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.
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)
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)
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)
- Why was the period of the late 1990s and early to mid 2000s described as the Great Moderation?
- 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?
- 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?
- What, according to Dr King were the main causes of the credit crunch?
- What, with hindsight, should the Bank of England have done differently?
- 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’?
- In what sense was there a moral hazard in central banks being willing to bail out banks?
- 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?
The meeting of EU leaders on night of Thursday/Friday 8/9 December was the latest in a succession of such meetings designed to solve the eurozone’s problems (see also, Part A, Part B and Part C in this series of posts from earlier this year).
Headlines in the British press have all been about David Cameron’s veto to a change in the Treaty of Lisbon, which sets the rules of the operation of the EU and its institutions. Given this veto, the 17 members of the eurozone and the remaining 9 non-eurozone members have agreed to proceed instead with inter-governmental agreements about tightening the rules governing the operation of the eurozone.
In this news item we are not looking at the politics of the UK’s veto or the implications for the relationship between the UK and the rest of the EU. Instead, we focus on what was agreed and whether it will provide the solution to the eurozone’s woes: to fiscal harmonisation; to stimulating economic growth; to bailing out severely indebted countries, such as Italy; and to recapitalising banks so as to protect them from sovereign debt problems and the private debt problems that are likely to rise as the eurozone heads for recession.
The rules on fiscal harmonisation represent a return to something very similar to the Stability and Growth Pact, but with automatic and tougher penalties built in for any country breaking the rules. What is more, eurozone member countries will have to submit their national budgets to the European Commission for approval.
The agreement has generally been well received – stock markets rose in eurozone countries on the Friday by around 2%. But the consensus of commentators is that whilst the agreement might prove a necessary condition for rescuing the euro, it will not be a sufficient condition. Expect a Part E (and more) to this series!
Meanwhile the following articles provide a selection of reactions from around the world to the latest agreement.
EU leaders announce new fiscal agreement Southeast European Times, Svetla Dimitrova (9/12/11)
Eurozone crisis: What if the euro collapses? BBC News (9/12/11)
New European Treaty Won’t Solve Current Liquidity Crisis Huffington Post, Bonnie Kavoussi (9/12/11)
UK alone as EU agrees fiscal deal BBC News (9/12/11)
A good deal for the UK – or the euro? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (9/12/11)
European leaders strengthen firewall Financial Times, Joshua Chaffin and Alan Beattie (9/12/11)
EU leaders push for tough rules in new treaty DW-World, Bernd Riegert (9/12/11)
German Vision Prevails as Leaders Agree on Fiscal Pact The New York Times, Steven Erlanger and Stephen Castle (9/12/11)
European Union leaders agree to forge new fiscal pact; Britain the only holdout The Washington Post, Anthony Faiola (9/12/11)
The new rules by EU leaders Irish Independent (10/12/11)
More uncertainty seen in wake of EU summit Deseret News (9/12/11)
EU president unveils raft of crisis-fighting measures The News (Pakistan) (10/12/11)
No rave reviews The Economist, Buttonwood (9/12/11)
Beware the Merkozy recipe The Economist (10/12/11)
Europe blunders into a blind, and dangerous, alley Guardian, Larry Elliott, (9/12/11)
As the dust settles, a cold new Europe with Germany in charge will emerge Guardian, Ian Traynor, (9/12/11)
Euro zone agreement only partial solution – IMF Reuters, Tova Cohen and Ari Rabinovitch (11/12/11)
Celebration Succumbs to Concern for Euro Zone New York Times, Liz Alderman (12/12/11)
In graphics: The eurozone’s crisis BBC News
- How do the latest proposals for fiscal harmonisation differ from the Stability and Growth Pact?
- How might a Keynesian criticise the agreement?
- What is the role of (a) the IMF and (b) the ECB in the agreement?
- Do you agree that the agreement is a necessary but not sufficient condition for solving the eurozone’s problems?
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
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)
- What are main objectives of the CEBS guidelines?
- Assess the arguments used by the banking industry in criticising the guidelines.
- In what ways can the banks get around these new regulations (assuming the guidelines are accepted by EU banking regulators)?
- What conditions would have to met for a remuneration committee to be truly independent?
- How likely is it that countries outside the EU will adopt similar regulations? How could they be persuaded to do so?
Under the Basel II arrangements, banks were required to maintain particular capital adequacy ratios (CARs). These were to ensure that banks had sufficient capital to allow them to meet all demands from depositors and to cover losses if a borrower defaulted on payment. Basel II, it was (wrongly) thought would ensure that the banking system could not collapse.
There were three key ratios. The first was an overall minimum CAR of 8%, measured as Tier 1 capital plus Tier 2 capital as a percentage of total risk-weighted assets. As Economics 7th edition page 509 explains:
Tier 1 capital includes bank reserves (from retained profits) and ordinary share capital, where dividends to shareholders vary with the amount of profit the bank makes. Such capital thus places no burden on banks in times of losses as no dividend need be paid. What is more, unlike depositors, shareholders cannot ask for their money back. Tier 2 capital consists largely of preference shares. These pay a fixed rate of interest and thus do continue to place a burden on the bank even when losses are made (unless the bank goes out of business).
Risk-weighted assets are the value of assets, where each type of asset is multiplied by a risk factor. Under the internationally agreed Basel II accord, cash and government bonds have a risk factor of zero and are thus not included. Inter-bank lending between the major banks has a risk factor of 0.2 and is thus included at only 20 per cent of its value; residential mortgages have a risk factor of 0.35; personal loans, credit-card debt and overdrafts have a risk factor of 1; loans to companies carry a risk factor of 0.2, 0.5, 1 or 1.5, depending on the credit rating of the company. Thus the greater the average risk factor of a bank’s assets, the greater will be the value of its risk weighted assets, and the lower will be its CAR.
The second CAR was that Tier 1 capital should be at least 4% of risk weighted assets.
The third CAR was that equity capital (i.e. money raised from the issue of ordinary shares) should be at least 2% of risk weighted assets. This is known as the ‘core capital ratio’.
Before 2008, it was thought by most commentators that these capital adequacy ratios were sufficiently high. But then the banking crisis erupted. Banks were too exposed to sub-prime debt (i.e. debt that was excessively risky, such as mortgages on property at a time when property prices were rapidly declining). Much of this debt was disguised by being bundled up with other securities in what were known as collateralised debt obligations (CDOs). On 15 September 2008, Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy: the largest bankruptcy in history, with Lehmans owing $613 billion. Although its assets had a book value of $639, these were insufficiently liquid to enable Lehmans to meet the demands of its creditors.
The collapse of Lehmans sent shock waves around the world. Banks across the globe came under tremendous pressure. Many held too much sub-prime debt and had insufficient capital to meet creditors’ demands. As a result, they had to be bailed out by their governments. Clearly the Basel II regulations were too lax.
For several months there have been discussions about new tighter regulations and, on 12 September 2010, central bankers from the major countries met in Basel, Switzerland, and agreed the Basel III regulations. Although the overall CAR (Tier 1 and 2) was kept at 8%, the Tier 1 ratio was raised from 4% to 6% and the core Tier 1 ratio was raised from 2% to 4.5%, to be phased in by 2015. In addition there were two ‘buffers’ introduced.
As well as having to maintain a core Tier 1 ratio of 4.5%, banks would also have to hold a ‘conservation buffer’ of 2.5%. “The purpose of the conservation buffer is to ensure that banks maintain a buffer of capital that can be used to absorb losses during periods of financial and economic stress. While banks are allowed to draw on the buffer during such periods of stress, the closer their regulatory capital ratios approach the minimum requirement, the greater the constraints on earnings distributions.” In effect, then, the core Tier 1 ratio will rise from 2% to 7% (i.e. 4.5% minimum plus a buffer of 2.5%).
The other buffer is a ‘countercyclical buffer’. This will be “within a range of 0% – 2.5% of common equity or other fully loss absorbing capital and will be implemented according to national circumstances.” The idea of this buffer is to allow banks to withstand volatility in the global economy. It will be phased in between 2016 and 2019.
The Basel III agreement will still need to be ratified by the G20 countries meeting at Seoul on 10 and 11 November this year. That meeting will also consider other elements of bank regulation.
So will these extra capital requirements be sufficient to allow banks to withstand any future crisis? The following articles discuss this question.
Global bankers agree new capital reserve rules BBC News (12/9/10)
Q&A: Basel rules on bank capital – who cares? BBC News, Laurence Knight (13/9/10)
Basel III and Sound Banking New American, Charles Scaliger (17/9/10)
Wishy-washy rules might come back to haunt regulators Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins (18/9/10)
Basel III proposal released Newsweek, Joel Schectman (17/9/10)
New Bank Rules May Not Prevent More Meltdowns FXstreet, Henrik Arnt (16/9/10)
Basel III CBS Money Watch, Mark Thoma (14/9/10)
Basel III: To lend or not to lend Investment Week, Martin Morris (16/9/10)
Taming the banks The Economist (16/9/10)
Basel’s buttress The Economist (16/9/10)
Do new bank-capital requirements pose a risk to growth? The Economist, guest contributions
Myners: New rules ‘ignore bank liquidity’ BBC Today Programme, Robert Peston and Lord Myners (18/9/10)
Official press releases and documents
Group of Governors and Heads of Supervision announces higher global minimum capital standards Bank for International Settlements Press Release (12/9/10)
The Basel iii Accord Basel iii Compliance Professionals Association (BiiiCPA)
Details of the new capital requirements Bank for International Settlements
Details of the phase-in arrangements Bank for International Settlements
- What impact will a higher capital adequacy ratio have on banks’ behaviour?
- For what reasons may the Basel III regulations be considered too lax?
- 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?
- Why will Basel III be phased in over a number of years? Is this too long?
In the aftermath of the credit crunch and the recession, many banks had to be bailed out by central banks and some, such as Northern Rock and RBS, were wholly or partially nationalised. Tougher regulations to ensure greater liquidity and higher proportions of capital to total liabilities have been put in place and further regulation is being planned in many countries.
So are banks now able to withstand future shocks?
In recent months, new threats to banks have emerged. The first is the prospect of a double-dip recession as many countries tighten fiscal policy in order to claw down debts and as consumer and business confidence falls. The second is the concern about banks’ exposure to sovereign debt: i.e. their holding of government bonds and other securities. If there is a risk that countries might default on their debts, then banks would suffer and confidence in the banking system could plummet, triggering a further banking crisis. With worries that countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Ireland might have problems in servicing their debt, and with the downgrading of these countries by rating agencies, this second problem has become more acute for banks with large exposure to the debt of these and similar countries.
To help get a measure of the extent of the problem and, hopefully, to reassure markets, the Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS) has been conducting ‘stress tests’ on European banks. On 24 July, it published its findings. The following articles look at these tests and the findings and assess whether the tests were rigorous enough.
Bank balance: EU stress tests explained Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins, Emily Cadman and Steve Bernard (13/7/10)
Seven EU banks fail stress test healthchecks BBC News, Robert Peston (23/7/10)
Interactive: EU stress test results by bank Financial Times, Emily Cadman, Steve Bernard, Johanna Kassel and Patrick Jenkin (23/7/10)
Q&A: What are the European bank stress tests for? BBC News (23/7/10)
Europe’s Stress-Free Stress Test Fails to Make the Grade Der Spiegel (26/7/10)
A test cynically calibrated to fix the result Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (25/7/10)
Europe confronts banking gremlins Financial Times (23/7/10)
Leading article: Stressful times continue Independent (26/7/10)
Europe’s banking check-up Aljazeera, Samah El-Shahat (26/7/10)
Finance: Stressed but blessed Financial Times, Patrick Jenkins (25/7/10)
Were stress test rigorous enough? BBC Today Programme, Ben Shore (24/7/10)
Banks’ stress test ‘very wooly’ BBC Today Programme, Peter Hahn and Graham Turner(24/7/10)
Stress test whitewash of European banks World Socialist Web Site, Stefan Steinberg (26/7/10)
Stress tests: Not many dead BBC News blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (23/7/10)
Not much stress, not much test Reuters, Laurence Copeland (23/7/10)
Stress-testing Europe’s banks won’t stave off a deflationary vortex Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (18/7/10)
European banking shares rise after stress tests BBC News (26/7/10)
Euro banks pass test, gold falls CommodityOnline, Geena Paul (26/7/10)
2010 EU-wide Stress Testing: portal page to documents CEBS
- Explain what is meant by a bank stress test?
- What particular scenarios were tested for in the European bank stress tests?
- Assess whether the tests were appropriate? Were they too easy to pass?
- What effect did the results of the stress tests have on gold prices? Explain why (see final article above).
- What stresses are banks likely to face in the coming months? If they run into difficulties as a result, what would be the likely reaction of central banks? Would there be a moral hazard here? Explain.