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Posts Tagged ‘credit crunch’

Insolvencies down – lessons learned?

Insolvencies in England and Wales have fallen to their lowest level since 2005, official records show. The Insolvency Service indicates that bankruptcy, individual voluntary arrangements and debt relief orders have fallen, with the largest and worst form of bankruptcy falling by 22.5 per cent compared to the same period in 2014. There has also been a fall in corporate insolvencies back to pre-crisis levels.

The British economy is recovering and despite an increase in consumer borrowing of £1.2 billion from February to March, which is the biggest since the onset of the credit crunch, the number of people in financial difficulty and living beyond their means has fallen. However, there are also suggestions that the number could begin to creep up in the future and we are still seeing a divide between the north and south of England in terms of the number of insolvencies.

There are many factors that could explain such a decline in insolvencies. Perhaps it is the growth in wages, in part due the recovery of the economy, which has enabled more people to forgo borrowing or enabled them to repay any loan more comfortably. Lower inflation has helped to reduce the cost of living, thereby increasing the available income to repay any loans. Interest rates have also remained low, thus cutting the cost of borrowing and the repayments due.

But, another factor may simply be that lending is now more closely regulated. Prior to the financial crisis, huge amounts of money were being lent out, often to those who had no chance of making the repayments. More stringent affordability checks by lenders may have a large part to play in reducing the number of insolvencies. President of R3, the insolvency practitioner body, Phillip Sykes said:

“It may be too early to draw conclusions but demand could be falling as a result of low interest rates, low inflation and tighter regulation. This trend is worth watching.”

Mark Sands, from Baker Tilly added to this, noting that fewer people were now in financial difficulty.

“As well as this, we are seeing lower levels of personal debt and fewer people borrowing outside of their means due to more stringent affordability checks by creditors.”

Whatever the main reason behind the data, it is certainly a positive indicator, perhaps of economic recovery, or that at least some have learned the lessons of the financial crisis. The following articles consider this topic.

Personal insolvencies fall to 10-year low Financial Times, James Pickford (1/5/15)
Personal insolvencies at lowest level since 2005 BBC News (29/4/15)
Personal insolvencies drop to lowest level in a decade The Guardian, Press Association (29/4/15)
Corporate insolvencies at lowest level since 2007 The Telegraph, Elizabeth Anderson (30/4/15)
Interview: R3 President Phillip Sykes Accountancy Age, Richard Crump (1/5/15)
North-South gap widens in personal insolvencies Independent, Ben Chu (27/4/15)
Insolvency rates show ‘stark’ north-south divide Financial Times, James Pickford (27/4/15)

Questions

  1. What is meant by insolvency?
  2. There are many factors that might explain why the number of insolvencies has fallen. Explain the economic theory behind a lower inflation rate and why this might have contributed to fewer insolvencies.
  3. How might lower interest rates affect both the number of personal and corporate insolvencies?
  4. Why has there been a growth in the north-south divide in terms of the number of insolvencies?
  5. Do you think this data does suggest that lessons have been learned from the Credit Crunch?
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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)

Questions

  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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A Co-operative or a plc?

Over the past few years, the term ‘bail-out’ has been a common phrase. But, what about the term ‘bail-in’? The latest bank to face financial ruin is the Co-operative Bank, but instead of turning to the tax-payer for a rescue, £1.5 billion will come from bond holders being offered shares in the bank. This will mean that the bank will become listed on the stock market.

Back in 2009, the Co-operative Bank bought Britannia Building Society and it seems that this was the start of its downfall. It took over many bad mortgage loans and loans to companies, and these played a large part in its current financial difficulties.

In order to rescue the bank and raise the capital needed to absorb current and future losses, without turning to the tax-payer, bond-holders of £1.3 billion of loans to the bank will be asked to swap them for shares and bonds, thus leading to significant losses for them. These bond-holders include 7000 private investors.

Since the financial crisis five years ago, the conventional banking model has seen much criticism and many suggested that the mutual structure of the Co-operative provided a better model, creating trust, due to its many stakeholders, who are not as focused on profitability and returns as those shareholders of a listed bank. However, the problems of the Co-operative seem to have put paid to that idea. The bail-in will mean that the bank is now listed on the stock market and thus will have shareholders expecting returns and profitability. This will undoubtedly change the focus of the bank. Euan Sutherland, the new Chief Executive said:

We are very clear that the bank will remain true to responsible and community-based banking and retain its ethical investment stance … Clearly there are lessons to learn and clearly there will be a time to look back and do that but, to be honest, in the last six weeks, where I have been involved with the Co-operative group, we have focused on driving a very solid future for this bank.

The good news is that the savings of those in the Co-operative are safe and taxpayers will not have to fork out any more money.

Yet, the co-operative structure of the bank has long been praised by customers and government alike. But is it perhaps this structure, which has led to its collapse? Furthermore, will the change in structure that will see it listed on the stock market, lead to a change in its approach to banking? The following articles consider the latest bank to run into difficulties.

Webcast
Co-op Bank unveils rescue plan to tackle the £1.5bn hole BBC News (17/6/13)

Articles
Co-op Bank travails show weakness of mutual model Financial Times, Sarah Gordon (21/6/13)
Co-operative Bank to list on stock market in rescue deal The Guardian, Jill Treanor (17/6/13)
Troubled Co-operative Bank unveils rescue plan to plug £1.5bn hole in balance sheet Independent, Nick Goodway (17/6/13)
Co-op Bank announces plan to plug £1.5bn hole Which? (17/6/13)
The Co-operative Bank and the challenge of finding co-op capital The Guardian, Andrew Bibby (13/6/13)
Co-op Bank seeks to fill £1.5bn capital hole Sky News (17/6/13)
Does Co-op Group deserve to keep control of Co-op Bank? BBC News, Robert Peston (9/7/13)

Questions

  1. Why did the Co-operative Bank move into financial trouble?
  2. What are the key characteristics of a Mutual? Are they disadvantages or advantages?
  3. What is a ‘bail-in’? Who will gain and who will lose?
  4. The Co-operative Bank will now be listed on the stock market. What does this mean?
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of floating a company on the stock market?
  6. Why are all banks required to hold capital to absorb losses?
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A ‘surprising’ rise

The housing market is crucial in any economy, as it provides so many jobs in related industries. It is frequently a good signal of how buoyant the economy is. With recession in the UK, mortgage rationing continuing and many homeowners having to find 20% deposits to buy a house, many would expect the housing market to be showing signs of trouble.

And to some extent this is the case. Studies on house prices have clearly shown how unpredictable this market is and prices remain 0.7% below what they were a year ago. However, in August house prices increased, recording their biggest rise in two and a half years, at 1.3%. For many, this rise was a surprise, but came as a welcome relief following the declines in previous months. Despite this rise, analysts have suggested that this trend is unlikely to continue throughout the rest of the year, as the demand for houses remains weak. Robert Gardner, the Chief Economist at Nationwide said:

“Given the difficult economic backdrop, the extent of the rebound in August is a little surprising. However, we should never read too much into one month’s data, especially since monthly price changes have been impacted by a number of one-off factors this year, such as the ending of the stamp duty holiday for first time buyers’.

So, what is behind this upward trend? Nationwide’s Chief Economist says that it could be explained by a resilient labour market, where employment has risen in recent months, despite the recession. The labour market undoubtedly has a big effect on the housing market, as mortgages do take up so a large percentage of take-home pay.

However, another key factor that affects house prices is the availability of mortgages. The Bank of England and Treasury launched the Funding for Lending Scheme at the beginning of August in a bid to make mortgages cheaper and more easily available. However, analysts suggest that the scheme is yet to have an effect. Furthermore, until deposit requirements are eased, that first step on the property ladder will remain elusive for many people. Mortgage approvals did increase slightly in July, but still remain a major barrier for the housing market to really boom.

The following articles consider this ‘surprising’ rise in house prices and the factors behind it.

Articles
House prices in ‘surprising’ jump, Nationwide says BBC News (31/8/12)
UK house prices record surprise increase Financial Times, Tanya Powley (31/8/12)
Surprise house price rise in August not indicative of market, says Nationwide The Telegraph, Emma Wall (31/8/12)
House prices in surprise rebound Independent, Vicky Shaw (31/8/12)
House prices continue to hold The Economic Voice, Jeff Taylor (31/8/12)
Mortgage approvals still subdued, Bank of England says BBC News (30/8/12)
Banks are pulling back from property – expect prices to fall Money Week, Matthew Partridge (31/8/12)
UK house prices up, as London continues surge Share Cast, Michael Miller (29/8/12)

Data
Lending to Individuals Bank of England 2012
House Price Index Land Registry 2012
UK house prices (links) Economics Network

Questions

  1. Use a supply and demand diagram to analyse recent trends in the housing market.
  2. Why is the Bank of England’s lending scheme not having the expected impact on the housing market?
  3. To what extent do you think the state of the housing market depends on mortgage rationing? Which other factors are likely to affect the housing market?
  4. In the article from the Economic Voice, the author says that house prices holding as they are is a surprise, because of relatively high inflation and the fact that wages are not keeping pace. Explain the economic thinking behind this view.
  5. The Chief Economist at Nationwide has said that the future of the housing market depends heavily on what happens to the labour market. Why is this the case?
  6. Why have mortgages been rationed and minimum deposit requirements been increased?
  7. Why is the housing market so important for the economy?
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Reflections of the Old Lady’s Governor

On 2 May 2012, Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, gave the BBC Today Prgramme’s public lecture. In it, he reflected on the causes and aftermath of the banking crisis of 2007/8.

He said that the main cause of the banking crisis was the risky behaviour of the banks themselves – behaviour that they had been allowed to get away with becuase regulation was too light. The cause was not one of inappropriate fiscal and monetary policy.

According to Dr King, there had been no classical macroeconomic boom and bust. True there had been a bust, but there was no preceding boom. Economic growth had not been unsustainable in the sense of being persistently above the potential rate. In other words, the output gap had been close to zero. As Mervyn King puts it

Let me start by pointing out what did not go wrong. In the five years before the onset of the crisis, across the industrialised world growth was steady and both unemployment and inflation were low and stable. Whether in this country, the United States or Europe, there was no unsustainable boom like that seen in the 1980s; this was a bust without a boom.

In terms of monetary policy, inflation had been on track and interest rates were not too low. And as for fiscal policy, government borrowing had been within the Golden Rule, whereby, over the cycle, the goverment borrowed only to invest and kept a current budget balance. Indeed, the period of the late 1990s and early to mid 2000s had become known as the Great Moderation.

So what went wrong? Again in the words of Dr King:

In a nutshell, our banking and financial system overextended itself. That left it fragile and vulnerable to a sudden loss of confidence.

The most obvious symptom was that banks were lending too much. Strikingly, most of that increase in lending wasn’t to families or businesses, but to other parts of the financial system. To finance this, banks were borrowing large amounts themselves. And this was their Achilles’ heel. By the end of 2006, some banks had borrowed as much as £50 for every pound provided by their own shareholders. So even a small piece of bad news about the value of its assets would wipe out much of a bank’s capital, and leave depositors scurrying for the door. What made the situation worse was that the fortunes of banks had become closely tied together through transactions in complex and obscure financial instruments. So it was difficult to know which banks were safe and which weren’t. The result was an increasingly fragile banking system.

But doesn’t his imply that regulation of the banking system had failed? And if so why? And have things now been fixed – so that banks will no longer run the risk of failure? Dr King addresses this issue and others in his speech and also in his interview the next day for the Today Programme, also linked to below.

Podcasts
The Today Programme Lecture BBC Radio 4, Sir Mervyn King (2/5/12) (Transcript of speech)
Also on YouTube at Governor’s Today Programme lecture, 2 May 2012
Sir Mervyn King: The full interview BBC Today Programme, Sir Mervyn King talks to Evan Davis (3/5/12)
Sir Mervyn King analysis ‘verging on delusional’ BBC Today Programme, Dylan Grice and Ngaire Woods (3/5/12)

Articles
Sir Mervyn King rejects criticism for crisis BBC News (3/5/12)
The boom and bust of Mervyn King BBC News, Robert Peston (3/5/12)
Sir Mervyn King admits BoE failed over financial crisis The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (3/5/12)
Sir Mervyn King admits: we did too little to warn of economic crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott (2/5/12)
King Says BOE Will Risk Unpopularity to Prevent Crises Bloomberg, Jennifer Ryan and Scott Hamilton (3/5/12)

Data
Economic Outlook Annex Tables OECD (See Annex Tables 1, 10, 14, 18, 27, 28, 32, 33, 61 and 62)
Statistical Interactive Database Bank of England (See for example, A Money and Lending: counterparts to changes in M4, alternative presentation > Seasonally adjusted > Public sector contribution > PSNCR)

Questions

  1. Why was the period of the late 1990s and early to mid 2000s described as the Great Moderation?
  2. Chart the size of the output gap, the rate of inflation and public-sector deficits as a percentage of GDP in the UK and other major economies from 1995 to 2007. Is this evidence of the Great Moderation?
  3. To what extent would evidence of house prices, consumer debt, bank lending and the balance of trade deficit suggest that there was indeed a boom from the mid 1990s to 2007?
  4. What, according to Dr King were the main causes of the credit crunch?
  5. What, with hindsight, should the Bank of England have done differently?
  6. What UK body was responsible for regulating banks in the run up to the credit crunch? Why might its regulation be described as ‘light touch’?
  7. In what sense was there a moral hazard in central banks being willing to bail out banks?
  8. What banking reforms have taken place or will take place in the near future? Will they address the problems identified by Dr King and prevent another banking crisis ever occurring again?
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SMEs to benefit from NLGS

With the financial crisis came accusations towards the banking sector that they had taken on too many bad risks. Banks were lending money on more and more risky ventures and this in part led to the credit crunch. Since then, bank lending has fallen and banks have been less and less willing to take on risky investments.

Small businesses tend to fall (rightly or wrongly) into the category of high risk and it is this sector in particular that is finding itself struggling to make much needed investments. All businesses require loans for investments and improvements and if the banking sector is unable or unwilling to lend then these improvements cannot take place.

Quantitative easing has been a key response across the world to the credit crisis to encourage banks to begin lending to each other and to customers. A new government backed scheme worth £20bn aims to increase bank lending to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). By guaranteeing £20bn of the participating banks’ own borrowing, lenders will be able to borrow more cheaply than normal. As the banks (so far including Barclays, Santander, RBS and Lloyds Banking Group) can borrow at a cheaper rate, they will therefore be able to pass this on to the businesses they lend to. Under this National Loan Guarantee Scheme (NLGS), businesses will be able to borrow at interests rates that are 1 percentage point lower than those outside the scheme. £5bn will initially be made available with subsequent installments each of £5bn to come later.

With the Budget looming, the Chancellor is keen to show that the government is delivering on its promise to give smaller businesses access to finance at lower interest rates. If this initiative does indeed stimulate higher lending, it may be a much needed boost for the economy’s faltering economic growth. Criticisms have been leveled at the scheme, saying that although it is a step in the right direction, it can by no means be assumed that it will be sufficient to solve all the problems. In particular, the NLGS is unlikely to provide much help for those small businesses that can’t get finance in the first place, irrespective of the cost of the borrowing. Furthermore some banks, notably HSBC, have chosen not to participate in the scheme, due to it not being commercially viable. The overall effect of this scheme will take some time be seen, but if it is effective, it could give the economy and the small business sector a much needed boost.

Banks to join credit-easing scheme Associated Press (20/3/12)
Credit easing: small businesses to get £20bn of guaranteed cheap loans Telegraph, Harry Wilson (20/3/12)
Bank lending scheme targets small businesses BBC News (20/3/12)
Move over Merlin, credit easing has arrived Independent, Ben Chu (20/3/12)
Credit easing injects £20bn into small firms Sky News (20/3/12)
UK launches small firm loan scheme, critics want more Reuters, Fiona Shaikh (20/3/12)
Osborne’s big plan: £20bn for small businesses Independent, Andrew Grice and Ben Chu (20/3/12)
George Osborne launches new scheme to boost lending to businesses Guardian, Larry Elliott (20/3/12)

Questions

  1. What is credit easing? Has the government’s previous credit easing had the intended effect?
  2. Why are small and medium sized enterprises normally seen as risky investments?
  3. Briefly explain the thinking behind this National Loan Guarantee Scheme.
  4. What are the criticisms currently levelled at this scheme? To what extent are they justified?
  5. Why has HSBC said that the scheme is not commercially viable for the bank?
  6. Explain why this scheme could provide a stimulus to the UK economy.
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A positive ‘negative’?

A negative outlook for the UK economy – at least that’s what Moody’s believes. The credit rating agency has put the UK economy’s sovereign credit rating, together with 2 other European nations (France and Austria) on the ‘negative outlook’ list.

The UK currently has a triple A rating and we have been able to maintain this despite the credit crunch and subsequent recession. However, with weak economic data and the continuing crisis in the eurozone, Moody’s took the decision to give the UK a ‘negative outlook’, which means the UK, as well as France and Austria have about a 30% chance of losing their triple A rating in the next 18 months.

Both Labour and the Coalition government have claimed this decision supports their view of the economy. Labour says this decision shows that the economy needs a stimulus and the Coalition should change its stance on cutting the budget deficit. However, the Coalition says that it shows the importance the Credit ratings agencies attach to budget deficits. Indeed, Moody’s statement showed no signs that it feels the UK should ease up on its austerity measures. The statement suggested the reverse – that a downgrade would only occur if the outlook worsened or if the government eased up on its cuts. The Coalition’s focus on cutting the deficit could even be something that has prevented the UK being put on the ‘negative watch’ list, as opposed to the ‘negative outlook’ list. The former is definitely worse than the latter, as it implies a 50% chance of a downgrade, rather than the current 30%.

The triple A rating doesn’t guarantee market confidence, but it does help keep the cost of borrowing for the government low. Indeed, the UK government’s cost of borrowing is at an historic low. A key problem therefore for the government is that there is a certain trade-off that it faces. Moody’s says that 2 things would make the UK lose its rating – a worsening economic outlook or if the government eases on its austerity plans. However, many would argue that it is the austerity plans that are creating the bad economic outlook. If the cuts stop, the economy may respond positively, but the deficit would worsen, potentially leading to a downgrade. On the other hand, if the austerity plans continue and the economy fails to improve, a downgrade could also occur. The next few days will be crucial in determining how the markets react to this news. The following articles consider this issue.

The meaning of ‘negative’ for Mr Osborne and the UK BBC News, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (14/2/12)
Relaxed markets remain one step ahead of Moody’s move The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (14/2/12)
George Osborne tries to be positive on negative outlook for economy Guardian, Patrick Wintour (14/2/12)
Moody’s wants it may cut AAA-rating for UK and France Reuters, Rodrigo Campos and Walter Brandimarte (14/2/12)
Moody’s rating decision backs the Coalition’s path of fiscal consolidation The Telegraph, Damian Reece (14/2/12)
Moody’s rating agency places UK on negative outlook BBC News (14/2/12)
Britain defends austerity measures New York Times, Julia Werdigier 14/2/12)

Questions

  1. What does a triple A rating mean for the UK economy?
  2. Which factors will be considered when a ratings agency decides to change a country’s credit rating? What similarities exist between the UK, France and Austria?
  3. Which political view point do you think Moody’s decision backs? Do you agree with the Telegraph article that ‘Moody’s rating decision backs the Coalition’s path of fiscal consolidation’?
  4. If a country does see its credit rating downgraded, what might this mean for government borrowing costs? Explain why this might cause further problems for a country?
  5. How do you think markets will react to this news? Explain your answer.
  6. What action should the government take: continue to cut the deficit or focus on the economic outlook?
  7. Why has the eurozone crisis affected the UK’s credit rating?
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Mortgage rationing

Throughout the credit crunch and since then, one of the major problems in the global economy has been a lack of lending by banks. A key cause of the credit crunch and many of the debt problems countries and people face today is because of people living off borrowed money. In the past, credit was so easy to obtain – people could receive a mortgage for more than 100% of the value of their property. However, when more and more people began to struggle to make their monthly mortgage repayments, the banking crisis began and since then mortgage lenders have become increasingly wary about who they lend to and how much.

The Bank of England has said that in the coming months it will become even harder to obtain mortgages, as banks become increasingly wary about who becomes their customer and potential home buyers put off even applying for a mortgage. Although mortgage approvals are at a 2-year high, they still remain significantly below their pre-crisis level. Indeed, the Bank of England said:

“Lenders expected the proportion of total loan applications being approved to fall over the coming quarter with some lenders commenting that they had revised down expectations for households’ disposable incomes and hence the affordability of taking out new secured loans.”

As part of this new rationing of mortgages, lenders are requiring applicants to put down larger and larger deposits and so for first time buyers, getting on to the property ladder is becoming more and more of a dream. The property market has been suffering from this mortgage rationing as house sales are down below their pre-crisis level. The housing market is crucial to any economy, as so many other sectors and hence jobs depend on it. If mortgages remain scarce and the required deposit so high, the UK housing market is likely to remain stagnant and this will certainly prove damaging for the prospects of the UK economy in 2012.

Articles
Mortgage approvals hit new two-year high The Telegraph, Angela Monaghan (4/1/12)
Mortgage approvals up but overall lending weak Reuters (4/11/12)
Mortgage rationing becomes worse, Bank of England says BBC News (5/1/12)
Mortgage demand fell in Q4 2011, say lenders Mortgage Strategy, Tessa Norman (5/11/12)
Mortgage lending still stagnant, Bank figures show BBC News (4/11/12)
BoE: Lending to be tighter in Q1 2012 Mortgage Introducer, Yuan Phoon (5/11/12)

Data
Lending to Individuals Bank of England

Questions

  1. Why are mortgages being rationed?
  2. Why is the housing market so important for the UK economy?
  3. Which other sectors of the economy employ people whose jobs are dependent on a buoyant housing market?
  4. Why has the Bank of England said that in the coming months it will become harder to get a mortgage?
  5. Why would increased mortgage lending be a much needed stimulus for the UK economy?
  6. Using an aggregate demand and aggregate supply diagram, show how rationing of mortgages and other loans will affect the UK economy.
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New bonus caps: how will banks react?

We have covered the issue of bank bonuses in previous blogs. See for example: Banking on bonuses? Not for much longer (November 2009); “We want our money back and we’re going to get it” (President Obama) (January 2010); and Payback time (Updated April 2010). But the issue has not been resolved. Despite public outrage around the world over the behaviour of banks that caused the credit crunch and about banks having to be bailed out with ‘taxpayers money’ and, as a result, people facing tax rises and cuts in public-sector services and jobs, bankers’ pay and bonuses are soaring once more. The individuals who caused the global economic crisis seem immune to the effects of their actions. But are things about to change?

The Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS) has confirmed tough new guidelines on bank bonuses applying to all banks operating in the EU. The CEBS’s prime purpose in recommending restricting bonuses is to reduce the incentive for excessive and dangerous risk taking. As it states in paragraph 1 of the Guidelines on Remuneration Policies and Practices:

Whilst institutions’ remuneration policies were not the direct cause of this crisis, their drawbacks, nonetheless, contributed to its gravity and scale. It was generally recognized that excessive remuneration in the financial sector fuelled a risk appetite that was disproportionate to the loss-absorption capacity of institutions and of the financial sector as a whole.

The guidelines include deferring 40–60% of bonuses for three to five years; paying a maximum of 50% of bonuses in cash (the remainder having to be in shares); setting a maximum bonus level as a percentage of an individual’s basic pay; appointing remuneration committees that are truly independent; publishing the pay and bonuses of all senior managers and ‘risk takers’. Although they are only recommendations, it is expected that bank regulators across the EU will implement them in full.

So will they be effective in curbing the pay and bonuses of top bank staff? Will they curb excessive risk taking? Or will banks simply find ways around the regulations? The following articles discuss these issues

Articles
Bankers’ bonuses to face strict limits in Europe BBC News, Hugh Pym (10/12/10)
Bankers’ bonuses to face strict limits in Europe BBC News (10/12/10)
Europe set to link banking bonuses to basic salaries The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (10/12/10)
Some bankers may escape EU cash bonus limit moneycontrol.com (India) (11/12/10)
Banks to sidestep bonus crackdown by raising salaries Guardian, Jill Treanor (10/12/10)
Bonuses: When bank jobs pay Guardian (11/12/10)
Bank bonuses (portal page) Financial Times

Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS)
CEBS home page
CEBS has today published its Guidelines on Remuneration Policies and Practices (CP42) CEBS news release (10/12/10)
Guidelines on Remuneration Policies and Practices (10/12/10)

Questions

  1. What are main objectives of the CEBS guidelines?
  2. Assess the arguments used by the banking industry in criticising the guidelines.
  3. In what ways can the banks get around these new regulations (assuming the guidelines are accepted by EU banking regulators)?
  4. What conditions would have to met for a remuneration committee to be truly independent?
  5. How likely is it that countries outside the EU will adopt similar regulations? How could they be persuaded to do so?
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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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