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Posts Tagged ‘banking reform’

Global deflation danger

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, has warned of the danger of deflation in the eurozone. She also spoke of the risks of a slowdown in the developing world as the Fed tapers off its quantitative easing programme – a programme that has provided a boost to many emerging economies.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, in the Swiss Alps, she did acknowledge signs of recovery across the world, but generally her speech focused on the risks to economic growth.

Some of these risks are old, such as a lack of fundamental bank reform and a re-emergence of risky behaviour by banks. Banks have taken steps towards recapitalisation, and the Basel III rules are beginning to provide greater capital buffers. But many economists believe that the reforms do not go far enough and that banks are once again beginning to behave too recklessly.

Some of the risks are new, or old ones resurfacing in a new form. In particular, the eurozone, with inflation of just 0.8%, is dangerously close to falling into a deflationary spiral, with people holding back on spending as they wait for prices to fall.

Another new risk concerns the global impact of the Fed tapering off its quantitative easing programme (see Tapering off? Not yet). This programme has provided a considerable boost, not just to the US economy, but to many emerging economies. Much of the new money flowed into these economies as investors sought better returns. Currencies such as the Indian rupee, the Brazilian real and the Turkish lira are now coming under pressure. The Argentinean peso has already been hit by speculation and fell by 11% on 24/1/14, its biggest one-day fall since 2002. Although a fall in emerging countries’ currencies will help boost demand for their exports, it will drive up prices in these countries and put pressure on central banks to raise interest rates.

Christine Lagarde was one of several speakers at a session titled, Global Economic Outlook 2014. You can see the complete session by following the link below.

Articles
Lagarde warns of risks to global economic recovery TVNZ (27/1/14)
Lagarde Cautions Davos on Global Deflation Risk Bloomberg News, Ian Katz (26/1/14)
Davos 2014: Eurozone inflation ‘way below target’ BBC News (25/1/14)
IMF fears global markets threat as US cuts back on cash stimulus The Guardian, Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor (25/1/14)
Davos 2014: looking back on a forum that was meant to look ahead The Guardian, Larry Elliott (26/1/14)

Speeches at the WEF
Global Economic Outlook 2014 World Economic Forum (25/1/14)

Questions

  1. Why is deflation undesirable?
  2. What are the solutions to deflation? Why is it difficult to combat deflation?
  3. What are the arguments for the USA tapering off its quantitative easing programme (a) more quickly; (b) less quickly?
  4. How is tapering off in the USA likely to affect the exchange rates of the US dollar against other currencies? Why will the percentage effect be different from one currency to another?
  5. What are Japan’s three policy arrows (search previous posts on this site)? Should the eurozone follow these three policies?
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Taking the gambling out of high street banking (update)

Original post (19/9/11)
The Independent Commission on Banking (ICB), led by Sir John Vickers, has just delivered its report. Central to its remit was to investigate ways of making retail banking safer and avoid another bailout by the government, as was necessary in 2007/8.

The report recommended the ‘ringfencing’ of retail banking from the more risky investment banking, often dubbed ‘casino banking’. In other words, if the investment arm of a universal bank made a loss, or even faced collapse, this would not affect the retail arm. The ringfenced operations would include banking services to households and small businesses. Wholesale and investment banking would be outside the ringfence. As far as retail banking services to big business are concerned, these could be inside the ringfence, but details would need to be worked out about precisely which banking services to big business would be inside and which would be outside the ringfence.

The ICB was keen to stress that the ringfence should be high and that the retail arm should be both operationally and legally separate from the wholesale/investment arm. The ringfenced part of the bank should have a capital adequacy ratio of up to 20% (above the Basel III recommendations), with at least 10% of liabilities in the form of equity. Capital could only be moved from the ringfenced arm to the investment arm of the bank if this did not breach the 10% ratio.

The ICB report also recommends measures to increase competition in banking, including making it easier to switch accounts, greater transparency about the terms of accounts and a referral of the banking industry for a competition investigation in 2015. The cost to the banking industry of the measures, if fully implemented, is estimated to be between £4m and £7m.

Because of the requirement in the report for banks to build up their capital and the danger that a too rapid process here would jeopardise the expansion of lending necessary to underpin the recovery, banks would be given until 2019 to complete the recommendations. Moves towards this, however, would need to start soon.

Update (19/12/11)
In December 2011, the government announced that it would accept most of the ICB report, including separating retail and investment banking. It would not, however, demand such stringent capital requirements as those recommended in the report.

The following articles examine the details of the proposals and their likely effectiveness. The later articles examine the government’s response.

Original articles (some with videos)
Vickers report: main points The Telegraph (12/9/11)
Bank reforms aim to get taxpayers off the hook Money Marketing, Natalie Holt, Steve Tolley (15/9/11)
Vickers report: key point Guardian, Jill Treanor (12/9/11)
Vickers report: banks get until 2019 to ringfence high street operation Guardian, Jill Treanor (12/9/11)
Bank reform: To rip asunder The Economist (17/9/11)
Banking reforms: Good fences The Economist (17/9/11)
Banks barred from putting depositors’ money at risk as Vickers’ reforms increases costs by up to £7 billion The Telegraph, Harry Wilson (12/9/11)
Vickers report: Q&A The Telegraph (12/9/11)
Vickers report: reaction The Telegraph (12/9/11)
ICB bank reforms could cost UK banks £7bn a year The Telegraph, Harry Wilson (12/9/11)
Money Insider: Will reforms really shake up the high street? Independent, Andrew Hagger (17/9/11)
Bank reforms bring quick improvements Financial Times, Elaine Moore (16/9/11)
Vickers’ critics are missing the point Financial Times, Diane Coyle and Jonathan Haskel (12/9/11)

Audio podcasts
The Business podcast: The Vickers report Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty, Jill Treanor and Nils Pratley (13/9/11)
Vickers: Bank reforms ‘will get taxpayers off the hook’ BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, Sir John Vickers (12/9/11)
‘Enormous dilemma’ for UK’s biggest banks BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, Robert Peston (12/9/11)

ICB report and press conference
Press Conference: Vickers: Banks ‘must be ring-fenced’ BBC News (12/9/11)
Portal to Full Report and Transcript of Opening Remarks by Sir John Vickers at Press Conference. Independent Commission on Banking

Later articles and webcasts
Chancellor George Osborne to announce banking split BBC News, Nigel Cassidy (19/12/11)
Osborne to address MPs on Vickers’ report into banking BBC News (19/12/11)
Bank break-up law by 2015 BBC News. Robert Peston (18/12/11)
Osborne to Pledge U.K. Bank Legislation by 2015 Bloomberg, Gonzalo Vina and Jennifer Ryan (19/12/11)
In bank reform, ‘in full’ must mean exactly that Independent (19/12/11)
How far and how fast is key to the reforms Independent, Ben Chu (19/12/11)
George Osborne poised to bring in full banking reforms The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead and Harry Wilson (18/12/11)
EU will not impede Vickers reforms Financial Times, George Parker and Sharlene Goff (18/12/11)

Questions

  1. Explain the difference between a capital adequacy ratio and a liquidity ratio. Will the Vickers proposals help to increase the liquidity of the retail banking arm of universal banks?
  2. Does it matter if equity capital in excess of the 10% requirement for retail banking is transferred to a bank’s investment arm?
  3. What risks are there for a bank in retail banking?
  4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of bringing in the measures gradually over an 8-year period?
  5. Does it matter that the capital adequacy requirements are higher than under the internationally accepted standards in Basel III?
  6. Assume that there is another global financial crisis. Will the proposals in the report mean that the UK taxpayer will not have to provide a bailout?
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Basel III – tough new regulations, or letting banks off lightly?

Under the Basel II arrangements, banks were required to maintain particular capital adequacy ratios (CARs). These were to ensure that banks had sufficient capital to allow them to meet all demands from depositors and to cover losses if a borrower defaulted on payment. Basel II, it was (wrongly) thought would ensure that the banking system could not collapse.

There were three key ratios. The first was an overall minimum CAR of 8%, measured as Tier 1 capital plus Tier 2 capital as a percentage of total risk-weighted assets. As Economics 7th edition page 509 explains:

Tier 1 capital includes bank reserves (from retained profits) and ordinary share capital, where dividends to shareholders vary with the amount of profit the bank makes. Such capital thus places no burden on banks in times of losses as no dividend need be paid. What is more, unlike depositors, shareholders cannot ask for their money back. Tier 2 capital consists largely of preference shares. These pay a fixed rate of interest and thus do continue to place a burden on the bank even when losses are made (unless the bank goes out of business).

Risk-weighted assets are the value of assets, where each type of asset is multiplied by a risk factor. Under the internationally agreed Basel II accord, cash and government bonds have a risk factor of zero and are thus not included. Inter-bank lending between the major banks has a risk factor of 0.2 and is thus included at only 20 per cent of its value; residential mortgages have a risk factor of 0.35; personal loans, credit-card debt and overdrafts have a risk factor of 1; loans to companies carry a risk factor of 0.2, 0.5, 1 or 1.5, depending on the credit rating of the company. Thus the greater the average risk factor of a bank’s assets, the greater will be the value of its risk weighted assets, and the lower will be its CAR.

The second CAR was that Tier 1 capital should be at least 4% of risk weighted assets.

The third CAR was that equity capital (i.e. money raised from the issue of ordinary shares) should be at least 2% of risk weighted assets. This is known as the ‘core capital ratio’.

Before 2008, it was thought by most commentators that these capital adequacy ratios were sufficiently high. But then the banking crisis erupted. Banks were too exposed to sub-prime debt (i.e. debt that was excessively risky, such as mortgages on property at a time when property prices were rapidly declining). Much of this debt was disguised by being bundled up with other securities in what were known as collateralised debt obligations (CDOs). On 15 September 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy: the largest bankruptcy in history, with Lehmans owing $613 billion. Although its assets had a book value of $639, these were insufficiently liquid to enable Lehmans to meet the demands of its creditors.

The collapse of Lehmans sent shock waves around the world. Banks across the globe came under tremendous pressure. Many held too much sub-prime debt and had insufficient capital to meet creditors’ demands. As a result, they had to be bailed out by their governments. Clearly the Basel II regulations were too lax.

For several months there have been discussions about new tighter regulations and, on 12 September 2010, central bankers from the major countries met in Basel, Switzerland, and agreed the Basel III regulations. Although the overall CAR (Tier 1 and 2) was kept at 8%, the Tier 1 ratio was raised from 4% to 6% and the core Tier 1 ratio was raised from 2% to 4.5%, to be phased in by 2015. In addition there were two ‘buffers’ introduced.

As well as having to maintain a core Tier 1 ratio of 4.5%, banks would also have to hold a ‘conservation buffer’ of 2.5%. “The purpose of the conservation buffer is to ensure that banks maintain a buffer of capital that can be used to absorb losses during periods of financial and economic stress. While banks are allowed to draw on the buffer during such periods of stress, the closer their regulatory capital ratios approach the minimum requirement, the greater the constraints on earnings distributions.” In effect, then, the core Tier 1 ratio will rise from 2% to 7% (i.e. 4.5% minimum plus a buffer of 2.5%).

The other buffer is a ‘countercyclical buffer’. This will be “within a range of 0% – 2.5% of common equity or other fully loss absorbing capital and will be implemented according to national circumstances.” The idea of this buffer is to allow banks to withstand volatility in the global economy. It will be phased in between 2016 and 2019.

The Basel III agreement will still need to be ratified by the G20 countries meeting at Seoul on 10 and 11 November this year. That meeting will also consider other elements of bank regulation.

So will these extra capital requirements be sufficient to allow banks to withstand any future crisis? The following articles discuss this question.

Articles
Global bankers agree new capital reserve rules BBC News (12/9/10)
Q&A: Basel rules on bank capital – who cares? BBC News, Laurence Knight (13/9/10)
Basel III and Sound Banking New American, Charles Scaliger (17/9/10)
Wishy-washy rules might come back to haunt regulators Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins (18/9/10)
Basel III proposal released Newsweek, Joel Schectman (17/9/10)
New Bank Rules May Not Prevent More Meltdowns FXstreet, Henrik Arnt (16/9/10)
Basel III CBS Money Watch, Mark Thoma (14/9/10)
Basel III: To lend or not to lend Investment Week, Martin Morris (16/9/10)
Taming the banks The Economist (16/9/10)
Basel’s buttress The Economist (16/9/10)
Do new bank-capital requirements pose a risk to growth? The Economist, guest contributions
Myners: New rules ‘ignore bank liquidity’ BBC Today Programme, Robert Peston and Lord Myners (18/9/10)

Official press releases and documents
Group of Governors and Heads of Supervision announces higher global minimum capital standards Bank for International Settlements Press Release (12/9/10)
The Basel iii Accord Basel iii Compliance Professionals Association (BiiiCPA)
Details of the new capital requirements Bank for International Settlements
Details of the phase-in arrangements Bank for International Settlements

Questions

  1. What impact will a higher capital adequacy ratio have on banks’ behaviour?
  2. For what reasons may the Basel III regulations be considered too lax?
  3. When there is an increase in deposits into the banking sector, banks can increase loans by a multiple of this. This bank deposits multiplier is the inverse of the liquidity ratio. Is there a similar bank capital multiplier and, if so, what determines its size?
  4. Why will Basel III be phased in over a number of years? Is this too long?
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A stressful time for banks

In the aftermath of the credit crunch and the recession, many banks had to be bailed out by central banks and some, such as Northern Rock and RBS, were wholly or partially nationalised. Tougher regulations to ensure greater liquidity and higher proportions of capital to total liabilities have been put in place and further regulation is being planned in many countries.

So are banks now able to withstand future shocks?

In recent months, new threats to banks have emerged. The first is the prospect of a double-dip recession as many countries tighten fiscal policy in order to claw down debts and as consumer and business confidence falls. The second is the concern about banks’ exposure to sovereign debt: i.e. their holding of government bonds and other securities. If there is a risk that countries might default on their debts, then banks would suffer and confidence in the banking system could plummet, triggering a further banking crisis. With worries that countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland might have problems in servicing their debt, and with the downgrading of these countries by rating agencies, this second problem has become more acute for banks with large exposure to the debt of these and similar countries.

To help get a measure of the extent of the problem and, hopefully, to reassure markets, the Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS) has been conducting ‘stress tests’ on European banks. On 24 July, it published its findings. The following articles look at these tests and the findings and assess whether the tests were rigorous enough.

Articles
Bank balance: EU stress tests explained Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins, Emily Cadman and Steve Bernard (13/7/10)
Seven EU banks fail stress test healthchecks BBC News, Robert Peston (23/7/10)
Interactive: EU stress test results by bank Financial Times, Emily Cadman, Steve Bernard, Johanna Kassel and Patrick Jenkin (23/7/10)
Q&A: What are the European bank stress tests for? BBC News (23/7/10)
Europe’s Stress-Free Stress Test Fails to Make the Grade Der Spiegel (26/7/10)
A test cynically calibrated to fix the result Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (25/7/10)
Europe confronts banking gremlins Financial Times (23/7/10)
Leading article: Stressful times continue Independent (26/7/10)
Europe’s banking check-up Aljazeera, Samah El-Shahat (26/7/10)
Finance: Stressed but blessed Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins (25/7/10)
Were stress test rigorous enough? BBC Today Programme, Ben Shore (24/7/10)
Banks’ stress test ‘very wooly’ BBC Today Programme, Peter Hahn and Graham Turner(24/7/10)
Stress test whitewash of European banks World Socialist Web Site, Stefan Steinberg (26/7/10)
Stress tests: Not many dead BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (23/7/10)
Not much stress, not much test Reuters, Laurence Copeland (23/7/10)
Stress-testing Europe’s banks won’t stave off a deflationary vortex Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (18/7/10)
European banking shares rise after stress tests BBC News (26/7/10)
Euro banks pass test, gold falls CommodityOnline, Geena Paul (26/7/10)

Report
2010 EU-wide Stress Testing: portal page to documents CEBS

Questions

  1. Explain what is meant by a bank stress test?
  2. What particular scenarios were tested for in the European bank stress tests?
  3. Assess whether the tests were appropriate? Were they too easy to pass?
  4. What effect did the results of the stress tests have on gold prices? Explain why (see final article above).
  5. What stresses are banks likely to face in the coming months? If they run into difficulties as a result, what would be the likely reaction of central banks? Would there be a moral hazard here? Explain.
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Payback time (updated)

The International Monetary Fund published a report on banking, ahead of the G20 meeting of ministers on 23 April. The IMF states that banks should now pay for the bailout they received from governments during the credit crunch of 2008/9. As the first Guardian article states:

It is payback time for the banks. Widely blamed for causing the worst recession in the global economy since the 1930s, castigated for using taxpayer bailouts to fund big bonuses, and accused of starving businesses and households of credit, the message from the International Monetary Fund is clear: the day of reckoning is at hand.

The Washington-based fund puts the direct cost of saving the banking sector from collapse at a staggering $862bn (£559bn) – a bill that has put the public finances of many of the world’s biggest economies, including Britain and the United States, in a parlous state. Charged with coming up with a way of ensuring taxpayers will not have to dig deep a second time, the top economists at the IMF have drawn up an even more draconian blueprint than the banks had been expecting.

The IMF proposes two new taxes. The first had been expected. This would be a levy on banks’ liabilities and would provide a fund that governments could use to finance any future bailouts. It would be worth around $1500bn: some 2.5% of world GDP, and a higher percentage than that for countries, such as the UK, with a large banking sector.

The second was more surprising to commentators. This would be a financial activities tax (FAT). This would essentially be a tax on the value added by banks, and hence would be a way of taxing profits and pay. Currently, for technical reasons, many of banks’ activities are exempt from VAT (or the equivalent tax in countries outside the EU). The IMF thus regards them as under-taxed relative to other sectors. If such a tax were levied at a rate of 17.5% (the current rate of VAT in the UK), this could raise over 1% of GDP. In the UK this could be as much as £20bn – which would make a substantial contribution to reducing the government’s structural deficit of around £100bn

Meanwhile, in the USA, President Obama has been seeking to push legislation through Congress that would tighten up the regulation of banks. On 20 May, the Senate passed the bill, which now has to be merged with a version in the House of Representatives to become law. A key part of the measures involve splitting off the trading activities of banks in derivatives and other instruments from banks’ regular retail lending and deposit-taking activities with the public and firms. At the same time, there would be much closer regulation of the derivatives market. These complex financial instruments, whose value is ‘derived’ from the value of other assets, would have to be traded in an open market, not in private deals. A new financial regulatory agency will be created with the Federal Reserve having regulatory oversight of the whole of the financial markets

The measures would also give the government the power to break up financial institutions that were failing and rescue solvent parts without having to resort to a full-scale bailout. There is also a proposal to set up a nine-member Council of Regulators to keep a close watch on banking activities and to identify excessive risks. Banks would also be more closely supervised.

So is this payback time for banks? Or will higher taxes simply be passed on to customers, with pay and bonuses remaining at staggering levels? And will tougher regulation simply see ingenious methods being invented of getting round the regulation? Will the measures reduce moral hazard, or is the genie out of the bottle, with banks knowing that they will always be seen as too important to fail?

IMF Webcast
Press Briefing by IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn IMF Webcasts (22/4/10)
Transcript of the above Press Briefing

Articles
The IMF tax proposals
IMF proposes two taxes for world’s banks Guardian, Jill Treanor and Larry Elliott (21/4/10)
IMF gets tough on banks with ‘FAT’ levy Guardian, Linda Yueh (21/4/10)
Q&A: IMF proposals to shape G20 thinking Financial Times, Brooke Masters (21/4/10)
The challenge of halting the financial doomsday machine Financial Times, Martin Wolf (20/4/10)
IMF’s ‘punishment tax’ draws fire from banking industry Financial Times, Sharlene Goff, Brooke Masters and Scheherazade Daneshkhu (21/4/10)
Squeezing the piggy-banks Economist (21/4/10)
IMF, part two Economist, ‘Buttonwood’ (21/4/10)
IMF proposes tax on financial industry as economic safeguard Washington Post, Howard Schneider (20/4/10)
IMF wants two big new taxes on banks BBC News blogs, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (20/4/10)

Obama’s proposals
Obama pleas for Wall Street support on reforms Channel 4 News, Job Rabkin (22/4/10)
Q&A: Obama’s bank regulation aims BBC News (22/4/10)
US banks may not bend to Barack Obama’s demands Guardian, Nils Pratley (22/4/10)
President Obama attacks critics of bank reform bill BBC News (23/4/10)
US Senate passes biggest overhaul of big banks since Depression Telegraph (21/5/10)
Finance-Overhaul Bill Would Reshape Wall Street, Washington Bloomberg Businessweek (21/5/10)
US Senate approves sweeping reforms of Wall Street (including video) BBC News (21/5/10)
Obama gets his big bank reforms BBC News blogs: Pestons’s Picks, Robert Peston (21/5/10)

Questions

  1. What would be the incentive effects on bank behaviour of the two taxes proposed by the IMF?
  2. What is meant by ‘moral hazard’ in the context of bank bailouts? Would (a) the IMF proposals and (b) President Obama’s proposals increase or decrease moral hazard?
  3. Why may the proposed FAT tax simply generate revenue rather than deter excessive risk-taking behaviour?
  4. What market conditions (a) encourage and (b) discourage large pay and bonuses of bankers? Will any of the proposals change these market conditions?
  5. What do you understand by the meaning of ‘excess profits’ in the context of the banks and what are the sources of such excess profits?
  6. Criticise the proposed IMF and US measures from the perspective of the banks.
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Bank braking work

President Obama has proposed a major reform of the US banking system. This follows on from the proposed levy to be imposed on banks’ assets announced a few days ago (see “We want our money back and we’re going to get it”).

There are two elements to the new proposals. The first is to limit the size of banks’ market share. Currently, banks’ deposits are not permitted to exceed 10% of total retail deposits in the USA. This 10% limit would be extended to cover wholesale deposits and other liabilities. The idea is to reduce concentration and increase competition. At present the largest four banks hold over half the total assets of banks in the USA.

The second element involves separating casino banking from retail banking. This would be achieved by barring retail banks from owning or investing in private equity or hedge funds or from engaging in ‘proprietary trading operations’. As the second BBC article below states:

Proprietary trading involves a firm making bets on financial markets with its own money, rather just than carrying out a trade for a client in which only the client’s money is at risk.

This comes close to restoring the Glass-Steagall Act, which was repealed in 1999. The Act, which was passed in 1933 in the wake of the 1929 Wall Street cash and the subsequent Great Depression, separated commercial banking and investment banking. It was designed to prevent customers’ deposits being exposed to the riskier activities of investment banking.

What have been the reactions to President Obama’s announcement? Are these reactions justified? Will the proposals prevent another banking crisis and credit crunch? The following articles explore these questions.

Obama hammers the banks Financial Times, Tom Braithwaite and Francesco Guerrera (22/1/10)
Obama pushes new bank regulation (including video) BBC News (21/1/10)
Q&A: Obama’s bank curbs BBC News, Martin Webber (21/1/10)
Obama announces dramatic crackdown on Wall Street banks (including video) Guardian, Jill Treanor (21/1/10)
Barack Obama bank reforms: Trying to fix a broker society Telegraph, Louise Armitstead and Helia Ebrahimi (23/1/10)
Glass-Steagall lite The Economist (22/1/10)
Obama’s Plan Finally Attacks “Too Big to Fail” The Huffington Post, Neil K. Shenai (21/1/10)
Obama Sizes Handcuffs For Banks Forbes, Liz Moyer (21/1/10)
Obama’s Showdown With Wall Street Forbes, Richard Murphy (22/1/10)
President Obama shows the way Independent (23/1/10)
Wall Street’s $26m lobbyists gear up to fight Obama banks reform The Observer, Andrew Clark (24/1/10)
Obama’s drawn first blood – now it’s the UK’s turn The Observer, Ruth Sunderland (24/1/10)
Gordon Brown to push for ‘Tobin tax’ after Wall Street crackdown Guardian, Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor (22/1/10)
Myners: UK does not need to copy Obama banking reforms Guardian, Andrew Clark, Jill Treanor, Paul Owen (22/1/10)
Debate on London’s banking system The Observer, Will Hutton and Boris Johnson (24/1/10)
What Obama’s bank reforms really mean BBC News blogs, Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (22/1/10)
Davos 2010: Central bankers seethe behind closed doors BBC News, Tim Weber (29/1/10)

Questions

  1. What are the arguments for and against separating retail banking from the more risky elements of investment banking?
  2. Should banks be allowed to fail? Explain your answer and whether it is necessary to distinguish different types of banks.
  3. Would putting a limit on the market share of banks prevent them from achieving full economies of scale?
  4. Why did banking shares fall after President Obama’s announcement? Was this a ‘good sign’ or a ‘bad sign’?
  5. What is meant by the ‘broker-dealer’ function of banks? Explain each of the specific types of broker-dealer function.
  6. Compare recent UK measures to control banks with those in the USA.
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Tobin or not Tobin: the tax proposal that keeps reappearing

In these news blogs, we’ve considered a Tobin tax on a number of occasions: see A Tobin tax – to be or not to be? and Tobin’s nice little earner. On 10 December 2009, the Treasury published a discussion document, Risk, reward and responsibility: the financial sector and society. This, amongst other things, considers the case for a financial transactions tax – a form of Tobin tax. As Box 4.A on page 35 states:

“James Tobin’s original proposal for a transaction tax was to tax foreign exchange transactions. The purpose of the tax was to tackle excessive exchange rate fluctuation and speculation on currency flows, as Tobin felt that short-term movements in capital flows could severely limit the ability of governments and central banks to follow appropriate domestic policies for their economies.

However, the recent crisis has shown that there is considerable risk inherent in other financial markets. In some of these markets trading volumes have also grown enormously compared to the value of underlying assets. As set out above, instability may result from these markets due to the complex nature of counterparty networks and a lack of transparency, and the transmission of financial shocks through the system.

Recent attention has therefore focused on a broader tax on financial transactions – potentially, this would include trading in a wide range of instruments, currently traded both on and off-exchange.”

The goverment in the UK has recently taken one step in increasing taxes on the financial sector. In its 2009 pre-Budget report, delivered on 9 December (see Cutting the deficit and tackling the recession. Incompatible goals?), a new tax on bank bonuses was imposed. The rate is 50% on bonuses over £25,000. Since then a similar tax has been imposed in France and Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that she found it a ‘charming idea’, although probably not practical under German law. She did support, however, the use of a Tobin tax on financial transactions, similar to the one being considered in the UK. Such a tax, to be effective, would ideally have to be imposed worldwide, but at least by a large number of countries.

So is the case for a Tobin tax gathering momentum? The following video podcast considers the tax’s aims, effectiveness and practicality – as do the articles.

Video podcast
Radical Tobin Tax proposal could go mainstream BBC Newsnight, Paul Mason (10/12/09)

Articles
Now’s the time for a Tobin tax Guardian, George Irvin (11/12/09)
EU leaders urge IMF to consider Tobin tax Financial Times, Tony Barber and George Parker (11/12/09)
We can always get to Utopia – even from here Irish Times, Paul Gillespie (12/12/09)
HM Treasury makes case for Tobin tax City A.M., Julia Kollewe (11/12/09)
The Tobin Tax – a brief history Telegraph (8/11/09)
European Union presses IMF to consider Tobin tax Telegraph (11/12/09)

Questions

  1. How do current proposals for a Tobin tax differ from Tobin’s original proposals (see Sloman and Wride, Economics 7th edition, pages 756–8 or Sloman and Hinde, Economics for Business 4th edition, pages 743–5)?
  2. Explain how a Tobin tax could be used to reduce destabilising speculation without preventing markets moving to longer-term equilibria.
  3. How might the use of a Tobin tax on financial transactions help to curb some of the ‘excessive rewards’ made from financial dealing?
  4. Examine the advantages and disadvantages of using a Tobin tax on financial transactions. How might the disadvantages be reduced?
  5. What considerations would need to be taken into account in setting the rate for a Tobin tax on financial transactions?
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A Tobin tax – to be or not to be? (updated)

Adair Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, the UK’s financial sector regulator, has proposed the possible use of Tobin taxes to curb destabilising financial transactions. The late James Tobin, winner of the 1981 Nobel prize in Economics, argued that a very small tax (between 0.1 and 1 per cent) should be imposed on foreign exchange transactions to dampen destabilising foreign currency speculation and thereby reduce exchange rate fluctuations. Lord Turner’s proposal would apply to a whole range of financial transactions, putting some friction in these very volatile and often highly leveraged markets. Such a tax would discourage some of the riskier and more exotic transactions on which many of the bonuses of bankers have been based.

Not surprisingly, his proposals have been met with derision by many in the banking sector. Many politicians too have been critical, arguing that the taxes will divert financial business away from London to other financial centres around the world. And yet, at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh on 24/25 September, both the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, argued in favour of such taxes. The result was that the IMF was asked to investigate the practicality of using Tobin taxes on financial transactions as a way of reining in more risky behaviour. A week later the IMF, while ruling out a simple Tobin tax, came out in favour of taxes on the global financial sector designed to reduce speculation.

So who is right? The following articles look at the issues.

FSA chairman Lord Turner says City too big Times Online (27/8/09)
Financial Services Authority chairman backs tax on ‘socially useless’ banks Guardian (27/8/09)
Cutting finance back down to size Financial Times (27/8/09)
Support for tax to curb bonuses BBC News (27/8/09)
FSA boss gets tough on bonuses (video 1) (Video 2) (Video 3) BBC News (27/8/09)
City tells FSA to stick to day job Reuters (27/8/09)
Charities applaud FSA’s support for new bank tax Guardian (27/8/09)
The time is ripe for a Tobin tax Guardian (27/8/09)
Ça fait malus: France gets tough on bankers’ pay The Economist (27/8/09)
Sarkozy chides bankers for bonuses, calls for tougher regulation (video) France 24 (18/8/09)
Politicians Clamp Down on Bankers’ Bonuses BusinessWeek (26/8/09)
Treasury would be crazy not to listen to Turner Guardian (27/8/09)
Three cheers for Turner and tax on easy money Guardian (27/8/09)
What is the City good for, again? Guardian (27/8/09)
Will Transaction Taxes Reduce Leverage? The Atlantic (27/8/09)
FSA backs global tax on transactions Financial Times (27/8/09)
The Tobin tax explained Financial Times (27/8/09)
Could ‘Tobin tax’ reshape financial sector DNA? Financial Times (27/8/09)

Postscript
Turner defends bank tax comments BBC News (30/8/09)
Turner stands firm after Tobin tax backlash Financial Times (1/9/09)
Brown calls for bank bonus reform BBC News (1/9/09)
Brown pledges bonus clampdown Financial Times (1/9/09)
Cut the banks (and bonuses) down to size Financial Times (31/8/09)

Postscript 2
Sarkozy to press for ‘Tobin Tax’ BBC News (19/9/09)
The wrong tool for the job The Economist (17/9/09)
Dani Rodrik: The Tobin tax lives again Business Standard (19/9/09)

Postscript 3
IMF presses for tax on banks’ risky behaviour Guardian (3/10/09)
IMF’s Strauss-Kahn puts bank tax on the agenda Times Online (3/10/09)
Banks and traders threatened by new international tax plan drawn up by IMF Telegraph (3/10/09)

Questions

  1. Explain how a Tobin tax could be used to reduce destabilising speculation without preventing markets movement to longer-term equilibria.
  2. How might the use of a Tobin tax on financial transactions help to curb some of the ‘excessive rewards’ made from financial dealing.
  3. How do Lord Turner’s proposals differ from those of President Sarkozy?
  4. Examine the advantages and disadvantages of using a Tobin tax on financial transactions. How might the disadvantages be reduced?
  5. Explain what Lord Turner means by “the financial services industry can grow to be larger than is socially optimal”. How would you define ‘socially optimal’ in this context?
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Visions of Pittsburgh

The leaders of the G20 countries gathered in Pittsburgh on 24 and 25 September 2009 to discuss a range of economic issues. These included co-ordinated action to ensure the world economy maintained its fragile recovery; reforming the IMF; agreeing action on bank regulation and the limiting of bankers’ bonuses.

The following is a selection of podcasts and videos looking at various aspects of the summit and its outcomes. The first one, to set the scene, is a webcast from the IMF looking at the state of the world economy and the role of macroeconomic policy and banking regulation. There are also some articles looking at the achievements of the summit. (See here for G20 draft communiqué)

World Economic Outlook, September 2009 (video) IMF Webcast (22/9/09)
G20: Who will feel the pain and when? (video) BBC Newsnight (25/9/09)
G20 leaders meet in Pittsburgh BBC Today Programme (25/9/09)
‘Little change’ in bank regulation BBC Today Programme (25/9/09)
World Bank’s Zoellick on G20 Summit (video) CNBC News (25/9/09)
G20 ‘was a successful meeting’ BBC Today Programme (26/9/09)
Obama on G20 plans for financial reforms (video) BBC News (25/9/09)
Greater role for emerging powers BBC News, Amartya Sen (25/9/09)
Preventing Another Global Crisis (video) CBS News (25/9/09)
Obama hails progress at G20 (video) Reuters (26/9/09)

World map of deficits and stimulus spending
The cost of the financial meltdown: Deficits and spending BBC News

Articles:
G20: Banks to be forced to double capital levels Telegraph (25/9/09)
Will tough new G20 measures work? BBC News (26/9/09)
Analyst View: G20 ends reign of G7 in Pittsburgh Reuters (25/9/09)
Leaders bury differences over bonuses to agree standards FInancial Times (26/9/09)
Same tune, different fiscal instrument on bank bonuses Times Online (25/9/09)
G20: History and fudge Peston’s Picks, BBC News (25/9/09)
What the G20 said on bonuses (and why it didn’t say much at all) eFinancialCareers (27/9/09)
Hamish McRae: G20 communiqué signals transfer of power to the emerging world Independent on Sunday (27/9/09)
The G20 fantasy Guardian (27/9/09)

Questions

  1. Explain the issues faced by the G20 countries.
  2. To what extent is trying to reach international agreement on co-ordinated action a prisoner’s dilemma game? Is it, nevertheless, a positive sum game?
  3. What was agreed at Pittsburgh and to what extent will it lead to action as opposed to being mere rhetoric?
  4. The G8 is effectively dead, having being replaced by the G20, plus Spain, The Netherlands and various international bodies, such as the IMF. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this move?
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The changing battle grounds of economics (updated)

The current recession has seen the re-emergence of many of the intellectual battles fought amongst economists between the two worlds wars and again from the 1960s to the 1980s. The current debate has hinged around the appropriate policy response to the current recession. Is the solution a Keynesian one of stimulating aggregate demand; or is it a new classical one of keeping public spending under control to make room for private spending and to allow the market to function to best effect? And what about banking reform? What are the arguments here? The following articles by Lord Skidelsky examine the debate.

Robert Skidelsky, Economists clash on shifting sands Financial Times (9/6/09)
Robert Skidelsky, Economic reform needs a dose of reality Guardian (27/7/09)

See also the following video:
Robert Skidelsky, The financial challenge of our times Guardian (2/3/09)

Questions

  1. Explain the ways in which economics is (a) similar to and (b) different from the natural sciences.
  2. For what reasons would new classical economists criticise the fiscal stimulus packages pursued by many countries in the past few months?
  3. Under what circumstances would a fiscal stimulus crowd out private spending? Do these circumstances apply (a) today; (b) over the next two years?
  4. Why may crowding out in practice depend on issues of confidence?
  5. What ‘Keynesian lessons’ have been learned from the banking crisis and recession?
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