equity over 60 times with AAA rated asset but only around 8 times with assets rated below BB-.

First there is no way below BB- rated risks are riskier to the stability of banks than what is AAA rated. But also since banks already considered the ratings when setting interest rates and size of exposures, the regulators de facto poisoned the AAA Pringles the ratings agencies offered, and the whole world suffered as a consequence.

PS. I now need to reference often Emma Jacobs’ “Teachers who make risk child’s play” January 8. In it Jacob’s describes how Daniel Kish, he himself blind, teaches blind children how to manage risks they cannot see. And I beg you to compare that, to bank regulators who, with credit risk weighted capital requirement for banks, try to help bankers to manage the risks they already see. What a crazy world!

PS. January 2003, in a letter published in FT I wrote: “Everyone knows that, sooner or later, the ratings issued by the credit agencies are just a new breed of systemic errors, about to be propagated at modern speeds. Friends, as it is, the world is tough enough.” Unfortunately the world wanted Pringles.

@PerKurowski ©