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Posts Tagged ‘capital adequacy ratio’

Don’t bank on Italy’s economy

The Brexit vote has caused shockwaves throughout European economies. But there is a potentially larger economic and political problem facing the EU and the eurozone more specifically. And that is the state of the Italian banking system and the Italian economy.

Italy is the third largest economy in the eurozone after Germany and France. Any serious economic weaknesses could have profound consequences for the rest of the eurozone and beyond.

At 135% of GDP, Italy’s public-sector debt is one the highest in the world; its banks are undercapitalised with a high proportion of bad debt; and it is still struggling to recover from the crisis of 2008–9. The Economist article elaborates:

The adult employment rate is lower than in any EU country bar Greece. The economy has been moribund for years, suffocated by over-regulation and feeble productivity. Amid stagnation and deflation, Italy’s banks are in deep trouble, burdened by some €360 billion of souring loans, the equivalent of a fifth of the country’s GDP. Collectively they have provisioned for only 45% of that amount. At best, Italy’s weak banks will throttle the country’s growth; at worst, some will go bust.

Since 2007, the economy has shrunk by 10%. And potential output has fallen too, as firms have closed. Unemployment is over 11%, with youth unemployment around 40%.

Things seem to be coming to a head. As confidence in the Italian banking system plummets, the Italian government would like to bail out the banks to try to restore confidence and encourage deposits and lending. But under new eurozone rules designed to protect taxpayers, it requires that the first line of support should be from bondholders. Such support is known as a ‘bail-in’.

If bondholders were large institutional investors, this might not be such a problem, but a significant proportion of bank bonds in Italy are held by small investors, encouraged to do so by tax relief. Bailing in the banks by requiring bondholders to bear significant losses in the value of their bonds could undermine the savings of many Italians and cause them severe hardship, especially those who had saved for their retirement.

So what is the solution? Italian banks need recapitalising to restore confidence and prevent a more serious crisis. However, there is limited scope for bailing in, unless small investors can be protected. And eurozone rules provide little scope for government funding for the banks. These rules should be relaxed under extreme circumstances. At the same time, policy needs to focus on making Italian banking more efficient.

Meanwhile, the IMF is forecasting that Italian economic growth will be less than 1% this year and little better in 2017. Part of the problem, claims the IMF, is the Brexit vote. This has heightened financial market volatility and increasead the risks for Italy with its fragile banking system. But the problems of the Italian economy run deeper and will require various supply-side policies to tackle low productivity, corruption, public-sector inefficiency and a financial system not fit for purpose. What the mix of these policies should be – whether market based or interventionist – is not just a question of effectiveness, but of political viability and democratic support.

The Italian Job The Economist (9/7/16)
IMF warns Italy of two-decade-long recessionThe Guardian, Larry Elliott (11/7/16)
Italy economy: IMF says country has ‘two lost decades’ of growth BBC News (12/7/16)
What’s the problem with Italian banks? BBC News, Andrew Walker (10/7/16)
Why Italy’s banking crisis will shake the eurozone to its core The Telegraph, Tim Wallace Szu Ping Chan (16/8/16)
If You Thought Brexit Was Bad Wait Until The Italian Banks All Go Bust Forbes, Tim Worstall (17/7/16)
In the euro zone’s latest crisis, Italy is torn between saving the banks or saving its people Quartz, Cassie Werber (13/7/16)
Why Italy could be the next European country to face an economic crisis Vox, Timothy B. Lee (8/7/16)
Forget Brexit, Quitaly is Europe’s next worry The Guardian, Larry Elliott (26/7/16)

Italy IMF Country Report No. 16/222 (July 2016)

Economic Outlook OECD (June 2016) (select ‘By country’ from the left-hand panel and then choose ‘Italy’ from the pull-down menu and choose appropriate time series)


  1. Can changes in aggregate demand have supply-side consequences? Explain.
  2. Explain why there may be a downward spiral of asset sales by banks.
  3. How might the principle of bail-ins for undercapitalised Italian banks be pursued without being at the expense of the small saver?
  4. What lessons are there from Japan’s ‘three arrows’ for Italy? Does being in the eurozone constrain Italy’s ability to adopt any or all of these three categories of policy?
  5. Why may the Brexit vote have more serious consequences for Italy than many other European economies?
  6. Find out what reforms have already been adopted or are being pursued by the Italian government. How successful are they likely to be in increasing Italian growth and productivity?
  7. What external factors are currently (a) favourable, (b) unfavourable to improving Italian growth and productivity?
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Five years on from Lehman’s: what have we learned?

On 15 September 2008, Lehman Brothers, the fourth-largest investment bank in the USA, filed for bankruptcy. Although the credit crisis had been building since mid 2007, the demise of Lehmans was a pivotal event in the unfolding of the financial crisis and the subsequent severe recession in most developed economies. Banks were no longer seen as safe and huge amounts of government money had to be poured into banks to shore up their capital and prevent further bankruptcies. Partial nationalisation seemed the only way of rescuing several banks and with it the global financial system.

A deep and prolonged recession followed (see Chart 1: click here for a PowerPoint). In response, governments pursued expansionary fiscal policies – at least until worries about rising government deficits and debt caused a lurch to austerity policies. And central banks pursued policies of near zero interest rates and subsequently of quantitative easing. But all the time debate was taking place about how to reform banking to prevent similar crises occurring in the future.

Solutions have included reform of the Basel banking regulations to ensure greater capital adequacy. The Basel III regulations (see Chart 2) demand considerably higher capital ratios than the previous Basel II regulations.

Other solutions have included proposals to break up banks. Indeed, just this week, the Lloyds Banking Group has hived off 631 of its branches (one sixth of the total) into a newly reformed TSB. Another proposal is to ring-fence the retail side of banks from their riskier investment divisions. In both cases the aim has been to avoid the scenario where banks are seen as too big to fail and can thus rely on governments to bail them out if they run into difficulties. Such reliance can make banks much more willing to take excessive risks. Further details of the new systems now in place are given in the Robert Peston article below.

But many critics maintain that not nearly enough has been done. Claims include:

• The Basel III rules are not tough enough and banks are still being required to hold too little capital.
• Rewards to senior bankers and traders are still excessive.
• The culture of banking, as a result, is still too risk loving in banks’ trading arms, even though they are now much more cautious about lending to firms and individuals.
• This caution has meant a continuing of the credit crunch for many small businesses.
• Higher capital adequacy ratios have reduced bank lending and have thus had a dampening effect on the real economy.
• The so-called ring-fences may not be sufficient to insulate retail banking from problems in banks’ investment divisions.
• Banks are not being required to hold sufficient liquidity to allow them to meet customers’ demands for cash in all scenarios.
• Banks’ reliance on each other still leaves a systemic risk for the banking system as a whole.
• Fading memories of the crisis are causing urgency to tackle its underlying problems to diminish.
• Problems may be brewing in less regulated parts of the banking world, such as the growing banking sector in China.

The following articles look at the lessons of the banking crisis – those that have been learned and those that have not. They look at the measures put in place and assess whether they are sufficient.

Lehman Brothers collapse, five years on: ‘We had almost no control’ The Guardian, Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor (13/9/13)
Lehman Brothers collapse: five years on, we’re still feeling the shockwaves The Guardian, Larry Elliott (13/9/13)
Five years after Lehman, could a collapse happen all over again? The Observer, Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor (15/9/13)
Five years after Lehman, all tickety-boo? BBC News, Robert Peston (9/9/13)
What have we learned from the bank crash? Independent, Yalman Onaran, Michael J Moore and Max Abelson (14/9/13)
We’ve let a good financial crisis go to waste since Lehman Brothers collapsed The Telegraph, Jeremy Warner (12/9/13)
The Lehman legacy: Lessons learned? The Economist (9/9/13)
The dangers of debt: Lending weight The Economist (14/9/13)
The Lehman anniversary: Five years in charts The Economist (14/9/13)


  1. Why did Lehman Brothers collapse?
  2. Explain the role of the US sub-prime mortgage market in the global financial crisis of 2007/8.
  3. In the context of banking, what is meant by (a) capital adequacy; (b) risk-based capital adequacy ratios; (c) leverage; (d) leverage ratios?
  4. Explain the Basel III rules on (a) risk-based capital adequacy (see the textbook and the chart above); (b) non-risk-based leverage (introduced in 2013: see here for details).
  5. Explain and comment on the following statement by Adair Turner: ‘We created an over-leveraged financial system and an over-leveraged real economy. We created a system such that even if the direct cost of bank rescue was zero, the impact of their near-failure on the economy was vast.’
  6. Under what circumstances might the global financial system face a similar crisis to that of 2007/8 at some point in the future?
  7. Why is there an underlying conflict between increasing banks’ required capital adequacy and ensuring a sufficient supply of credit to consumers and business? What multiplier effects are likely to occur from an increase in the capital adequacy ratio?
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The capital adequacy of UK banks

The Prudential Regulation Authority is the new UK authority in charge of banking regulation and is part of the Bank of England. In a report published on 20/6/13, the PRA found that UK banks had a capital shortfall of £27.1 billion (see Chart 1 below for details) if they were to meet the 7% common equity tier 1 (CET1) ratio: one of the capital adequacy ratios (CARs) specified under the Basel III rules (see Rebuilding UK banks: not easy to do and Chart 2 below).

CET1 includes bank reserves and ordinary share capital (‘equities’). To derive the CET1 ratio, CET1 is expressed as a percentage of risk-weighted assets. As Economics for Business (6th ed) page 467 states:

Risk-weighted assets are the total value of assets, where each type of asset is multiplied by a risk factor. …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 data published by the PRA, based on end-2012 figures, show that the RBS group is responsible for around 50% of the capital shortfall, the Lloyds Banking Group around 32%, Barclays around 11%, the Co-operative around 5.5% and Nationwide the remaining 1.5%. HSBC, Santander and Standard Chartered met the 7% requirement. The PRA found that banks already were taking measures to raise £13.7bn, but this still leaves them requiring an additional £13.4 for current levels of lending.

So what can the banks do? They must either raise additional capital (the numerator in the CAR) or reduce their risk-weighted assets (the denominator). Banks hope to be able to raise additional capital. For example, Lloyds is planning to sell government securities and US mortgage-backed securities and hopes to have a CET1 ratio of around 10% by the end of 2013. Generally, the banks aim to raise the required level of capital through income generation, the sale of assets and restructuring, rather than from issuing new shares.

What both the Bank of England and the government hope is that banks do not respond by reducing lending. While that might enable them to meet the 7% ratio, it would have an undesirable dampening effect on the economy – just at a time when it is hoped that the economy is starting to recover. As Robert Peston states:

I understand that both Barclays and Nationwide feel a bit miffed about being forced to hit this tough so-called leverage ratio at this juncture, because they are rare in that they have been supporting economic recovery by increasing their net lending.

They now feel they are being penalised for doing what the government wants. So I would expect there to be something of a spat between government and regulators about all this.

Factbox – Capital shortfalls for five UK banks, mutuals Standard Chartered News (20/6/13)
UK banks ordered to plug £27.1bn capital shortfall The Guardian, Jill Treanor (20/6/13)
Barclays, Co-op, Nationwide, RBS and Lloyds responsible for higher-than-expected capital shortfall of £27.1bn The Telegraph, Harry Wilson (20/6/13)
UK banks need to plug £27bn capital hole, says PRA BBC News (20/6/13)
Barclays and Nationwide forced to strengthen BBC News, Robert Peston (20/6/13)
Five Banks Must Raise $21 Billion in Fresh Capital: BOE Bloomberg, Ben Moshinsky (20/6/13)
Will Nationwide be forced to become a bank? BBC News, Robert Peston (4/7/13)

PRA news release and data
Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) completes capital shortfall exercise with major UK banks and building societies Bank of England: Prudential Regulation Authority (20/6/13)


  1. Explain what are meant by the various Basel III capital adequacy requirements
  2. What are the banks which were identified as having a capital shortfall doing about it?
  3. Would it be desirable for banks to issue additional shares? Would this make the banks more secure?
  4. Would the raising of additional capital allow additional credit creation to take place? Explain.
  5. What other constraints are there on bank lending?
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Rebuilding UK banks: not easy to do

Following the banking crisis of 2007/8 a new set of international banking regulations was agreed in 2010 by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. The purpose was to strengthen banks’ capital base. Under ‘Basel III’, banks would be required, in stages, to meet specific minimum capital adequacy ratios: i.e. minimum ratios of capital to (risk-weighted) assets. The full regulations would come into force by 2019. These are shown in the chart below.

The new Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England has judged that some UK banks have insufficient ‘common equity tier 1 capital’. This is defined as ordinary shares in the bank plus the bank’s reserves. According to the Bank of England:

… the immediate objective should be to achieve a common equity tier 1 capital ratio, based on Basel III definitions and, after the required adjustments, of at least 7% of risk-weighted assets by end 2013. Some banks, even after the adjustments described above, have capital ratios in excess of 7%; for those that do not, the aggregate capital shortfall at end 2012 was around £25 billion.

Thus the banking system in the UK is being required, by the end of 2013, to meet the 7% ratio. This could be done, either by increasing the amount of capital or by reducing the amount of assets. The Bank of England is keen for banks not to reduce assets, which would imply a reduction in lending. Similarly, it does not want banks to increase reserves at the expense of lending. Either action could push the economy back into recession. Rather the Bank of England wants banks to raise more capital. But that requires sufficient confidence by investors.

And the end of this year is not the end of the process. After that, further increases in capital will be required, so that by 2019 banks are fully compliant with Basel III. All this will make it difficult for certain banks to raise enough capital from investors. As far as RBS and the Lloyds Banking Group are concerned, this will make the prospect of privatising them more difficult. But that is what the government eventually wants. It does not want the taxpayer to have to find the extra capital. Re-capitalising the banks, or at least some of them, may prove difficult.

The following articles look at the implications of the FPC judgement and whether strengthening the banks will strengthen or weaken the rest of the economy.

Financial policy committee identifies £25bn capital shortfall in UK banks The Guardian, Jill Treanor (27/3/13)
Banks Told To Raise Capital By Financial Policy Committee To Cushion Against A Crisis Huffington Post (27/3/13)
UK banks’ £25bn shortfall: positive for banks, negative for BoE credibility, Sid Verma (27/3/13)
Doubts over Bank of England’s £25bn confidence game The Telegraph, Harry Wilson (27/3/13)
Bank of England tells banks to raise £25bn BBC News (27/3/13)
Q&A: Basel rules on bank capital – who cares? Laurence Knight (13/9/10)
U.K. Banks Seen Avoiding Share Sales After BOE Capital Review Bloomberg Businessweek, Gavin Finch and Howard Mustoe (27/3/13)
Banks Cut Basel III Shortfall by $215 Billion in Mid-2012 Bloomberg (19/3/13)
Will strengthening banks weaken the economy? BBC News, Robert Peston (27/3/13)

Bank of England News Release
Financial Policy Committee statement from its policy meeting, 19 March 2013 Bank of England (27/3/13)


  1. Explain the individual parts of the chart.
  2. What do you understand by risk-weighted assets?
  3. Distinguish between capital adequacy ratios and liquidity ratios.
  4. What could the banks do to increase their capital adequacy ratios? Compare the desirability of each method.
  5. If all banks around the world were Basel III compliant, would this make another global banking crisis impossible?
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Making sense of Basel

Big challenges face the global community in making its financial institutions more resilient to withstand the difficulties that arise from the macroeconomic environment and, at the same time, better aligning their private interests with those of wider society.

This is no easy task. It is not easy either to keep tabs on the international responses to try and deliver these aims.

This is no better illustrated by some of the recent changes to the capital requirements of financial institutions outlined by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervisions. (Click here for a PowerPoint of the above chart.) The so-called Basel III framework will, in effect, increase the capital that banks are required to hold and, in particular, specific types of capital. In the process this will reduce gearing, i.e. the amount of assets relative to capital. Recent announcements have detailed how large global banks will have to hold even more capital. This blog tries to make sense some of the changes afoot. Further reading is identified below.

The details of the Basel III framework are complex, there are an enormous amounts of financial acronyms to sift through and the definitions of capital change from time. But, at the heart of the proposals is the aim of increasing the resilience of our financial institutions. To do this the proposals focus predominantly on the liability side of a bank’s balance sheet. More specifically, they focus on long-term liabilities which help banks to resource their assets, i.e. to fund their provision of credit (their assets). This capital is ranked by its quality or by tiers; this terminology has recently changed.

Tier 1 capital is now split into two groups: Common Equity Capital (CET1) and Additional Tier 1 (AT1). The former – the ‘best’ capital – is made up of common equity (ordinary share capital) and retained profits. Holders of common equity can expect to receive dividend payments, but these are discretionary, largely dependent on the financial well-being of the firm. The remainder of CET1 are the retained profits of the firms and, hence, that parts of profits which are not distributed to its shareholders (owners). Additional Tier 1 capital – ‘second best’ capital – comprises preference shares and perpetual subordinated debt. Preference shares are more akin to bonds and provide regular coupons. However, their payment continue to place a burden on firms during more difficult financial times. Subordinated debt is debt where the creditors would not have any financial redress before depositors and other creditors have been attended to. Perpetual subordinated debt (bonds) is debt with no maturity date. Finally, Tier 2 capital is subordinated debt where the time to maturity is greater than five years.

The Basel III framework outlines a series of ratios known as Capital Adequacy Ratios (CARs) that financial institutions should meet. The ratios define a type of capital (numerator) relative to risk-weighted assets (denominator). The denominator involves weighting a bank’s category of assets by internationally agreed risk factors. These range from zero for government debt instruments to 1.5 for certain types of loans to companies. In other words, the more risky a given level of assets are the greater is the denominator and the lower is the financial institution’s capital adequacy.

From January 2013, the so-called ‘hard core minimum’ of Basel III, which is a combined level of Tier 1 and Tier 2 capital, will need to be the equivalent to 8 per cent of the bank’s risk-weighted assets. This is actually unchanged from Basel II. But, it is not quite as simple as this. First, the composition of capital matters. The overall 8 per cent ratio must be meet by a Common Equity Capital (CET1) ratio, including retained reserves, of no less than 4.5 per cent (previously 2 per cent). Second, there is the phasing-in between 2016 and 2019 of additional Common Equity Capital (CET1) equivalent to 2.5 per cent of risk-weighted assets. This is known as the Capital Conservation Buffer. Third, depending on the assessment of national regulators/supervisors, like the Bank of England here in the UK, financial institutions generally could be required to hold further Common Equity Capital of between 0 per cent and 2.5 per cent of risk weighted assets. This is known as a Counter-Cyclical Buffer. So, for instance, if the regulators/supervisors become unduly worried by rates of credit growth, they can impose additional capital requirements. This is an example of macroeconomic prudential regulation because it focuses on the financial system rather any one single financial institution.

In September 2011, Basel III added a fourth qualification to the ‘hard core’. This too will be phased-in from 2016. It is to be applied to those financial institutions, which through a series of indicators, such as size, are to be identified as global systemically important financial institutions (G-SIFIs). Depending on their global systemic importance the amount of CET1 relative to risk weighted assets could increase by between a further 1 to 2.5 per cent (and even by as much as 3.5 per cent, if necessary). These four qualifications could take the overall capital adequacy ratio from 8 per cent to as much as 15.5 per cent: 8 per cent plus 2.5 per cent capital conservation buffer plus 2.5 per cent for G-SIB surcharge plus 2.5 per cent for counter-cyclical buffer.

However, capital requirements may be even more stringent in the UK for retail banks. The UK’s Independent Commission on Banking has proposed that retail banks in the UK become legally, economically and operationally independent of the investment part of banks. In other words, that part of the bank which focuses on deposit-taking from households and firms be separated from the investment bank which largely provides services involving other financial institutions. The ICB proposed in its report last Autumn that the separate retail subsidiary faces an overall CAR of between 17 to 20 per cent with a CET1 ratio of at least 10 per cent. We will have to wait to see whether this comes to pass as the government’s legislation passes through Parliament, but it is not expected that the ICB’s proposals come into force before 2019.

Recommended Materials
Final Report: Recommendations Independent Commission on Banking , September 2011. (See Chapter 4 for a readable overview of Basel III and the general principles involved. See Chapter 3 for a discussion of the functional separation of retail and investment banking).
Basel Committee on Banking Supervision reforms – Basel III Bank for International Settlements

Basel III – the case for the defence Financial Times (23/1/12)
Finance: Banks face a perfect storm that is getting worse Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins (24/1/12)
Banks in EU, US and Japan to face capital reviews BBC News (9/1/12)


  1. What is meant by capital and by capital adequacy?
  2. Explain the construction of a Capital Adequacy Ratio. Distinguish between the CET1 ratio and the overall CAR ratio.
  3. What do you understand by macro-prudential regulation?
  4. How do liquidity and capital adequacy differ?
  5. If financial institutions provide deposits to individuals who can draw out their money readily but extend credit over long periods of time, why don’t financial institutions regularly face financial problems?
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A financial health check

Every six months the Bank of England publishes its Financial Stability Report. “It aims to identify the major downside risks to the UK financial system and thereby help financial firms, authorities and the wider public in managing and preparing for these risks.”

In the latest report, published on 17 December 2010, the Bank expresses concern about the UK’s exposure to problems overseas. The two most important problems are the continuing weaknesses of a number of banks and the difficulties of certain EU countries in repaying government bonds as they fall due and borrowing more capital at acceptable interest rates. As the report says:

Sovereign and banking system concerns have re-emerged in parts of Europe. The IMF and European authorities proposed a substantial package of support for Ireland. But market concerns spilled over to several other European countries. At the time of writing, contagion to the largest European banking systems has been limited. In this environment, it is important that resilience among UK banks has improved over the past year, including progress on refinancing debt and on raising capital buffers. But the United Kingdom is only partially insulated given the interconnectedness of European financial systems and the importance of their stability to global capital markets.

The Bank identifies a number of specific risks to the UK and global financial systems and examines various policy options for tackling them. The following articles consider the report.

Bank warns of eurozone risks to UK as EU leaders meet Independent, Sean O’Grady (17/12/10)
Deep potholes on the road to recovery Guardian, Nils Pratley (17/12/10)
It’s reassuring that regulators are still worried about financial stability The Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan (17/12/10)
Europe is still searching for stability and the UK must find it too Independent, Hamish McRae (17/12/10)
Shafts of light between the storm clouds The Economist blogs: ‘Blighty’ (17/12/10)

Financial Stability Report, December 2010: Overview Bank of England
Financial Stability Report, December 2010: Links to rest of report Bank of England


  1. What are the most important financial risks facing (a) the UK; (b) eurozone countries?
  2. What is the significance of the rise in banks’ tier-1 capital ratios since 2007?
  3. Which is likely to be more serious over the coming months: banking weaknesses or sovereign debt? Explain.
  4. What is being done to reduce the risks of sovereign default?
  5. Why might the weaker EU countries struggle to achieve economic growth over the next two or three years?
  6. How do interest rates on government debt, as expressed by bond yields, compare with historical levels? What conclusions can you draw from this?
  7. What is likely to happen to bond yields in the USA, the UK and Germany over the coming months?
  8. What has been the effect of the extra £200 billion that the Bank of England injected into the banking system through its policy of quantitative easing?
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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.

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


  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.

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)

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


  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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Reforming banking regulation – root and branch or mere sticking plaster?

On July 8 the UK government published its long-awaited White Paper on reform of the system of banking regulation. Several commentators had called for the abolition of the ‘tripartite’ system of regulation, whereby responsibility for ensuring the stability and security of the banking system is shared between the Financial Services Authority (FSA), the Bank of England and the Treasury. Some have advocated a considerable strengthening of the role of the Bank of England and even abolishing the FSA. What is generally agreed is that there needs to be ‘macro-prudential’ regulation that looks at the whole banking system and at questions of systemic risk and not just at individual banks. Several of the articles below debate this issue.

The government’s White Paper proposes keeping the tripartite system but also strengthening various aspects of regulation. Amongst other things, it proposes giving the FSA powers to ‘penalise banks if their pay policies create unnecessary risks and are not focused on the long-term strength of their institutions’. It also proposes setting up a ‘new Council for Financial Stability – made up of the FSA, the Bank of England and the Treasury – to meet regularly and report on the systemic risks to financial stability’. Banks would also be required to increase their capital adequacy ratios. The first two articles below give an outline of the proposals. The detailed proposals are contained in the third link, to the Treasury site.

Chancellor moves to rein in ‘risky’ banks Independent (9/7/09)
Banks to face tougher regulation BBC News (8/7/09)
Reforming financial markets HM Treasury (8/7/09)
Treasury sees devil in the detail Financial Times (7/7/09)
How to police the banking system Independent (8/7/09)
City regulation: a quick guide Telegraph (8/7/09)
Treasury White Paper: what it means for the financial services industry Telegraph (8/7/09)
Key issues: Financial regulation BBC News (8/7/09)
Alistair Darling accuses banks of ‘kamikaze’ attitude to loans Telegraph (5/7/09)
HSBC boss on banking reform BBC News video (3/7/09)
Bankers ‘want to be proud of what they do’ BBC Today Programme, Radio 4 (7/7/09)
Divisions on display at Mansion House BBC Newsnight video (18/6/09)
Who should supervise the banks? BBC Newsnight video (18/6/09)
Governor wants more bank powers BBC News video (17/6/09)
King puts spotlight on banks too big to fail Times Online (21/6/09)
Mervyn King: Banks cannot be too big to fail Edmund Conway blog, Telegraph (17/6/09)
The City doesn’t need any more rules Telegraph (6/7/09)
Treasury admits ‘intellectual failure’ behind credit crisis Telegraph (8/7/09)
Bankers to face draconian pay veto Times Online (8/7/09)


  1. What do you understand by macro-prudential regulation? What would be the difficulties of applying regulation at this level?
  2. Why may liquidity ratios and capital adequacy ratios that are deemed appropriate by individual banks be inappropriate for the banking system as a whole?
  3. If banks are too big to fail, why does this create a moral hazard?
  4. Examine the case for splitting universal banks into retail banks and investment banks.
  5. Examine the arguments for and against regulating the level and nature of remuneration of senior bank executives.
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