April 04, 2017

Who sold IMF the fake idea that risk weighted capital requirements for banks do not distort the allocation of credit?

Sir, Shawn Donnan, referring to a IMF paper recently released by Christine Lagarde, “Gone with the Headwinds: Global Productivity”, writes that IMF economists warn: “The world’s economy is caught in a productivity trap thanks to an abrupt slowdown caused by the 2008 global financial crisis, which will yield more social turmoil if it is not addressed hold that” “IMF raises fear of slowing productivity” April 4.

Bank assets, based on how they are perceived ex ante, can be divided into safe and risky assets. The “safe”, by definition, currently include sovereigns and corporates with good credit ratings, and residential mortgages. The “risky” include what is unrated or what does not possess very good ratings… like loans to SMEs and entrepreneurs. It is also clear that she safe includes more of what is known; meaning what’s in the past or present, and the risky more of what is unknown, meaning what lies in the future.

Then suppose regulators had transparently told the banks: “We hate it so much when you take risks so that, from now on, if you finance something that is perceived as safe and stay away from what is perceived as risky, we will reward you by helping you to make you much higher risk adjusted returns on equity”.

In such a scenario, could it not be reasonably expected that IMF would be identifying regulatory risk aversion as something that could be slowing productivity? I mean, as John A Shedd said: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are for"

But, rewarding the banks for going for the safe, and staying away from the risky, is exactly what the current risk-weighted capital requirements for banks does.

And the IMF, even though here the report mentions: “Growing misallocation during the pre-global- financial-crisis financial boom [and] The global financial crisis might have worsened capital allocation further by impeding the growth of financially constrained firms relative to their less constrained counterparts.” says nothing about distorting bank regulations having something to do with this misallocation; an only produces second-degree explanations such as “banks may have “evergreened” loans to weak firms to delay loan-loss recognition and the need to raise capital”. How come?

“Uncertainty is unsettling and certainty is alluring. Beware anyone who offers the latter with charisma, especially at this jittery juncture. Arm yourself against the charlatans…not only criminal psychopaths but the white-collar kind — who overstate their abilities, denigrate subordinates, have a tenuous grip on truth and seek greater power with shrinking oversight.”

Could it really be that one or more of these spellbinding salesmen of certainty illusions, technocratic besserwissers, managed to enthrall and blind the whole IMF? If so, Mme Lagarde owes herself and the IMF to find who they were… and to put a stop to it.

May I suggest she starts doing so by sending around to all those in the IMF that have had anything to do with bank regulations, some of those questions that, without any luck, I have tried to get answered, many times even in the IMF. Here’s the link: http://subprimeregulations.blogspot.com/2016/12/must-one-go-on-hunger-strike-to-have.html

But perhaps IMF already knows who those “charlatans” were, and just want to spare some members of their mutual admiration club some very deep embarrassments. If so then IMF is not fulfilling its responsibilities, as it should.

Too much is at stake! More than ever the world need to develop the capability of filtering out any fake experts, no matter how nice they are and no matter how important the networks they belong to.

PS. Twice I have had the opportunity to ask Mme Lagarde on this subject, and twice she kindly answered me, but nothing seems to have come out of it 

PS. In December 2016, during the IMF’s Annual Research Conference, Olivier Blanchard also agreed with me there were needs to research how these capital requirements distort.