August 06, 2016

We need banks that profit by taking reasoned risks; and that have capital to cover for a good chunk of the unexpected.

Sir, I refer to Dan McCrum’s and Thomas Hale’s “Stagnation saps enthusiasm for Europe’s banks” August 6.

It includes contradictory statements like “the financial architecture appears solid” and “most people accept there is enough capital in the system now. Not just investors, but regulators as well” with that of “a rounding error of just 1 per cent on European asset values would wipe out More than a third of European bank equity, the all-important number determining ability to absorb losses.”

The ex ante perceived risk-weighted capital requirements for banks has introduced total confusion into banking. Not only with respect of these having reasonable equity, but also with respect to their business. Over the last decades, banks have looked to maximize their returns on equity much more by reducing the capital required, than by analyzing gross risk/reward ratios as such. And that must come to an end.

First EBA’s recent stress tested European banks indicated that they were leveraged almost 24 to 1, and that makes them clearly undercapitalized, not so much in terms of the expected, but in terms of the unexpected, which is what bank equity should be there for.

And secondly, we urgently need banks to assume their more traditional role of earning their profits by taking reasoned risks in the real economy… that economy in which a unit of capital is a unit of capital, independently of it being invested in something safe or something risky.

To avoid risks, especially when currency does not carry negative interest rates, a mattress seems to suffice. And for the society (taxpayers) to support banks that make their profits by avoiding taking risks, and not by helping it to build future, is stupid.

Some tweet sized conclusions:

The last decades banks have earned huge returns on equity mostly by minimizing equity, that has to stop.

European banks are severely undercapitalized, not that much in terms of the expected, but in terms of the unexpected.

Banking should be about helping society to take risks, not avoiding these. For that mattresses suffice.

Bankers capable of reasoned audacity are magnificent. Equity reducing bankers, are, at best, absolutely tedious.

Just looking at their dumb risk-weighted capital requirements, bank regulators should be disgraced by society.

@PerKurowski ©