July 21, 2014

When you cut off economic buds from fair access to bank credit you cannot but get slim pickings in the job market

Sir, I refer to James Politi’s report on US jobs “Slim pickings” July 21.

When you have bank regulations which, by means of capital requirements based on perceived risk, discriminate against fair access to bank credit of medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups, you stop energizing the labor market, and therefore all you will get is some obese growth… and so of course there will be slim pickings… like mostly low-wage jobs increases. And the same or even worse goes for Europe.

Risk weighted capital requirements undoubtedly distorts the allocation of bank credit to the real economy. To see this problem being completely absent from the discussions at for instance the Federal Reserve, is truly sad.

Perhaps that silence has to do with no one being able to coherently explain a valid reason for those regulations… or, as John Kenneth Galbraith worded it in his “Money” 1975, “There is a reluctance in our time to attribute great consequences to human inadequacy – to what, in a semantically less cautious era, was called stupidity” [all made worse because] “men of reputation naturally see the person who has been right as a threat to their own eminence”.

Mark Carney, FSB, to begin, stop giving the Too-Big-To-Fail banks growth hormones.

Sir I refer to Sam Fleming, Ben McLannahan and Gina Chon reporting “BoE chief leads push to break ‘too big to fail’ impasse at G20”, July 21.

There they report on the efforts of Mark Carney as the current chairman of the Financial Stability Board to try to clinch a deal on bailing in creditors of globally significant, cross border banks that get into trouble”.

Mark Carney, to begin with should start by stopping giving the growth hormones that minimalist capital requirements for what is officially perceived as absolutely safe, represents for the Too-Big-to-Fail banks.

And then I would also suggest they think a little bit more about the implications of the Contingent Convertibles. The CoCos, hard to manage even in the presence of solely a leverage ratio rule, are mindboggling difficult when the capital requirements for banks are risk-weighted.

Perhaps Mr. Carney should read what George Banks had to say about CoCos when asked by his Board of Directors at theDawes Tomes Mousley Grubbs Fidelity Fiduciary Bank

As a sanction why not increase the risk-weight of Russia when calculating the capital requirements for banks?

Sir, Wolfgang Münchau writes that “Europe must impose financial sanctions on Russia” July 21, and among the possibilities for that he discusses the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to stop lending to Russia.

Why not also, for the purpose of capital requirements of European banks, assign to Russia at least the same risk-weight currently assigned to Europeans small businesses and entrepreneurs, namely 100%. At its current credit rating BBB- Russia earns a 50% risk-weight, which means that banks are allowed to leverage twice as much when lending to Russia, than when lending to those who have done absolutely nothing wrong except being perceived as “risky”... something for which they already pay for dearly.

Besides, for a starter, why on earth would you want European banks lend more to Russia than to European job generators?

Eurozone cannot afford ill-targeted quantitative easing.

Sir, I refer to your “Eurozone needs quantitative easing” July 21. No! It cannot handle more distortions.

Before getting rid of the capital controls that risk-weighted capital requirements for banks represent, and which channels new liquidity to whatever is officially perceived as absolute safe, and not to where the economy most needs bank credit to go, any Eurozone quantitative easing would be plain foolish… and set the eurozone up for something even worse.

And to top it up, you suggest that quantitative easing should be carried out through the purchase of government bonds, as if the zero risk weighting of eurozone government bonds is not distortion more than enough.

Why are bank regulators obsessed with already used perceived credit risks and totally blind to job creation and Mother Earth?

Sir, Lucy Kellaway asks “Why we are more vocal about loo rolls that our jobs” July 21.

In the same vein I have for soon two decades asked why bank regulators are more than vocal, really obsessed, with credit ratings, and complete ignore such things that society would like to have banks financing, like the generation of new jobs or fighting climate change.

The risk-weighted capital requirements are stupid, because bankers already take into account whatever credit risk information is available when they set interest rates and decide on the size of exposures, and so there is no need to clear for the same information twice.

How much more interesting would be to allow for slightly smaller capital requirements, which means bank can leverage more and earn a higher return on their equity, based on something more useful, like potential-of-job-generating-ratings or Sustainability-of-Mother-Earth ratings.

July 20, 2014

Britain could be against bankers, bank lobbyist and bank regulators… but should never be versus its banks.

Sir I refer to Philip Augar’s “Britain versus the banks” July 19… what an unfortunate title.

Augar writing about Alex Brummer’s “Bad banks: Greed, incompetence and the Next Global Crisis” says the author poses the ultimate question for the authorities who have to decide “what sort of banking they actually want and the extent to which the market driven requirements of high returns through risk can be balanced with society´s desire for safe banking”.

What? “society’s desire for safe banking”? And what about all other society’s desires for banks… like helping to finance the creation of jobs?

Does Brummer for instance agree with that “market driven requirements of high returns [for banks]” and for which bank lobbyists convinced regulators to lower the capital requirements for banks when lending to what is perceived as safe, should trump the right of the “risky” small businesses and entrepreneurs of not being discriminated more than normal when accessing bank credit?

Sir, Just like Philip Augar starts by quoting JK Galbraith, so did I in my first article published in 1997 in the Daily Journal of Caracas, “Puritanism in banking”. In it I wrote:

“In his book “Money: Whence it came, where it went” (1975) [and of which the author signed a copy for me in 1978] John Kenneth Galbraith addresses the function of banks in the creation of wealth…

Galbraith speculates on the fact that one of the basic fundamentals of the accelerated growth experienced in the western and south-western parts of the United States during the past century was the existence of an aggressive banking sector working in a relatively unregulated environment. Banks opened and closed doors and bankruptcies were frequent, but as a consequence of agile and flexible credit policies, even the banks that failed left a wake of development in their passing.”

And clearly, the almost fanatic obsessions of current regulators with stopping banks from failing, impedes these from helping out in financing the development we need but that of course entails a lot of risk-taking. It also, with its minimalist capital requirements for anything that can dress up as "absolutely safe" guarantees the growth of the Too Big To Fail Banks.

And I also wrote “Galbraith refers to the banks’ function of democratization of capital as they allow entities with initiative, ideas, and will to work although they initially lack the resources to participate in the region’s economic activity. In this second case, Galbraith states that as the regulations affecting the activities of the banking sector are increased, the possibilities of this democratization of capital would decrease. There is obviously a risk in lending to the poor.”

And indeed few regulations can be argued to be as anti-democratic as the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks based on perceived risks… something which is amazingly ignored in these days when inequality is much discussed. 

Sir, let me finalize again by quoting Galbraith from the same “Money”. “It should be the simple truth in all economic and monetary matters that anyone who has explained failure has failed. We should be kind to those whose performance has been poor. But we must never be so gracious as to keep them in office”.

Indeed we should, perhaps, not tar and feather those who had anything to do with Basel II… but we should send them home, not promote them, and the least of it all… allow them to have anything to do with Basel IV… as they have already contaminated Basel III.

July 19, 2014

CNBC ask FT: Why do you keep mum about the regulatory distortion of the allocation of bank credit?

Sir, John Authers relates pro and con comments about the Fed’s monetary policy made by Jim Cramer, Rick Santelli and Steven Liesman, in CNBC, “Rate increases will test the market mood” July 20.

I just wonder what those three gentlemen would have to say if SEC, with a little help from its friends, in order to avoid US investors taking undue risks, in order for these not lose their money and end up on the streets and perhaps becoming a burden to taxpayers, had decided that all profits from investments in companies rated AAA to AA would be allowed an 80% reduction in taxes; those rated A+ to A an 50% reduction; while those investing in companies rated BB- and lower would have to pay 50% more taxes.

I ask this because clearly I believe they would all scream bloody murder about how that would distort the markets. And yet that is almost exactly the way regulators with their Basel II risk-weighted capital requirements for banks are distorting the allocation of bank credit… and no one, especially in FT says a word about it. I wonder why?

Of course no quantitative easing, fiscal deficits or lower interests will be able to cause the economy to grow in a sturdy and sustainable way, if bank credit cannot go to where it would go without regulatory interference.

July 17, 2014

Do the financial rights of creditors come before the sustainability vultures' rights of Mother Earth?

Sir, Tim Smedley writes “The UK has a legal obligation to meet 15 percent of its energy demand from renewable resources by 2020” “Sustainable jobs surge fades as wind farms face”, July 17.

What does that mean? Can you bank on it? If duly servicing UK public debt requires subsidies to wind farms to be cut and as a consequence you will not be able to meet targets… could there be a renegotiation? Could sustainable energy vultures hold out… and force a cut in all other energy supplies?

It would be really interesting if FT explains how this kind of legal obligation would rank with respect to other legal obligations.

July 16, 2014

Banks, tell me who your “absolutely infallible” are, and I will tell you who your “really risky” are.

Sir, Thomas Hale, Christopher Thompson and Josh Noble report on that “most major Chinese banks have existing Tier-1 capital adequacy ratios of at least 9.5 percent according to CLSA, meeting Basel III requirements”, “China financials lead EM debt sales” July 16.

What does that really mean? Which are the low-risk weight bank assets in China? For instance in the case of European banks these were AAA rated securities, mortgages in Spain and loans to infallible sovereigns like Greece.

For instance if we divide the risk weighted capital Tier-1 ratio of a bank by its un-weighted leverage ratio, then we have a better idea of how much could be hiding in the officially sanctioned safety… the fictitious safety ratio... the Basel Risk Ratio

July 15, 2014

Current bank regulators evidence a truly unpardonable lack of vision. Après nous, le water and jobs dry-spell.

Sir, our young do not find jobs and could easily turn into a lost generation, and we are all facing “A world without water” and all our bank regulators think of is having our banks exclusively financing what is perceived in the short term as absolutely safe. Because that is precisely the consequence of their risk weighted capital requirements for banks. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Yes, Pilita Clark in her Analysis on water of July 15, does quote a 2013 report for Moody where Andrew Metcalf states “It´s plainly true that water scarcity is finally to bite financially”, but we all know that long before that gets to be actually reflected in credit ratings, it might already be too late.

Worse yet, if credit ratings go down because of water scarcity, banks would be required to hold more capital, and therefore the cost of credit for those so affected when combating water scarcity would go up.

What is safe and stable banks worth to us if they cannot help to deliver jobs and solutions to our other urgent problems? Could banks even survive if jobs and solutions to our other urgent problems are not found?

What about capital requirements based on potential of job creating ratings, or sustainability ratings, or getting us water ratings?

How shortsighted can we allow our bank regulators to be? It is clear that for them an “après nous, le Déluge”…or in this case a severe dry-spell reigns.

July 14, 2014

Is a 3 dollar per ticket tombola, to meet president Obama, really a comme il faut political fund-driving mechanism?

Sir I refer to the issue of fundraising raised by Edward Luce in “A farewell to trust: Obama´s Germany syndrome” July 14

Even though I am not a US citizen and have therefore no right to vote, I have recently gotten some emails where Michelle Obama addresses me very kindly with a “Per”, and then asks me to chip in 3 dollars for the cause, and that if I do, I will have a chance to meet Barack personally… all expenses covered.

It has a sort of delightful country fair tombola ring to it, but I also must confess it makes me a bit uneasy.

Is this really an adequate behavior for the president and the first lady of the most powerful country in the world, and upon which so much of my and my family future depends on?

First, I understand that Michelle Obama might have nothing to do with this, and also that I might be just a bit too old fashioned to understand the marketing of our times… but still, I can´t help having some serious reservations about it all.

Basel’s risk-weighted capital requirements for banks, is a macro-imprudential tool which blows financial bubbles.

Sir, I refer to Wolfgang Münchau’s “What central banks should do with bubbles” July 14.

My answer would be for central banks to make sure that if they must blow, when they blow, it is not for them to take over the role of the markets by directing their winds to where they, in the short term, perceive it to be safer.

We know that financial bubbles never ever inflate with air perceived as risky, but always with air that pays more than what its perceived absolute-safety would seem to validate. In this respect the best bubble inflator ever, must be the current capital requirements for banks which allow banks to earn higher risk adjusted returns on equity on what is perceived as absolutely safe.

Holy mo! What a dangerous macro-prudential tool that is.

Münchau also references bank´s “antisocial and unethical behavior” and so I would also like to ask the following:

What if the capital requirements for banks discriminated against gays, the sick, women or black persons? Would that not be deemed as an “antisocial and unethical behavior”? 

Of course! And all hell would brake lose!

And so why is it that regulators can discriminate in favor of the infallible those who are already favored by being perceived as that, and against “the risky” those who are already being discriminated against by being perceived risky… and nobody cares.

July 12, 2014

And what do we call when targets are completely missed but still no one fires back?

Sir, I refer to Tim Harford’s “When targets backfire” July 12 where he concludes in the importance of naming and shaming… providing an “embarrassment of indicators”. 

But what to do when targets are completely missed and no one fires back?

Like in the case of the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks which the Basel Committee uses as the pillar of their regulations… less ex ante perceived risk less capital – more ex ante perceived risk more capital.

With that they guarantee banks will stuff their balance sheets with anything that can be construed as absolutely safe, precisely the kind of assets that can cause disasters when ex post they turn out risky, and that, when that crisis happens, banks will stand there bare-naked without capital.

And that caused the current crisis but yet, the concocters of that have not been ashamed, instead they have been graciously retired, reassigned to build Basel III using the same failed principle or, like Mario Draghi, even promoted.

Frankly neither Hollywood nor Bollywood would have rewarded a Basel II box office flop that way.

The genie in the Basel Committee’s Aladdin lamp… is as dumb as genies can come

Sir, I had no idea of the existence of the “state of the art risk and order management system” described interestingly by Tracy Alloway in “Genie not included in BlackRock´s Aladdin” July 12.

Of course “none of these tools are meant to supplant the basic human intelligence required to make informed investment decisions”… but they do. Perhaps, in order to avoid unnecessary introduction of systemic risk, there should be fairly low limit to how much of the market can be served by the same risk modeling tool.

But again it surprises me how Alloway can write such an insightful article, and still not comprehend that the Basel risk-weights which determine the capital banks need to hold, amounts to an Aladdin lamp with a residing genie as inept as they can come. Imagine, just for a starter that genie believes that what is risky for banks and bankers is what is perceived as risky… how dumb is not that?

And distorting the allocation of bank credit following the advice of that genie is as dangerous as it comes for the real economy.

PS. Tracy Alloway on Wall Street, how many shares are traded in the Dow Jones index? Could the increase in its value be a function of shrinkage of its base?

July 11, 2014

Draghi’s “Whatever it takes” does not include admitting risk-weighted capital requirements for banks cause distortions

Sir, Ralph Atkins reports on “businesses unable to tap capital markets – which includes job-creating small and medium sized enterprises”, “Crisis drags on for small European companies” July 11.

Not only do small companies have to face the fact that their loan requests are small and so the credit analysis is much more expensive per euro borrowed compared to those larger who can afford a credit rating but, to top it up, regulators also ask banks to hold much much more capital against these than against safer companies.

And this regulatory fact is not even mentioned by Atkins… it is frankly embarrassing.

And ECB hopes “targeted longer term refinancing operations”, or Tltros, which will inject liquidity in banks will help to solve this problem. That is embarrassing too, since what banks most lack is not funds but capital.

Clearly ECB’s Mario Draghi’s “whatever it takes” does not include admitting that the risk-weighted capital requirement for banks odiously discriminates against the possibility of “the risky” for a fair access to bank credit… by dangerously favoring the access to bank credit of those who are already favored by being perceived as “absolutely safe”

PS. Q: Why did interest rates on sovereign periphery debt tumble? A: Much because banks do not need to hold capital against it.

July 10, 2014

How do you price bank credit for sustainable growth having to consider both risk profiles and capital requirements?

Sir, Axel Merk writes “sustainable growth comes from pricing credit correctly according to the risk profile of the borrowers, not merely cheap credit”, “The missing fear factor will return to haunt Yellen”, July 10.

Absolutely… but how do banks do that when they also must price credit according to the capital requirements ordained by the regulators for different borrowers? Impossible!

And Merk also refers to that “Forward-looking indicators, such as the yield curve, are less reliable as the Fed itself has actively managed those gauges”. Yes and here also by means of the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks, which being the smallest or even zero for “infallible” sovereign debts, has helped to convert treasury bills and bonds into a proxy of a subsidized risk-free rate.

Do we need to use force to make Mario Draghi and ECB to accept urgently needed structural reforms in bank regulations?

Sir, Claire Jones and Peter Spiegel report that ECB’s Mario Draghi has called for Brussels to “Use force to secure economic reform” meaning “structural reforms… they believe would strengthen longer-term growth prospects”, July 10.

ECB should be ashamed of itself. If there is any structural reform that is urgent that is getting rid of those crazy risk-weighted capital requirements for banks which are hindering credit to reach those we most need to have it now, namely medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups.

And I guess the main reason for the ECB not to be pushing for that is it would signify Mario Draghi admitting have been part to one of the most monstrous regulatory mistakes ever.

There’s a world of difference between ex ante perceived risks and ex-post realized risks.

July 09, 2014

“Trust me, I am a bank regulator” is not enough either. They do not treat all of their customers fairly.

Sir, John Kay describes well the difficulties of financial advisors to handle conflicts of interest in “Trust me I am a financial advisor’ is not enough” July 9. But, as I suspect you know by now, I would also hold that the “Trust me I am a bank regulator” is not enough either.

For instance what would bank regulators have answered if Sir Henry McCardie, the judge, a century ago, had argued the following?

“I know you have depositors’, taxpayers’ and governments’ best interests at heart when you make the capital banks need to hold a function of risk-weights… and I commend you for that…though I have some reservation about why these are lower for those perceived as absolutely safe, as from what I have seen it is always excessive bank exposures to these which have created havoc.

But, more important, why do you think you have no responsibility to all the borrowers, to the real economy, and to our job seekers, and think you can distort the allocation of bank credit at your will? Who told you not to care about those interests? Is this how you treat all your customers fairly?”

Martin Wolf, sincerely, what is riskier, that some banks fail or that the planet fails?

Sir, Martin Wolf, as he should be, is clearly concerned with climate change, and states the report “Risky Business” to be valuable in “that it sets this out rightly as a problem in risk management”, “Climate skeptics are losing their grip”, July 9.

Absolutely, and since Wolf so often mentions he formed part of a commission reviewing bank regulations I just wonder why he there did not take the opportunity to then ask for lower bank capital requirements when financing something that could prove to be useful against climate change (sustainability ratings), instead of so purposeless and even so dangerous allowing banks to hold less bank capital against those perceived credit risks they already clear for.

But I guess that Wolf, as a baby-boomer, is more worried about the very short term health of the banks than about the planet… just as he does not seem to worry about the long term prospects of employment of our youth, since had that been the case, he would also have asked about lower capital requirements for banks depending on potential of job creation ratings. Clearly an “après nous, le Déluge…or le dryspell” reigns.

PS. Sir, since this has to do with capital requirements for banks, and Wolf has asked me in no uncertain terms not to send him more comments on it, as he knows all there is about that subject, I leave it in your hands whether to forward this letter to him or not.

Old banking: “What do you intend to do with the money?” New banking: “How do I minimize the capital the bank needs to hold?

Sir, Camilla Hall quotes a bank officer in that “loan growth [in the US] doesn't seem to be driven by the underpinning of an economic recovery” and then she reports that “much of the corporate lending is going to fund payouts to shareholders, finance acquisitions and fuel the domestic energy boom”, “US banks cautious over growing levels of lending” July 9.

Ask any old retired banker what was his first question to a prospective borrower and you would most probably hear him say: “What do you intend to do with the money if I lend it to you?”, and the banker, as Camilla Hall writes, would not have liked to hear “To pay a dividend or buy back some shares”.

What is the first question a banker nowadays makes? Most probably “How can I structure this loan so that the bank needs to hold the least capital against it?”

And I ask you FT… what do you believe leads to healthier banks and a sturdier economy, the old or the new banking?

July 08, 2014

EAB regulators should be fired; they don’t care one iota about the real economy, as long as banks don’t go under during their watch.

Sir, Sam Fleming reports that in order to “limit inconsistencies between the practices of different supervisors” EBA will deploy “a regulatory scoring system” of banks dependant on: “business model analysis, assessments of internal governance, risks to capital and risks to liquidity”, “EU to score lenders in push for regulatory unity” July 8.

As you see not a word about whether banks allocate credit adequately to the real economy. These regulators do not care one iota about that. All they care for is for banks not to fall under their watch… until they retire, and if the real economy has to go under in order for that to happen, so be it.

They should be fired!

July 07, 2014

The labour pains of Europe are made worse, and permanent, by the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks.

Sir, I refer to Sarah Gordon´s, Claire Jones´ and Peter Wise´s report on the eurozone unemployment “Labor pains” July 7.

I just wish those three would take perhaps an hour or so to sit down and discuss among themselves which of the following two Europe they would prefer, if worried about the future job perspectives of their children or grandchildren.

One, like today´s, where regulators thinking this will bring stability to the banking sector allow banks to hold less capital against what is perceived as safe than against what is ex ante perceived as risky, or one, where banks must maintain the same capital (a leverage ratio), against any asset?

In today´s Europe banks therefore earn much higher risk adjusted returns on equity when lending to the infallible sovereigns, the housing sector or a member of the AAAristocracy, than when lending to “risky” medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups. In the hypothetical Europe, in fact the Europe that used to be some decades ago, there is no such discrimination or distortion, though of course banks would as always consider the perceived credit risks in order to set interest rates, size of exposures and their other terms.

And I argue that banks in today´s Europe, as a consequence cannot finance “the risky”, those which represents so much of Europe´s potential future, but are forced to dedicate themselves mostly, or even exclusively, to re-finance the safer past… and that simply means that a new generation of jobs will never have a chance to see the light.

Please, when deciding, do not forget that most safety and prosperity of today is the result of the risk-taking of yesterday. God make us daring! Are you really going to exploit the past for your own benefit and refuse your children their future?

And I also hold that the current bank capital risk-weight distortions are, at the end of the day, absolutely useless even from the perspective of bringing stability to the banks. Because the only thing it guarantees, is that the absolutely safe will get too much credit in too lenient terms and therefore, sooner or later, ex-post, turn into absolutely risky.

And history is 100% on my side. Never ever has there been a major bank crisis caused by excessive bank exposures to what was ex-ante perceived as “risky”, these have always been caused, no exceptions by excessive exposures to what was perceived as absolutely safe but that ex-post turn out not to be.

PS. I believe FT and its journalists should be weary of the fact that there is not a chance in hell that the European Commission will order Google to eliminate the links to all the letters I have sent to all of you on the subject of the distortions caused by risk-weighted capital requirements for banks, and so you will have to live with the fact that for whatever reasons, these might indeed be very petty, you have decided to ignore my arguments.

July 05, 2014

Undercover Economist Harford, instead of "the volatility express" the rest of us we have, thanks to regulators, the volatility ball and chain.

Sir, in October 2004, in a written formal statement at the World Bank, as an Executive Director, I warned: “We believe that much of the world’s financial markets are currently being dangerously overstretched through an exaggerated reliance on intrinsically weak financial models that are based on very short series of statistical evidence and very doubtful volatility assumptions.”

And so I believe that, whether you like it or not, few have such credentials to talk about volatility.

And today I refer to Tim Harford’s “The volatility express” July 5. In it, Harford correctly describes the dangers for the financial sector of low volatility, in that it can foster a false sense of security; and the benefits for the economy of low volatility, as it can provide for the stable environment investors need in order to take risks.

But what the Undercover Economist, and you yourself, fail to understand, is that regulators, with their risk-weighted capital requirements for banks create not only an artificial false low volatility which becomes extra dangerous for banks, while at the same time, with the same risk-weights, they block the access to bank credit to those most willing to take risks when volatility is low.

And so, instead of the volatility express the “rest of us” would all like to see, we now have, thanks to regulators, the volatility ball and chain.

We must indeed fret the possibility of some fundamental lack of character at the Federal Reserve

Sir, Henny Sender makes a well argued call in “The Federal Reserve must not linger too long on QE exit” July 5; concluding with opining that “The Fed wants to have its cake and eat it too”, and asking “Might it be that the Fed has everything in reverse?" It is truly scary stuff! 

On August 23, 2006, you published a letter I sent titled “Long-term benefits of a hard landing”. Therein I wrote:

“Sir, While you correctly argue (“Hard edge of a soft landing for housing”, August 19,) that “even if gradual, a global housing slowdown would be painful” you do not really dare to put forward the hard truth that the gradualism of it all could create the most accumulated pain.

Why not try to go for a big immediate adjustment and get it over with? Yes, a collapse would ensue and we have to help the sufferer, but the morning after perhaps we could all breathe more easily and perhaps all those who, in the current housing boom could not afford to jump on the bandwagon, would then be able to do so, and take us on a new ride, towards a new housing boom in a couple of decades.

This is what the circle of life is all about and all the recent dabbling in topics such as debt sustainability just ignores the value of pruning or even, when urgently needed, of a timely amputation.”

And now Sir, soon eight years later, we can only observe how the Federal Reserve, even when facing clear evidence all what their liquidity injections and low rates have achieved is increasing or maintaining value of existent assets, and little or nothing has it done for the creation of any new real economy… are unwilling to cut the losses short, and keep placing more and more bets on the table… with our money!

Sincerely, no matter how we look at the Greenspan-Bernanke and incipient Yellen era at the Fed, we have reasons to fret the existence of some fundamental lack of character.

PS. Of course, when it comes to banks, the regulators have already evidenced plenty lack of character with their phobia against “the risky”. And so now they also have our banks placing ever larger bets on what is “safe”, blithely ignoring that in roulette, as in so many other aspects of life, you can equally lose by playing it too safe.

July 03, 2014

Please, could somebody urgently brief Fed Chair Janet Yellen on the fact that there are different kinds of bubbles?

Sir, Robin Harding reports that Janet Yellen holds that the Fed “is more interested in having a resilient financial system that can cope when asset bubbles burst than it is in popping them through rate rises” “No need to lift rates to curb risk, says Yellen” July 3.

I would totally agree with her… if only we found ourselves within a productive bubble and not as now within a useless bubble. Let me explain.

There are bubbles based on a lot of risk taking which albeit sometimes they have very large costs, at least takes us forward. And then there are bubbles, like this one based on risk aversion, that though just as costly, keeps us, in the best case scenario, stamping waters.

For instance the dotcom bubble cost us a lot, but left some useful advances, while the housing bubble with its AAA rated securities backed with mortgages to the US subprime sector was pure pain with no gain.

Facebook, I want to be happy. So if you make me sad, I will sue you!

Sir, I refer to John Gapper article about the research Facebook has been carrying on whether our feelings can be influenced, “We are the product that Facebook has been testing” July 13. I find that research to be absolutely great news!

Now Facebook, without us having to spend one penny on it, has with its own money conducted the research that proves conclusively that it needs to be controlled. And, to top it up they already confessed motives and intentions of what they were up to. And to top it up they did it as Gapper argues without really seeking anyone‘s consent. Had they done so, their confessions would not have been half as useful.

But since that research might also open a window in how Facebook could branch out in the future by offering one Happy-Facebook, one Sad-Facebook and one Slightly-dull-neutral-Facebook… let me by this formally notify Facebook that I want to be happy, and if it make me sad I will sue them into oblivion!

PS. By the way at what point could Facebook be labeled a stalker?

Current bank fines paid in cash is judicial masochism. Fines should instead be paid in voting shares.

Sir, I very much agree with Daniel Zuberbühler’s in that a much more constructive way of sanctioning the banks for misdeeds would be to increase their capital requirements, “In banking capital punishment works better than torture”, July 3. Clearly to punish banks with bribes that go against their capital, precisely when we most need them to be better capitalized so as take on their lending functions, amounts to something like judiciary masochism.

But if populist prosecutors insist on taking that route then I have also proposed sometime ago that the fines should paid by having the perpetrator issue voting shares… which the government needs to unload in the market within a specified period. That would indeed be a better way to punish what needs to be punished, without punishing ourselves.

July 02, 2014

Why does Martin Wolf keep mum about the horrendous mistakes with risk-weighted capital requirements for banks?

Sir, until about two years ago I had written way over a hundred letters to Martin Wolf where I explained the profound mistakes of the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks present in Basel II. At that point he told me, in no uncertain terms, not to explain it to him anymore since he already understood it. And since that time, as you know, I have not copied Wolf with the letters I have been sending to you commenting on his articles.

But still, week after week, like in his “Bad advice from Basel’s Jeremiah” July 2, Wolf steadfastly refuses to discuss the possibility, I would say the certainty, that these capital requirements seriously distorts all monetary and fiscal policies enacted to ease the consequences of the financial crisis, rendering these useless.

And so Sir, I have to either conclude that Martin Wolf has not understood one iota of what I explained to him, something which might be entirely my fault, or he has some other reasons for keeping mum about it.

PS. Again I will not copy Martin Wolf with this letter. You decide Sir what to do.

July 01, 2014

No Mr. John Plender, it is the lousy risk weights corset imposed on banks by the Basel Committee which is strangling the sunlit banks.

Sir, John Plender quotes Sir Charlie Bean of the BoE arguing “if lenders do find ways of moving activities outside the regulatory perimeter, there may be times when monetary policy is the only game in town to guard against incipient financial stability risks”, “Don the corset but beware the risks in dark corners” July 1.

Hold it there Mr. Plender, “risks in dark corners”? If there are any real dangerous risks those are the ones that remain within the regulatory perimeter of the sunlit banks.

With their silly risk weighted capital requirements regulators imposed on the banks a badly designed corset which only allowed these to show off their absolutely safe, but oh so boring parts.

Where is all that excitement which bank lending to the risky medium and small businesses, to entrepreneurs and start-ups can provide the economy? It is nowhere to be seen.

On the contrary all banks can now show-off is that obesity that comes from financing “infallible sovereigns”, the housing sector and the AAAristocracy… so much fat that we are even scared they could suffer an infarct any moment soon.

What a difference it would be had banks been allowed to diversify their exposures with millions of small risky loans!

Regulators painted the banks into the dangerous corner of holding much of what is perceived as safe against little capital.

Sir, Alberto Gallo notes “The irony is that the Fed is becoming trapped by its own policies. QE and low rates have helped to solve the banking crisis, but also pushed investors to take on bigger risks” “Fed has grown complacent on credit market risk” July 1.

Yes but what has trapped them even more than so is that while providing liquidity and low rates because portfolio invariant risk weights, they forced banks into ever larger and dangerous exposures to what is, for the times being, officially perceived as “absolutely safe”.

Look for instance at the UK where even though BoE expresses concern of a housing bubble, it still permit banks to hold much less capital against mortgages than for instance against loans to SMEs.

The real problem we face today is that it is impossible for regulators to help banks out of the dangerous corners they have been painted, while they refuse to admit the possibility that it was they who did most of that painting.

June 30, 2014

Poor Shinzo Abe. Has no one told him Japan as a member of G10 also signed up on Basel II’s risk-aversion?

Sir, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister with respect to the goal of achieving economic growth in Japan writes: “We are restoring Japan’s venture spirit, creating opportunities for start-ups to bid for government contracts, opening markets and promoting new entrants in areas including energy agriculture and medical services”, “My ‘third arrow’ will fell Japan’s economic demons” June 30.

I almost feel sorry for him. Has no one told him that Japan, as part of the G10, signed up on Basel II, those bank regulations that has it as its pillar, that all who are perceived as risky, like start-ups and new entrants usually are perceived, shall NOT have fair access to bank credit, because this is believed to promote the stability of the financial system?

With such an opposition, there is little Shinzo Abe, or anyone else for that matter can do, no matter how good the intentions.

Why does Wolfgang Münchau keep mum on the minimum minimorum Europe needs to do to lift itself out of its mess?


And here we are, and still another one of your star columnists, Wolfgang Münchau writes about how jolting Europe back to life… and does not even mention the role that bank capital requirements which discriminate against what is already discriminated against, namely what is perceived as risky, can have in paralyzing an economy, “An investment surge would jolt Europe back to life” June 30.

Münchau holds that Mr. Claude Juncker, the next president of the European Commission, “will need to create a consensus in favour of higher public investment across the EU, and he will need to find an ingenious way to finance it”.

I would wish instead for Mr. Juncker first to concentrate on enlightening the EU, that higher capital requirements for banks when lending to SMEs than when lending to the infallible sovereigns, to the housing sector or to members of the new AAAristocracy, make absolutely no sense. First because that blocks access to bank credit for those who are usually most in need of bank credit, and secondly they simply do not make sense from a pure bank stability perspective, as never ever have what is ex ante perceived as risky caused a major bank crisis.

For those who access bank credit, Basel II became the equivalent of a Kristallnacht. It launched a pogrom against the risky, for no good reason, and named the sovereign and the AAAristocracy a new Master Class, again for no good reason.

June 28, 2014

Becoming coward marks the beginning of the end of any civilization, and the Western World ignores what Basel II does

Sir Peter Aspden quotes Emir Kusturica with: “I am a man with a lot of passion. I will always fight for peace. But, unfortunately, it is war that drives us forward. It is war that makes the major turns. It makes Wall Street function…”, “Wars and peace” June 28.

I certainly do not agree, what moves us forward, what stops our civilization from stalling and falling, is the willingness to take risks. It is when a civilization stops taking those risks which has helped it climb up the mountain that it will immediately start rolling down to its death.

And ordering our banks to stop taking risks, without arranging for anyone or anything else to assume this responsibility, is precisely what those senseless bank regulators did when they concocted their dangerous brew of risk-weighted capital requirements for banks.

And the Western World even ignored this week the 10th anniversary of that Basel II decree, even after a first crisis had already been caused. 

If we remain on the path of having our banks concentrating their assets more and more in what is ex ante perceived as absolutely safe, we will only have to face worse and worse crises in the near future.

Why does John Authers keep mum on how low capital requirements for banks on house financing helps to inflate the bubble?

Sir last Thursday was the 10th anniversary of the G10 approving the absolutely senseless Basel II bank regulations. And here we are and still one of your star columnists, John Authers writes about the need to prevent bubbles, in this case a bubble in the value of UK housing sector… and does not even mention the role that preferential bank capital requirements can have in inflating a bubble, “Rate rises pose biggest test for BoE bubble theory” June 28.

The risk-weight on a residential mortgage is 35%, while the risk weight for a loan to an SME or an entrepreneur is 100%. And so a bank can leverage its capital about 20 times more when financing the purchase of a house, than when giving business those loans that could create the jobs that could help home buyers to pay their mortgage and their utilities.

And I am sure John Authers must understand that this helps to inflate the house bubble, and so that we could at least expect that if BoE perceived the risk of a bubble, it would increase the risk-weight for new mortgages, before toying around with other tools… but yet Authers chooses to keep mum about all that … why?

June 27, 2014

No Gillian Tett, it was sordid practices in the world of bank regulations which caused the banks to implode.

Sir, in “Shine a light on the sharks that lurks in dark pools”, June 27, Ms Tett writes that “since 2008 regulators have battled to make credit and derivatives markets more transparent”. What? Has she not read how Basel III has introduced further really hard to understand distortions to the credit markets?

But of course, if she thinks that “banks imploded… because of sordid practices that had proliferated in the worlds of derivatives and debt” she might be excused… she has still not understood it, even though as an anthropologist she should stand a better chance to understanding it than the financial experts.

Ms Tett writes that “simply relying on the principle of caveat emptor to keep the system from becoming too opaque is naïve”… Why? Our problems started precisely when regulators forgot the principle of caveat emptor and naively started to believe credit rating agencies and what they themselves perceived were the risks and allowed for ridiculously low bank apital requirements for what they thought “absolutely safe”.

No, it was not sordid practices in the world of derivatives and debt that caused our banks to explode, no matter how much comfort Ms Tett might get from thinking that way, it was sordid practices in the world of regulations that did it… and unfortunately those practices still reign.

To get balanced economic growth using risk-weighted capital requirements for banks would require a miracle.

Sir yesterday, was the 10th anniversary of the G10 approving the absolutely senseless Basel II bank regulations. And here we are and still one of your star columnists, perhaps The Star, Martin Wolf, does not understand that getting a balanced economic growth with the distortions produced by the risk-weighted capital requirements, would require a miracle, “An unbalanced recovery is no cause for complacency”, June 27.

The risk-weight on a residential mortgage is 35%, but the risk weight for a loan to an SME or an entrepreneur is 100%. And bank capital can be leveraged 20 times more when financing the purchase of a residence, than when giving business those loans that could create the jobs that could help home buyers to pay their mortgage and their utilities.

Wolf correctly opines that the only way to regain balance “is via a huge (and extremely unlikely) investment surge”. Yes more than “extremely unlikely” while we allow bank regulators to play the Masters of Universe with their risk-management based on the same perceived risks that should already have been cleared for by banks.

PS. Sir, as always I leave it to you to decide whether to copy or not this comment to Wolf. I won´t since he has told me in no uncertain terms he does not want to hear more about this as he understands all there is to understand about the risk-weighted capital requirements… though clearly he does not!

June 26, 2014

Today marks the 10th anniversary of Basel II, Europe´s economic Waterloo, or financial Kristallnacht, and FT does not care.


With those regulations some few unelected regulators who felt they knew more about risks than the rest of the world, and since they hated credit risks, decided to allow banks to hold much lower capital when lending to the absolutely safe than when lending to the risky.

And that meant banks would then be able to earn much higher risk adjusted returns on equity lending to the absolutely safe than when lending to the risky.

And so from that day on, all bank lending to medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups started to dry up. And since it is precisely that kind of bank lending that which helps an economy to move forward, from that moment on the Western world economic bicycle started to stall and fall.

And all that, for no good “stability” reasons at all, since the real monsters that always threat the banking sector, are never ever those that look ugly and risky, but always those that look so adorable and safe.

And since Europe was the one who embraced Basel II the most from the moment go, to me, June 26, 2004, represent Europe´s economic Waterloo, or its financial Kristallnacht, a pogrom against the risky risk-takers, those who had helped Europe become what it had become.

And today June 26, 2014, it is with much sadness that I see Europeans do not really care. For instance, the Financial Times, presumably the most important financial paper in Europe, does not even mention the fact of the 10th anniversary of Basel II.

That same day the Basel Committee appointed a new financial Master Race... those stamped with an AAA rating, and gave it privileges... and you still wonder why inequality is on the rise?

June 24, 2014

If banks use “big data”, which is good, regulators must stay away from it.

Sir, I completely agree that banks should use all information available to make judgments on credit worthiness, as is described by Patrick Jenkins in “Big data lends new Zest to banks’ credit judgments” June 24. That can only help them to allocate credit better.

What I cannot accept though is that bank regulators should use precisely the same data to decide upon the capital requirements for banks… for two reasons.

First, by giving extra weight to information already cleared for, they can only distort the allocation of bank credit.

Second, Jenkins refers to “know your customer”, and in this respect it is important for regulators to remember that their concern should not be with the clients of banks defaulting, but with the banks defaulting, which is of course pas la même chose… as banks mostly default because of excessive exposures to what was erroneously perceived as absolutely safe.

FT, please, don’t spill the beans about the risks of cocoa to the Basel Committee.

Sir, Emiko Terazono quotes Derek Chambers of Sucres & Denrés saying “If you’ve got a piece of land, do you grow cocoa which needs a lot of labor and is prone to disease, or something [like palm oil and rubber] that doesn´t need a lot of work and produces money every couple of months”, “Cocoa deficit puts squeeze on chocolatiers” June 24.

Holy moly! He better not tell that to the bank regulators in the Basel Committee since then, consistent with their actions, they would, even though banks already have cleared for those risks, immediately impose higher capital requirements on banks when financing cocoa than when financing palm oil, rubber or arabica coffee… because “it is oh so risky and we can’t have our banks financing that”, and then we would really see a squeeze being placed on chocolatiers.

June 23, 2014

You in FT have more voice than most professors teaching finance, so who’s really more “responsible for teaching responsibility”?

Sir, I refer to John Authers’ “Who is responsible of teaching responsibility” June 23, FT’s special “Business Education: Financial Training”

There Authers writes “And yet biggest business schools find it hard to prepare their students to joust with regulations. One problem is practical: these days, the top schools are global, but regulation is country specific” Hey where has Auther’s been? Does he not know that on June 26, 2004, 10 years ago, the G10 signed up on Basel II which established that truly nutty concept of risk-weighted capital requirements?

Had these business schools, and FT journalists, been a little more responsible for what they were doing, they would most certainly informed the regulators in their ivory towers, that this was going to distort the allocation of bank credit in the real economy, with tragically consequences.

And Authers also refers to “the pre-crisis power of credit rating agencies. The Basel II bank regulations gave investors a big incentive to buy anything stamped triple A by agencies. That way lay disaster.” Come on Authers. How many borrowers are not any longer contracting credit ratings because of Basel III? And how did Basel III really change something? By banks being forced to take a tougher stance if they believe credit ratings were wrong? Whoa!

And then Authers writes that “ratings were only ever advertised as opinions on publicly available information”. Where does he get that from? The truth is that credit rating agencies quite often have access to much more information the public and bankers have.

And if we are to talk about ethics, let us be clear that it is highly unethical of regulators to discriminate against “the risky”, those already discriminated against precisely because they are perceived as risky, as unethical it is for financial journalists to shut up about that discrimination… and so John Authers and colleagues might be more in need of courses in ethics than students in business schools… though that admittedly leaves us with the problem of finding out who are going to teach you those ethics. Me?

June 21, 2014

For the banks to stay out of the shadows, their regulators must not hide in the shadows, or hide the sun.

Sir, in your “Banking must stay out of the shadows” June 21, you hold that “Regulators are better equipped institutionally to monitor risks and respond when threats arise”.

Sorry, the Financial Times, which has such a clear role to play as a critical observer, should never be allowed to make such a categorical statement.

The truth is that regulators are just as well capable of making everything so much worse, by means of how they monitor and respond to threats.

For instance current risk-weighted capital requirements for banks, is the consequence of regulators responding to their own monsters, with little considerations of what monsters could be dangerous for the banks; and so, by distorting the allocation of bank credit, their regulations turned into the real threat.

Could it really be that all you at FT fear the regulators so much you do not even dare to ask them… where they have found the causality between a borrower being ex ante perceived as risky, from a creditworthiness point of view, and a bank failing?”

Or is it that you are all ideologically programmed to favor regulators?

Yes, you do accept that “regulators must beware of creating new fragilities”, but that seems more like a simple salute of the flag, when you then write that “the authorities have done much to re-regulate banks”. That is not true … any re-regulation worthy of its name must begin with a full understanding of what went wrong… and that the regulators have until now refused to do… just as you at FT have refused to holding them accountable to do so.

Sometimes it is very hard to collect the money you win betting on where your mouth is

Sir, I refer to Tim Harford’s “Money where your mouth is” June 21. Suppose I had place money where my mouth was with the following:

“We have bank regulations that though requiring banks to hold 8 percent in capital when lending to businesses without credit ratings, allow banks to hold only 1.6 percent capital when lending to someone who has ex ante an AAA rating. And so I bet $1.000 on that, within the next decade, banks will lend much too much to some borrower ex ante rated as absolutely safe, but who ex post turns out to be very risky… and that this, aggravated by the fact that for that against that exposure banks had to hold little capital, will result in a major bank crisis.”

What would you had said about a bank regulator betting against me? And, if he had done so, would the current crisis not mean that I had won the bet, long before the decade ran out? But tell me…how would I collect my winnings?

I say this because banks regulators actually bet the whole banking system against my theoretical proposition, and I have not seen anyone paying up! On the contrary they have mostly been promoted. Like Mario Draghi, the former Chair of the Financial Stability Board, promoted to President of the European Central Bank. Like Jaime Caruana, the former chairman of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, promoted to General Manager of Bank for International Settlements.

Yes Tim Harford, “a world full of confident forecasts that nobody [including FT] never bothers to verify… is intolerable”. And so I would agree that “the world needs more wagers between pundits” but, before we start the betting, let us be sure there is a decent clearing house where these debts could be settled.

June 20, 2014

A very simple question to all of you there at FT

If you were a bank regulator, which rating would you use to set the capital requirements for banks? That of a borrower defaulting or that of a borrower’s default causing a banks default? I ask, simply because they are clearly not the same.

Yes! Drag also bank regulators in front of a judge, to force them to answer one simple question.

Sir, I refer to your “A light shines on bank misconduct” June 20. You are indeed right in that fighting these bank misbehavior cases in courts, might give everyone of us a better understanding of what is going on.

I would of course also love to have a prosecutor hauling bank regulators in front of a court to extract from them the answer they have so steadfastly refused to answer. Can you imagine a prosecutor addressing them as follows?

“Gentlemen those risk-weighted capital requirements for banks of yours discriminate against the fair access to bank credit for those perceived as risky, like that of medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups… with very negative consequences for the possibilities of our young to find good jobs. And all that you say you do in order to bring stability to the banking system.

And so regulators, PhDs, and whatever other Easterly-experts might be present, would anyone of you please explain to the judge… where the hell do you find the causality between a borrower being ex ante perceived as risky, from a creditworthiness point of view, and a bank failing?

June 19, 2014

And when are investors to sue Blackrock and Pimco because of these experts lack of due diligence?

Sir, I read Camilla Hall and Luc Cohen reporting “Six banks sued over trustee roles” June 19.

What­? If Pimco or Blackrock had had any of those executives really deserving huge bonuses they hold they have, they should have know that if regulators authorized banks to hold securities rated as AAA, against a so meager 1.6 percent in capital, meaning they could leverage their own capital 62.5 times to 1, something very bad was going to happen, and so they needed to be very alert.

And so in this respect I ask, when are the Pimco and the Blackrock investors going to sue Pimco and Blackrock for the lack of due diligence?

If expert companies can try to get out of their buyer’s beware responsibility, why should not the small investors try?

Who brainwashed FT’s Sarah Gordon?

Sir, Sarah Gordon writes “The relationships between local lenders and their clients … were often too cosy, with loans handed over without the due diligence that should have accompanied them. Generations of family relied on one source of borrowing. Generations of banks asked too few searching questions about companies´ growth plans”, “Europe´s small companies get back in the funding picture” June 19.

Indeed Sarah Gordon, that is not good, but so what? Is that an excuse from locking out small businesses in general from access to bank credit, as the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks do?

Yes there has been many problems with some of these companies… but can you remember any one of them that caused so much damage as the AAA-rated securities backed with badly awarded subprime mortgages in the US, and which were so much in demand because regulators thought these to be so safe… only because credit ratings said so?

It is high noon for some intellectual honesty. Don’t you think so Sarah Gordon?

PS. And of course I am not picking on you specifically Sarah Gordon. In FT with respect to the distortions risk-weighted capital requirements produce, there are many much worse brainwashed than you! (As you know :-))

PS. And by the way, if it comes to too cozy relations, I much prefer those between banks and small to medium sized borrowers, than that between the banks and their infallible sovereign.

Just like we do not like overly sissy nannies to educate our kids, we do not want overly sissy regulators to regulate our banks.

Sir, Sam Fleming and Gina Chon begin by quoting David Wright, secretary general of Iosco saying “It is extraordinary that here we are, nearly seven years in [from the financial crisis] and we still have an inadequate understanding of some of the key aspects of financial markets” “Push begins to put lenders’ house in order”, June 19.

But then reporting on the meltdown of the subprime loans, and even though they mention that some regulators “have imposed though capital requirements on investors who buy asset-backed securities, they basically support putting the blame on some “shadow finance”, and do not even mention the role extreme low capital requirements, for the banks in the sunshine, played in creating the demand for bundled subprime loans which caused the crisis.

Those low capital requirements resulted because sissy regulators, personally scared of some risks, thought those were the risks which were dangerous to our banks. And, in doing so, they are killing our economies, by keeping our banks refinancing the safer past and not financing the riskier future that our young unemployed so much need to be financed, in order not to become a lost generation.

No Sir! We, who have thrived on risk taking, cannot afford our banks now being in hands of so sissy regulators.

And those journalists too sissy to dare holding the regulators truly accountable, we do not need them either.

Europe, ECB, if what FT writes is what IMF will recommend you… please don’t listen to it. They’ve lost it!

Sir, Peter Spiegel and Claire Jones write that “IMF urges eurozone bond purchases” “primarily of sovereign assets” “to stimulate growth”, June 19.

Forget it! In the best of cases you would receive a short term stimulus that would lead to some flabby obesity type growth, because injecting liquidity by buying bonds sovereign debt, amounts only to a carbs and fat based diet.

No, if you are going to stand a chance to achieve some type of sturdy muscular growth, you have to open up the doors for the banks to lend to the medium and small businesses, to the entrepreneurs and the start-ups, to the real proteins of the economy, those doors that have been shut by the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks

IMF has lost it? YES!

BoE, of course prudential bank regulations is not everything, especially when totally imprudent

Sir, Chris Giles writes “The Old Lady is right that prudential policy is not everything” June 19. Absolutely! And this is especially so when the prudential policy applied, is the wrong one.

Prudential bank regulations rule 1.

Whatever you do, beware of the dangers of distorting the allocation of bank credit in the real economy; precisely like what is being done now with the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks.

Prudential bank regulations rule 2.

Never forget that in the financial world what is perceived as “risky” is a thousand times less dangerous than whatever is perceived as “absolutely safe”; something which regulators have completely ignored with their current risk-weights in the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks.

If one gets ones prudential regulations right there is less need for monetary policies. If one does not get ones prudential regulations right, no monetary policy can make up for it… in fact it could make things much worse... adding to the distrust of the financial system the distrust in the currency.

For sturdy long term stability we need lots of short term instability, and bank regulations which do not distort.

Sir I refer to Paul Tucker´s “Financial regulation needs principles as well as rules” June 19,

Sir, I do not care much for stability in the financial system, if that stability impedes clearing out lousy banks or bankers, or if that stability is obtained by tools that hinder growth. In fact little can assure to bring on the sturdy long term stability we need, than the existence of a lot of short term instabilities.

And that is why I do get nervous when I read Paul Tucker asking regulators to go for “systemic stability” and to assign them “an explicit goal in preserving stability”… “Financial regulation needs principles as well as rules” June 19. Forget it! The unemployed European youth that could become a lost generation need moving forward more than they need stability.

But when Tucker writes “we need a clearer framework for the regulations of markets, articulated as a coherent whole and based on clear economic and policy principles addressed to real-world vulnerabilities” there I whole heartedly agree.

Problem is though that would indicate the importance of not distorting the allocation of credit to the real economy, which is precisely what the risk-weighted capital requirements do; and that out there, in the real financial world, what is most dangerous is not what is perceived as risky but what is perceived as absolutely safe, something which would point to that the risk-weighted capital requirements for banks are weighing risks 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

PS. Today in an Op-Ed in Venezuela I published “The capital control the IMF supports” you may want to have a look at it.

June 18, 2014

The capital requirements for banks based on perceived risk, distort the correct risk pricing that the market might have done.

Sir, Simon Johnson writes about the risk of “Concentrating risk with the laudable goal of reducing opaqueness”… “Chaos is brewing behind the clearing house doors” June 18.

Absolutely, that was precisely what happened when regulators decided to concentrate in the hands of very few human fallible rating agencies, so much of the risk perceptions in the banking system… and look at what happened.

But, when Johnson begins lining up AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as causing big distortions in the pricing of risk, I do not agree. The most fundamental distortions in the pricing of risks are the result of the regulators, with their capital requirements for banks based on perceived risk, distorting the correct risk pricing that the market might have done.

If the £30 million Rembrandt painting was John Kay’s, when would he worry about Piketty taxing it?

Sir, John Kay writes about “The problem of finding fair value in fine art and finance” June 18.

And, in doing so he gives us the example of a painting that the National Trust has just discovered to be by a Rembrandt and estimating its value to be £30 million.

If that painting was hanging in John Kay’s home, when would he start worrying about Thomas Piketty taxing it?

Mr. Martin Wolf, would not having a climate fix ruin investors even more?

Sir, I do not understand Martin Wolf’s “A climate fix would ruin investors” June 18. If climate change warnings are for real, as Wolf says he believes … would not having a climate fix ruin investors even more?

And what about diversification? If, while fixing the climate, governments go wrong and mess it all up by for instance financing Solyndras and then go broke… would not a little coal mine left in the portfolio perhaps come in handy for those days we might have to mitigate the disaster?

June 17, 2014

Europe, don’t you wish your banks had been shadow banks, or at least were shadow banks now?

Sir, I refer to Patrick Jenkins’ and Sam Fleming’s analysis of shadow banks in Europe “Into the shadows – Taking another path” June 17. What a strange history telling!

First they quote Jean-Pierre Mustier, the former investment banking boss at France’s Societé Générale remembering “the dark days before the 2008 financial crisis” saying: “Before the crisis, there was a lot of ‘dark’ shadow banking… pushing chunks of loans… designed to dodge rules on excessive risk taking”, and write that “About $400bn worth of subprime loans and other assets… that had been coursing through the shadow banking”.

What? After Basel II was approved in June 2004, banks in Europe were allowed to hold AAA rated securities backed by subprime mortgages against only 1.6% in capital, signifying an authorized leverage of 62.5 to 1. The truth is that no shadow bank, no matter how defined, could never ever aspire to achieve such a leverage, unless in a fraudulent way.

Of course, a bank with a low risk portfolio could be allowed to hold less capital than a bank with a higher risk profile, but that would be one single capital requirement against its whole portfolio; and not as now, different capital requirements against different parts of the portfolio. Had it been like that the European banks would never had had the incentives to build up such huge exposures to the infallible sovereigns, the AAAristocracy or the housing sector, nor to abandon the “risky” small businesses the entrepreneurs and the start-ups.

Frankly, as is, the best chance that unemployed European youth has of not becoming a lost generation would seem to be for all European banks to run into the shadows.

Then the authors write that part of “the raison d’être of the shadow banks is arbitraging the regulated banking system”. Indeed but they should ask themselves first about who is serving up such incredible generous menu of arbitrage possibilities?

And we also read that “policy makers such as Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England and head of the FSB, argue that some shadow banks will have to be supervised more like banks”. Europe, pray your shadow banks fast run deeper into the woods, way out of reach of these regulators who, with so much hubris, believe they should be the self appointed risk-managers of Europe.

How much safe sound private money can we really have before it really becomes just too dangerous?

Sir, Paul McCulley writes “The crisis of the past decade was a reminder of the instability inherent in private money”, as if public money is inherently stable, “Make shadow banks safe and private money sound” June 17.

Also, as I see it, the number one reason private money turned unstable, was precisely the efforts of regulators to make it safe… as they concocted those senseless capital requirements for banks based on perceived risks, and which only guaranteed that when a bank crisis resulted from excessive exposures to what was perceived as absolutely safe, as all bank crisis do, the banks would then be standing there with their defenses, their capital, at a very low.

No Mr. McCulley, you at Pimco might have a vested interest in it, but I guarantee you that we, the rest, have no wish for Easterly’s tyrant experts to make our private money too safe… that is just too dangerous.

In these globalized times, would you not want your flag to be a flag of convenience, flagged by many?

Sir, what extraordinary interesting questions and suggestion of answers those of Janan Ganesh in “Fly the flag for the liberal values that define Britain” June 17.

I have often proposed that in these days of social media with circles of friends and known and unknown acquaintances, we should always be able have a fast reference to where on earth we all find ourselves, what flags we feel we live under, and perhaps what flags we would like to live under… because, just as ships can carry a convenience flag, why should not a Venezuelan-Polish citizen, in Sweden educated and in Washington living individual like me not be able to carry a British flag if that was the flag I best liked.

And in this respect I do not think that asking what is the flag Britain should flag to rouse the nationalistic sentiments of the locals, is half as good as asking what flag should Britain flag to rouse the globals to want to align behind “the liberal values that define Britain”. In these days we must never forget that you do not need an Armada to conquer, nor do others need an Armada to conquer you.

Or, as Violet Crawley might have admonished, “Do not be so parochial. It is so middle class”.

And with respect to flagging and signalization let us never forget that the order is vital. For instance if you flag the ex-ante maximization of opportunities flag long before the ex-post redistribution of wealth flag, I am certain you will get much better results than flagging in the order that Thomas Piketty sort of seems to imply.

June 16, 2014

FT Do you suggest we leave it all in hands of an Easterly type tyranny of “experts” in thinking machines morality?

Sir, so you want some morality experts to begin thinking about “the morality of thinking machines”? June 16.

The same type of experts that came up with those utterly immoral (and stupid) capital requirements for banks based on perceived risks which discriminate against those already discriminated and favors those already favored?

The same morality possessed by those willing to finance any human rights violator around the world, as long as the risk premium is right?

No thanks the way it looks some of us might prefer betting on artificial intelligence coming up with its own morality… because at least it would most probably not be so dumb so as to think that bank crises arise from excessive much exposures to the ex ante risky.

At least I would not like to leave this in the hands of an Easterly type tyranny, of experts in thinking machines morality.

PS. Is it moral for FT to cover up the stupidity of experts?

For Europe to reduce the horrors of its house of debt, it needs to allow its risky-risk-takers to get going.

Sir, Wolfgang Münchau writes about a “balance sheet recession: the notion that indebted households and corporations do not care about cheap interest rates but just want to offload debt. When that happens monetary policy becomes ineffective” and then, salt on the wound, he quotes Moritz Kramer of Standards & Poor’s saying “The Europeans have barely begun to deleverage”, “Europe faces the horrors of its own house of debt” June 16.

Has Münchau ever heard that “when the going gets tough the tough get going”? If so I would ask him who he thinks might be the real tough in Europe. And I would advance that would be all those with a spirit of initiative who are willing to risk either their good name or whatever little capital they have, in order to take on a business venture.

And, if you agree, then reflect on that these are precisely those who are now locked out from having a fair access to bank credit by the sissy bank regulators and their risk-weighted capital requirements.

And so, if Europe is going to have a chance to reduce “the horrors of its own house of debt”, it must start by inducing banks to allow the risky-risk-takers of Europe, wherever you can find them, to get going. 

Given the real and urgent needs of Europe, the risk-weight on loans to “risky” medium and small businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups, should be lower than that of their “infallible sovereigns.”

June 15, 2014

Mark Carney, do not use shadow banks to hide the mistakes committed by the regulators of the banks in the sun!

Sir I refer to Mark Carney’s “The need to focus a light on shadow banking is nigh” June 15.

Carney writes “In the run-up to the crisis, opacity in shadow banking fed an increase in leverage and a reliance on short-term wholesale funding. Misaligned incentives in complex and opaque securitisation structures weakened lending standards…The goal is to replace a shadow banking system prone to excess and collapse with one that contributes to strong, sustainable balanced growth of the world economy… As the G20 completes work on the core of the financial system, reforms to shadow banking must, and will, progress. Now is the time to take shadow banking out of the shadows and to create sustainable market-based finance."

Mr. Carney what on earth had shadow banking to do with the crisis? The current crisis was set off by an incredible misalignment of incentives caused by adopting risk-weighted capital requirements, in conjunction with assigning a risk perception monopoly to some very few human fallible credit rating agencies.

Does Carney really believe that the problem with the AAA rated securities backed with lousily awarded mortgages, the bubble of the real estate sector in Spain, the excessive loans given to sovereigns like Greece, and similar which could be financed by banks against basically no shareholders’ capital had much to do with the shadow banking?

No way José!

The only way G20 can do something worthwhile in terms of reform, is to accept with much humility that the risk-weighted capital requirements not only distort the allocation of credit in the real economy but are also, from a medium term financial stability perspective, utter nonsensical... since major bank crises never occur from excessive exposures to what is ex ante perceived as risky.