Ten years ago (on 9 August 2007), the French bank BNP Paribas sparked international concern when it admitted that it didn’t know what many of its investments in the US sub-prime property market were worth and froze three of its hedge funds. This kicked off the financial crisis and the beginning of the credit crunch.
In September 2007 there was a run on the Northern Rock bank in the UK, forcing the Bank of England to provide emergency funding. Northern Rock was eventually nationalised in February 2008. In July 2008, the US financial authorities had to provide emergency assistance to America’s two largest mortgage lenders, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Then in September 2008, the financial crisis really took hold. The US bank, Lehman Brothers, filed for bankruptcy, sending shock waves around the global economy. In the UK, Lloyds TSB announced that it was taking over the UK’s largest mortgage lender, Halifax Bank Of Scotland (HBOS), after a run on HBOS shares.
Later in the month, Fortis, the huge Belgian banking, finance and insurance company, was partly nationalised to prevent its bankruptcy. Also the UK government was forced to take control of mortgage-lender, Bradford & Bingley’s, mortgages and loans, with the rest of the business sold to Santander.
Early in October 2008, trading was suspended in the main Icelandic banks. Later in the month, the UK government announced a £37 billion rescue package for Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Lloyds TSB and HBOS. Then in November it partially nationalised RBS by taking a 58% share in the bank. Meanwhile various other rescue packages and emergency loans to the banking sector were taking place in other parts of the world. See here for a timeline of the financial crisis.
So, ten years on from the start of the crisis, have the lessons of the crisis been learnt. Could a similar crisis occur again?
The following articles look at this question and the answers are mixed.
On the positive side, banks are much more highly capitalised than they were ten years ago. Moves by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision in its Basel III regulatory framework have ensured that banks are much more highly capitalised and operate with higher levels of liquidity. What is more, banks are generally more cautious about investing in highly complex and risky collateralised assets.
On the negative side, increased flexibility in labour markets, although helping to keep unemployment down, has allowed a huge squeeze on real wages as austerity measures have dampened the economy. What is more, household debt is rising to possibly unsustainable levels. Over the past year, unsecured debt (e.g. personal loans and credit card debt) have risen by 10% and yet (nominal) household incomes have risen by only 1.5%. While record low interest rates make such loans relatively affordable, when interest rates do eventually start to rise, this could put a huge strain on household finances. But if households start to rein in their borrowing, this would put downward pressure on aggregate demand and jeopardise economic growth.
The crisis: 10 years in three chart BBC News, Simon Jack (9/8/17)
Darling: ‘Alarm bells ringing’ for UK economy BBC News (9/8/17)
Alistair Darling warns against ‘complacency’ 10 years on from financial crisis The Telegraph (9/8/17)
A decade after the financial crisis consumers are still worried Independent, Kate Hughes (9/8/17)
Bankers still do not understand complex reasons behind financial crash, senior politician warns Independent, Ashley Cowburn (9/8/17)
We let the 2007 financial crisis go to waste The Guardian, Torsten Bell (9/8/17)
Bank of England warns of complacency over big rise in personal debt The Guardian, Larry Elliott (24/7/17)
On the 10th anniversary of the global financial meltdown, here’s what’s changed USA Today, Kim Hjelmgaard (8/8/17)
Financial crisis: Ten years ago today the tremors started Irish Times (9/8/17)
If We Are Racing to the Pre-Crisis Bubble, Here Are 12 Charts To Watch Bloomberg, Sid Verma (9/8/17)
The financial crisis ten years ago to the day Euronews (9/8/17)
Ten years later: What really sparked the financial crisis Sky News, Adam Parsons (9/8/17)
Bank of England warns on household debt Channel 4 News, Siobhan Kennedy (25/7/17)
- Explain what are meant by ‘collateralised debt obligations (CDOs)’.
- What part did CDOs play in the financial crisis of 2007–8?
- In what ways is the current financial situation similar to that in 2007–8?
- In what ways is it different?
- Explain the Basel III banking regulations.
- To what extent has the Bank of England exceeded the minimum Basel III requirements?
- Explain what is meant by ‘stress testing’ the banks? Does this ensure that there can never be a repeat of the financial crisis?
- Why is it desirable for central banks eventually to raise interest rates to a level of around 2–3%? Why might it be difficult for central banks to do that?
In the blogs The capital adequacy of UK banks and A co-operative or a plc? we focus on how British banks continue to look to repair their balance sheets. To do so, banks need to ‘re-balance’ their balance sheets. This may involve them holding more reserves and equity capital and/or a less risky and more liquid profile of assets. The objective is to make banks more resilient to shocks and less susceptible to financial distress.
This will take time and even then the behaviour of banks ought to look like quite different from that before the financial crisis. All of this means that we will need to learn to live with new banking norms which could have fundamental consequences for economic behaviour and activity.
The increasing importance of financial institutions to economic activity is known as financialisation. It is not perhaps the nicest word, but, in one way or another, we all experience it. I am writing this blog in a coffee shop in Leicester having paid for my coffee and croissant by a debit card. I take it for granted that I can use electronic money in this way. Later I am going shopping and I will perhaps use my credit card. I take this short term credit for granted too. On walking down from Leicester railway station to the coffee shop I walked past several estate agents advertising properties for sale. The potential buyers are likely to need a mortgage. In town, there are several construction sites as Leicester’s regeneration continues. These projects need financing and such projects often depend on loans secured from financial institutions.
We should not perhaps expect economic relationships to look as they did before the financial crisis. The chart shows how levels of net lending by financial institutions to households have dramatically fallen since the financial crisis. (Click here for PowerPoint of chart.)
Net lending measures the amount of lending by financial institutions after deducting repayments. These dramatically smaller flows of credit do matter for the economy and they do affect important macroeconomic relationships.
Consider the consumption function. The consumption function is a model of the determinants of consumer spending. It is conventional wisdom that if we measure the growth of consumer spending over any reasonably long period of time it will basically reflect the growth in disposable income. This is less true in the short run and this is largely because of the financial system. We use the financial system to borrow and to save. It allow us to smooth our consumption profile making spending rather less variable. We can save during periods when income growth is strong and borrow when income growth is weak or income levels are actually falling. All of this means that in the short term consumption is less sensitive to changes in disposable income that it would otherwise be.
The financial crisis means new norms for the banking system and, hence, for the economy. One manifestation of this is that credit is much harder to come by. In terms of our consumption function this might mean consumption being more sensitive to income changes that it would otherwise be. In other words, consumption is potentially more volatile as a result of the financial crisis. But, the point is more general. All spending activity, whether by households or firms, is likely to be more sensitive to economic and financial conditions than before. For example, firms’ capital spending will be more sensitive to their current financial health and crucially to their flows of profits.
We can expect particular markets and sectors to be especially affected by new financial norms. An obvious example is the housing market which is very closely tied to the mortgage market. But, any market or sector that traditionally is dependent on financial institutions for finance will be affected. This may include, for example, small and medium-sized enterprises or perhaps organsiations that invest heavily in R&D. It is my view that economists are still struggling to understand what the financial crisis means for the economy, for particular sectors of the economy and for the determination of key economic relationships, such as consumer spending and capital spending. What is for sure, is that these are incredibly exciting times to study economics and to be an economist.
Statistical Interactive Database Bank of England
Cut in net lending to non-financial firms raises credit worries Herald Scotland, Mark Williamson (25/5/13)
Loans to business continue to shrink despite Funding for Lending Scheme Wales Online, Chris Kelsey (3/6/13)
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)
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)
Central banks told to head for exit Financial Times, Claire Jones (23/6/13)
Stimulating growth threatens stability, central banks warn The Guardian (23/6/13)
BIS Press Release and Report
Making the most of borrowed time: repair and reform the only way to growth, says BIS in 83rd Annual Report BIS Press Release (23/6/13)
83rd BIS Annual Report 2012/2013 Bank for International Settlements (23/6/13)
- What is meant by equity capital?
- How can banks increase the liquidity of their assets?
- Explain how Basel III is intended to increase the financial resilence of banks.
- What do you understand by the term ‘financialisation’? Use examples to illustrate this concept.
- How might we expect the financial crisis to affect the detemination of spending by economic agents?
- Using an appropriate diagram, explain how a reduction in capital spending could affect economic activity? Would this be just a short-term effect?
- What does it mean if we describe households as consumption-smoothers? How can households smooth their spending?
In the wake of the financial crisis of 2007/8, the international banking regulatory body, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, sought to ensure that the global banking system would be much safer in future. This would require that banks had (a) sufficient capital; (b) sufficient liquidity to meet the demands of customers.
The Basel III rules set new requirements for capital adequacy ratios, to be phased in by 2019. But what about liquidity ratios? The initial proposals of the Basel Committee were that banks should have sufficient liquid assets to be able to withstand for at least 30 days an intense liquidity crisis (such as that which led to the run on Northern Rock in 2007). Liquid assets were defined as cash, reserves in the central bank and government bonds. This new ‘liquidity coverage ratio’ would begin in 2015.
These proposals, however, have met with considerable resistance from bankers, who claim that higher liquidity requirements will reduce their ability to lend and reduce the money multiplier. This would make it more difficult for countries to pull out of recession.
In response, the Basel Committee has published a revised set of liquidity requirements. The new liquidity coverage ratio, instead of being introduced in full in 2015, will be phased in over four years from 2015 to 2019. Also the definition of liquid assets has been significantly expanded to include highly rated equities, company bonds and mortgage-backed securities.
This loosening of the liquidity requirements has been well received by banks. But, as some of the commentators point out in the articles, it is some of these assets that proved to be wholly illiquid in 2007/8!
Banks Win 4-Year Delay as Basel Liquidity Rule Loosened BloombergJim Brunsden, Giles Broom & Ben Moshinsky (7/1/13)
Banks win victory over new Basel liquidity rules Independent, Ben Chu (7/1/13)
Banks win concessions and time on liquidity rules The Guardian, Dan Milmo (7/1/13)
Basel liquidity agreement boosts bank shares BBC News (7/1/13)
Banks agree minimum liquidity rules BBC News, Robert Peston (67/1/13)
Group of Governors and Heads of Supervision endorses revised liquidity standard for banks BIS Press Release (6/1/13)
Summary description of the LCR BIS (6/1/13)
Basel III: The Liquidity Coverage Ratio and liquidity risk monitoring tools BIS (6/1/13)
Introductory remarks from GHOS Chairman Mervyn King and the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision’s Chairman Stefan Ingves (Transcript) BIS (6/1/13)
- What is meant by ‘liquid assets’?
- How does the liquidity of assets depend on the state of the economy?
- What is the relationship between the liquidity ratio and the money multiplier?
- Does the size of the money multiplier depend solely on the liquidity ratio that banks are required to hold?
- Distinguish between capital adequacy and liquidity.
- What has been the effect of quantitative easing on banks’ liquidity ratios?
At the Mansion House dinner on 15 June, the Chancellor, George Osborne, and the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, announced a new monetary policy initiative to increase bank credit. The idea is to stimulate borrowing by both firms and households and thereby boost aggregate demand.
There are two parts to the new measures:
1. Funding for lending. The aim here is to provide banks with cheap loans (i.e. at below market rates) on condition that they are used to fund lending to firms and households. Some £80 billion of loans, with a maturity of 3 to 4 years, could be made available to banks under the scheme. The details are still being worked out, but the scheme could work by the Bank of England supplying Treasury bills to the banks in return for less secure assets. The banks could then borrow against these bills in the market in order to lend to customers.
2. Providing extra liquidity to banks through six-month repos. The Bank of England will begin pumping up to £5bn a month into the banking system to improve their liquidity. This is an activation of the ‘Extended Collateral Term Repo Facility’ (see also), which was created last December, to provide six-month liquidity to banks against a wide range of collateral.
But whilst it is generally accepted that a lack of borrowing by firms and households is contributing to the slowdown of the UK economy, it is not clear how the new measures will solve the problem.
In terms of the supply of credit, banks have become more cautious about lending because of the increased risks associated with both the slowdown in the UK economy and the euro crisis. They claim that the issue is not one of a shortage of funding for lending, but of current uncertainties. They are thus likely to remain reluctant to lend, despite the prospect of extra loans from the Bank of England.
In terms of the demand for credit, both businesses and consumers remain cautious about borrowing. Even if bank loans are available, firms may not want to invest given the current uncertainties about the UK, eurozone and world economies. Consumers too may be reluctant to borrow more when people’s jobs may be at stake or at least when there is little prospect of increased wages. Even if banks were willing to lend more, you cannot force people to borrow.
Britain fights euro zone threat with credit boost Reuters, Matt Falloon and Sven Egenter (14/6/12)
Debt crisis: emergency action revealed to tackle ‘worst crisis since second world war’ Guardian, Larry Elliott, Jill Treanor and Ian Traynor (14/6/12)
Q&A: Funding for lending scheme Financial Times, Norma Cohen (15/6/12)
Bank lending plan: How will it work? BBC News (15/6/12)
Bank of England’s loans to high street banks start next week Guardian, Phillip Inman (15/6/12)
Mervyn King: Bank of England and Treasury to work together The Telegraph (15/6/12)
Bank of England offers £80bn loans Channel 4 News, Sarah Smith (15/6/12)
Bank funding scheme plans unveiled Independent, Holly Williams (15/6/12)
Banking: King hits panic button Independent, Ben Chu (15/6/12)
Bankers raise doubts on credit scheme Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins and Sharlene Goff (15/6/12)
We should not pin our hopes on Britain’s plan A-plus Financial Times, Martin Wolf (15/6/12)
Throwing money at banks won’t solve economic crisis, Ed Balls says Guardian, Patrick Wintour (15/6/12)
UK lending plan faces risk of low take-up BloombergBusinessweek, Robert Barr (15/6/12)
Will Bank of England’s new lending schemes work? BBC News, Robert Peston (15/6/12)
Bank and Treasury’s plan A-plus for UK BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (15/6/12)
- How would the schemes incentivise banks to lend more?
- Explain what is meant by the Extended Collateral Term Repo Facility. How similar is it to the long-term repo operations of the ECB (see the news item More bank debt to ease bank debt)?
- What factors are likely to determine the take-up of loans from banks?
- Will the new arrangements have any implications for taxpayers? Explain.
- To what extent are fiscal and monetary policy currently complementary?
- What is the significance of calling the new measures ‘Plan A-plus’? What would ‘Plan B’ be?
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.
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)
- What is meant by capital and by capital adequacy?
- Explain the construction of a Capital Adequacy Ratio. Distinguish between the CET1 ratio and the overall CAR ratio.
- What do you understand by macro-prudential regulation?
- How do liquidity and capital adequacy differ?
- 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?