Ten years ago, the financial crisis deepened and stock markets around the world plummeted. The trigger was the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the fourth-largest US investment bank. It filed for bankruptcy on September 15, 2008. This was not the first bank failure around that time. In 2007, Northern Rock in the UK (Aug/Sept 2007) had collapsed and so too had Bear Stearns in the USA (Mar 2008).
Initially there was some hope that the US government would bail out Lehmans. But when Congress rejected the Bank Bailout Bill on September 29, the US stock market fell sharply, with the Dow Jones falling by 7% the same day. This was mirrored in other countries: the FTSE 100 fell by 15%.
At the core of the problem was excessive lending by banks with too little capital. What is more, much of the capital was of poor quality. Many of the banks held securitised assets containing ‘sub-prime mortgage debt’. The assets, known as collateralised debt obligations (CDOs), were bundles of other assets, including mortgages. US homeowners had been lent money based on the assumption that their houses would increase in value. When house prices fell, homeowners were left in a position of negative equity – owing more than the value of their house. With many people forced to sell their houses, prices fell further. Mortgage debt held by banks could not be redeemed: it was ‘sub-prime’ or ‘toxic debt’.
Response to the crisis
The outcome of the financial crash was a series of bailouts of banks around the world. Banks cut back on lending and the world headed for a major recession.
Initially, the response of governments and central banks was to stimulate their economies through fiscal and monetary policies. Government spending was increased; taxes were cut; interest rates were cut to near zero. By 2010, the global economy seemed to be pulling out of recession.
However, the expansionary fiscal policy, plus the bailing out of banks, had led to large public-sector deficits and growing public-sector debt. Although a return of economic growth would help to increase revenues, many governments felt that the size of the public-sector deficits was too large to rely on economic growth.
As a result, many governments embarked on a period of austerity – tight fiscal policy, involving cutting government expenditure and raising taxes. Although this might slowly bring the deficit down, it slowed down growth and caused major hardships for people who relied on benefits and who saw their benefits cut. It also led to a cut in public services.
Expanding the economy was left to central banks, which kept monetary policy very loose. Rock-bottom interest rates were then accompanied by quantitative easing. This was the expansion of the money supply by central-bank purchases of assets, largely government bonds. A massive amount of extra liquidity was pumped into economies. But with confidence still low, much of this ended up in other asset purchases, such as stocks and shares, rather than being spent on goods and services. The effect was a limited stimulation of the economy, but a surge in stock market prices.
With wages rising slowly, or even falling in real terms, and with credit easy to obtain at record low interest rates, so consumer debt increased.
So have the lessons of the financial crash been learned? Would we ever have a repeat of 2007–9?
On the positive side, financial regulators are more aware of the dangers of under capitalisation. Banks’ capital requirements have increased, overseen by the Bank for International Settlements. Under its Basel II and then Basel III regulations (see link below), banks are required to hold much more capital (‘capital buffers’). Some countries’ regulators (normally the central bank), depending on their specific conditions, exceed these the Basel requirements.
But substantial risks remain and many of the lessons have not been learnt from the financial crisis and its aftermath.
There has been a large expansion of household debt, fuelled by low interest rates. This constrains central banks’ ability to raise interest rates without causing financial distress to people with large debts. It also makes it more likely that there will be a Minsky moment, when a trigger, such as a trade war (e.g. between the USA and China), causes banks to curb lending and consumers to rein in debt. This can then lead to a fall in aggregate demand and a recession.
Total debt of the private and public sectors now amounts to $164 trillion, or 225% of world GDP – 12 percentage points higher than in 2009.
China poses a considerable risk, as well as being a driver of global growth. China has very high levels of consumer debt and many of its banks are undercapitalised. It has already experienced one stock market crash. From mid-June 2015, there was a three-week fall in share prices, knocking about 30% off their value. Previously the Chinese stock market had soared, with many people borrowing to buy shares. But this was a classic bubble, with share prices reflecting exuberance, not economic fundamentals.
Although Chinese government purchases of shares and tighter regulation helped to stabilise the market, it is possible that there may be another crash, especially if the trade war with the USA escalates even further. The Chinese stock market has already lost 20% of its value this year.
Then there is the problem with shadow banking. This is the provision of loans by non-bank financial institutions, such as insurance companies or hedge funds. As the International Business Times article linked below states:
A mind-boggling study from the US last year, for example, found that the market share of shadow banking in residential mortgages had rocketed from 15% in 2007 to 38% in 2015. This also represents a staggering 75% of all loans to low-income borrowers and risky borrowers. China’s shadow banking is another major concern, amounting to US$15 trillion, or about 130% of GDP. Meanwhile, fears are mounting that many shadow banks around the world are relaxing their underwriting standards.
Another issue is whether emerging markets can sustain their continued growth, or whether troubles in the more vulnerable emerging-market economies could trigger contagion across the more exposed parts of the developing world and possibly across the whole global economy. The recent crises in Turkey and Argentina may be a portent of this.
Then there is a risk of a cyber-attack by a rogue government or criminals on key financial insitutions, such as central banks or major international banks. Despite investing large amounts of money in cyber-security, financial institutions worry about their vulnerability to an attack.
Any of these triggers could cause a crisis of confidence, which, in turn, could lead to a fall in stock markets, a fall in aggregate demand and a recession.
Finally there is the question of the deep and prolonged crisis in capitalism itself – a crisis that manifests itself, not in a sudden recession, but in a long-term stagnation of the living standards of the poor and ‘just about managing’. Average real weekly earnings in many countries today are still below those in 2008, before the crash. In Great Britain, real weekly earnings in July 2018 were still some 6% lower than in early 2008.
- The Lehman Brothers Crash And The Chaos That Followed – Everything You Need To Know
HuffPost, Isabel Togoh (15/9/18)
- Ten years after the crash: have the lessons of Lehman been learned?
The Guardian, Yanis Varoufakis, Ann Pettifor, Mark Littlewood, David Blanchflower, Olli Rehn, Nicky Morgan and Micah White (14/9/18)
- Financial crisis 10 years on: Who are the winners and losers?
Independent, Kate Hughes (14/9/18)
- Investment winners and losers 10 years after the crash
Financial Times, Kate Beioley (14/9/18)
- Nine Lessons From the Global Financial Crisis
Bloomberg, Mohamed A. El-Erian (13/9/18)
- Lehman — why we need a change of mindset
Deutsche Welle, Thomas Straubhaar (14/9/18)
- ‘The world is sleepwalking into a financial crisis’ – Gordon Brown
The Guardian, Larry Elliott (12/9/18)
- Economists warn of new financial crisis on anniversary of 2008 crash
Channel 4 news, Helia Ebrahimi (15/9/18)
- Financial crisis 2008: Five biggest risks of a new crash
International Business Times, Nafis Alam (14/9/18)
- Carney warns against complacency on 10th anniversary of financial crisis
BBC News, Kamal Ahmed (12/9/18)
- A cyberattack could trigger the next financial crisis, new report says
CNBC, Bob Pisani (13/9/18)
Information and data
- Explain the major causes of the financial market crash in 2008.
- Would it have been a good idea to have continued with expansionary fiscal policy beyond 2009?
- Summarise the Basel III banking regulations.
- How could quantitative easing have been differently designed so as to have injected more money into the real sector of the economy?
- What are the main threats to the global economy at the current time? Are any of these a ‘hangover’ from the 2007–8 financial crisis?
- What is meant by ‘shadow banking’ and how might this be a threat to the future stability of the global economy?
- Find data on household debt in two developed countries from 2000 to the present day. Chart the figures. Explain the pattern that emerges and discuss whether there are any dangers for the two economies from the levels of debt.
Under the auspices of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), banks around the world are working their way towards implementing tougher capital requirements. These tougher rules, known as ‘Basel III’, are due to come fully into operation by 2019.
This third version of international banking rules was agreed after the financial crisis of 2008, when many banks were so undercapitalised that they could not withstand the dramatic decline in the value of many of their assets and a withdrawal of funds.
Basel III requires banks to have much more capital, especially common equity capital. The point about equity (shares) is that it’s a liability that does not have to be repaid. If people hold bank shares, the bank does not have to repay them and does not even have to pay any dividends. In other words, the money raised by issuing shares carries no obligation on the part of the bank and can thus provide a buffer against large-scale withdrawal of funds.
Under Basel III, banks have to maintain sufficiently large ‘capital-adequacy ratios’. As Essentials of Economics (7th edition) explains:
Capital adequacy is a measure of a bank’s capital relative to its assets, where the assets are weighted according to the degree of risk. The more risky the assets, the greater the amount of capital that will be required.
A measure of capital adequacy is given by the capital adequacy ratio (CAR). This is given by the following formula:
Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) capital includes bank reserves (from retained profits) and ordinary share capital (equities), where dividends to shareholders vary with the amount of profit the bank makes… Additional Tier 1 (AT1) capital consists largely of preference shares. These pay a fixed dividend (like company bonds), but although preference shareholders have a prior claim over ordinary shareholders on the company’s (i.e. the bank’s) profits, dividends need not be paid in times of loss.
Tier 2 capital is subordinated debt with a maturity greater than 5 years. Subordinated debt holders only have a claim on a company (a bank) after the claims of all other bondholders have been met.
Risk-weighted assets are the total value of assets, where each type of asset is multiplied by a risk factor. Under the Basel III accord, cash and government bonds have a risk factor of zero and are thus not included. Interbank 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 under 60% of the value of the property 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.
Basel III gives minimum capital requirements that are higher than under its predecessor, Basel II. Thus, by 2019, banks must have a common equity capital to risk-weighted assets of at least 4.5% and a Tier 1 ratio of at least 6.0%. The overall CAR should be at least 8%. In addition, the phased introduction of a ‘capital conservation buffer’ from 2016 will raise the overall CAR to at least 10.5 per cent.
Over the past few years, banks have increased their capital cushions significantly and many have exceeded the Basel III requirements, even for 2019.
But the Basel Committee has been reconsidering the calculation of risk-weighted assets. Because of the complexity of banks’ asset structures, which tend to vary significantly from country to country, it is difficult to ensure that banks’ are meeting the Basel III requirements. Under proposed amendments to Basel III (which some commentators have dubbed ‘Basel IV’), banks would have to compare their own calculations with a ‘standardised’ model. Their own calculations of risk-based assets would then not be allowed to be lower than 60–90% (known as ‘the output floor’) of the standardised approach.
While, on the surface, this may seem reasonable, European banks have claimed that this would penalise them, as some of their assets are less risky than the equivalent assets in other countries. For example, Germany has argued that mortgage defaults have been rare and thus German mortgage debt should be given a lower weighting than US mortgage debt, where defaults have been more common. If all assets were assessed according to the output floor, several banks, especially in Europe, would be judged to be undercapitalised. As The Economist article states:
Analysts at Morgan Stanley estimate that global, non-American banks could see risk-weighted assets rise by an average of 18–30%, depending on the level of the output floor. Extra capital of €250bn–410bn could be needed, a tall order when earnings are thin and investors wary. The committee’s reviews of operational and market risks would add even more.
This question of an output floor was a sticking point at the Basel Committee meeting in Santiago, which ended on 30 November. Although some progress was made about agreeing to rules on risk weighting that could be applied globally, a final agreement will have to wait until the next meeting, in January – at the earliest.
Basel bust-up: A showdown looms over bank-capital rules The Economist (26/11/16)
Bank regulators fail to agree on new rules Manila Standard (2/12/16)
Bank chief Claudio Borio urges regulators to ‘stay strong’ Weekend Australian, Michael Bennet (29/11/16)
Final Basel III rules meet resistance from Europe The Straits Times (2/12/16)
This Is the Absolutely Worst Time to Weaken Global Bank Rules American Banker, Mayra Rodriguez Valladares (2/12/16)
New Basel banking rules’ impact on European economy Financial Times, Frédéric Oudéa (28/12/16)
Banks like RBS still look risky, but getting too tough could cause greater problems The Conversation, Alan Shipman (1/12/16)
International banking supervisory community meets to discuss the regulatory framework BIS Press Release (1/12/16)
Basel III: international regulatory framework for banks Bank for International Settlements
Basel III phase-in arrangements Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, BIS
Basel Committee on Banking Supervision reforms – Basel III, Summary Table Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, BIS
- Why do reserves in banks have a zero weighting in terms of risk-based assets?
- What items have a 100% weighting? Explain why.
- Examine the table, Basel III phase-in arrangements, and explain each of the terms.
- If banks are forced to operate with a higher capital adequacy ratio, what is this likely to do to bank lending? Explain. How are funding costs relevant to your answer?
- Explain each of the items in the Basel III capital-adequacy requirements shown in the chart above.
- What is the American case for imposing an output floor?
- What is the European banks’ case for using their own risk weighting?
- Why is it proposed that larger ‘systemically important banks’ (SIBs) should have an additional capital requirement?
- How does the balance of assets of American banks differ from that of European banks?
Are emerging markets about to experience a credit crunch? Slowing growth in China and other emerging market economies (EMEs) does not bode well. Nor does the prospect of rising interest rates in the USA and the resulting increase in the costs of servicing the high levels of dollar-denominated debt in many such countries.
According to the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) (see also), the stock of dollar-denominated debt in emerging market economies has doubled since 2009 and this makes them vulnerable to tighter US monetary policy.
Weaker financial market conditions combined with an increased sensitivity to US rates may heighten the risk of negative spillovers to EMEs when US policy is normalised. …
Despite low interest rates, rising debt levels have pushed debt service ratios for households and firms above their long-run averages, particularly since 2013, signalling increased risks of financial crises in EMEs.
But there is another perspective. Many emerging economies are pursuing looser monetary policy and this, combined with tighter US monetary policy, is causing their exchange rates against the dollar to depreciate, thereby increasing their export competitiveness. At the same time, more rapid growth in the USA and some EU countries, should also help to stimulate demand for their exports.
Also, in recent years there has been a large growth in trade between emerging economies – so-called ‘South–South trade’. Exports from developing countries to other developing countries has grown from 38% of developing countries’ exports in 1995 to over 52% in 2015. With technological catch-up taking place in many of these economies and with lower labour and land costs, their prospects look bright for economic growth over the longer term.
These two different perspectives are taken in the following two articles from the Telegraph. The first looks at the BIS’s analysis of growing debt and the possibility of a credit crunch. The second, while acknowledging the current weakness of many emerging economies, looks at the prospects for improving growth over the coming years.
‘Uneasy’ market calm masks debt timebomb, BIS warns The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (6/12/15)
Why emerging markets will rise from gloom to boom The Telegraph, Liam Halligan (5/12/15)
- How does an improving US economy impact on emerging market economies?
- Will the impact of US monetary policy on exchange rates be adverse or advantageous for emerging market economies?
- What forms does dollar-denominated debt take in emerging economies?
- Why has south–south trade grown in recent years? Is it consistent with the law of comparative advantage?
- Why is growth likely to be higher in emerging economies than in developed economies in the coming years?
According to latest evidence from the Bank for International Settlements, in April 2013 some £3.2 trillion ($5.3 trillion) of foreign exchange was traded daily on global foreign exchange (forex) markets. About 40% of forex dealing goes through trading rooms in London. This market is highly profitable for the UK economy. But all is not well with the way people trade. There is a scandal about rate fixing.
Exchange rates on the forex market are freely determined by demand and supply and fluctuate second by second, 24 hours a day, except for weekends. Nevertheless, once a day rates are fixed for certain trades. At 4pm GMT a set of reference rates is set for corporate customers by banks and other traders. The rates are set at the free market average over the one minute from 16:00 to 16:01. The allegation is that banks have been colluding, through text messaging and chat rooms, to manipulate the market over that one minute.
Since the early summer of 2013, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in the UK, along with counterparts in the USA, Switzerland, Hong Kong and elsewhere, has been looking into these allegations. Last week (4/3/14), the Bank of England suspended a member of its staff as part of its own investigation into potential rigging of the foreign exchange market. The allegation is not that the staff member(s) were involved in the rigging but that they might have known about it.The Bank said that, “An oversight committee will lead further investigations into whether bank officials were involved in forex market manipulation or were aware of manipulation, or at least the potential for such manipulation.”
Meanwhile, the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee has been questioning Bank of England staff, including the governor, Mark Carney, about the scandal. Speaking to the Committee, Martin Wheatley, head of the FCA said that the investigation over rigging had been extended to 10 banks and that the allegations are every bit as bad as they have been with Libor.
Forex rigging ‘as serious as’ Libor scandal: Carney Yahoo News, Roland Jackson (11/2/14)
Forex manipulation: How it worked HITC (Here Is The City), Catherine Boyle (11/3/14)
Bank of England Chief Grilled Over Forex Scandal ABC News, Danica Kirka (11/3/14)
Carney Faces Grilling as Currency Scandal Snares BOE Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton and Suzi Ring (10/3/14)
UK financial body urges quick action over foreign exchange ‘fixing’ Reuters, Huw Jones (11/3/14)
Timeline -The FX “fixing” scandal Reuters, Jamie McGeever (11/3/14)
Forex in the spotlight Financial Times (16/2/14)
Forex scandal: What is that all about? BBC News (11/3/14)
Bank of England in shake-up after rate manipulation criticism BBC News (11/3/14)
Mark Carney faces Forex questions from MPs BBC News, Hugh Pym (11/3/14)
Bank of England’s Paul Fisher: ‘It’s not our job to go hunting for market wrongdoing’ Independent, Russell Lynch , Ben Chu (11/3/14)
- For what reasons would sterling appreciate against the dollar?
- Most of forex trading is for speculative purposes, rather than for financing trade or investment. Why is this and does it benefit international trade?
- If foreign exchange rates fluctuate, is it not a good thing that banks collude to agree the 4pm fixed rate? Explain.
- What was the Libor scandal? Why are some people arguing that the current forex scandal is worse?
- What can the FCA do to prevent collusion over exchange rates?
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?