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?
On several occasions in the past on this site we’ve examined proposals for a Tobin tax: see, for example: A ‘Robin Hood’ tax (Feb 2010), Tobin or not Tobin: the tax proposal that keeps reappearing (Dec 2009) and A Tobin tax – to be or not to be? (Aug 2009). A Tobin tax is a tax on trading in financial products, sometimes known as a ‘financial transactions tax’ (FTT). It could also be levied on trading in foreign currencies. It is considered in Economics (7th ed) (section 26.3) and Economics for Business (5th ed) (section 32.4).
The tax would be levied at a very low rate: somewhere between 0.01% and 0.5% and would be too small to affect trading in shares or other financial products for purposes of long-term investment. It would, however, dampen speculative trades that take advantage of tiny potential gains from very short-term price movements. Such trades account for huge financial flows between financial institutions around the world and tend to make markets more volatile. The short-term dealers are known as high-frequency traders (HFTs) and their activities now account for the majority of trading on exchanges. Most of these trades are by computers programmed to seek out minute gains and respond in milliseconds. And whilst they add to short-term liquidity for much of the time, this liquidity can suddenly dry up if HFTs become pessimistic.
The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has announced that the Commission has adopted the idea of a financial transactions tax with the backing of Germany, France and other eurozone countries. This Tobin tax could be in operation by 2014. According to the Commission, it could raise some €57bn a year. Unlike earlier proposals for a Tobin tax (sometimes called the ‘Robin Hood tax’), the money raised would probably be used to reduce EU deficits, rather than being given in aid to developing countries.
The UK government has been highly critical of the proposal, arguing that, unless adopted world-wide, it would divert trade away from the City of London.
The following articles consider how such a tax would work and its potential advantages and disadvantages.
Theory inches ever closer to practice Guardian, Larry Elliott (28/9/11)
Osborne expected to oppose EU’s proposal for Tobin tax on banks Guardian, Jill Treanor (28/9/11)
Tobin tax could ‘destroy’ business models Accountancy Age, Jaimie Kaffash (30/9/11)
Tobin tax is likely, says banking chief Accountancy Age, Jaimie Kaffash (5/10/11)
Could a transactions tax be good for capitalism? BBC News, Robert Peston (3/10/11)
EU to propose tax on financial transactions BusinessDay (South Africa), Mariam Isa (5/10/11)
European politicians plot to block UK veto on ‘Tobin tax’ The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead (3/10/11)
Opinion Divided on EU Transaction Tax Tax-News, Ulrika Lomas (5/10/11)
Tobin taxes and audit reform: the blizzard from Brussels The Economist (1/10/11)
- What are HFTs and what impact do they have on the stability and liquidity of markets?
- Explain how a Tobin tax would work.
- What would be the potential advantages and disadvantages of the Tobin tax as proposed by the European Commission (the ‘financial transactions tax’)?
- Are financial markets efficient? Can a market be ‘excessively efficient’?
- How are ‘execute or cancel’ orders used by HFTs?
- Why do HFTs have an asymmetric information advantage?
- How does a financial transactions tax differ from the UK’s stamp duty reserve tax?
- Explain why the design of the stamp duty tax has prevented the flight of capital and trading from London. Could a Tobin tax be designed in such a way?
The debts of many countries in the eurozone are becoming increasingly difficult to service. With negative growth in some countries (Greece’s GDP is set to decline by over 5% this year) and falling growth rates in others, the outlook is becoming worse: tax revenues are likely to fall and benefit payments are likely to increase as automatic fiscal stabilisers take effect. In the light of these difficulties, market rates of interest on sovereign debt in these countries have been increasing.
Talk of default has got louder. If Greece cannot service its public-sector debt, currently standing at around 150% of GDP (way above the 60% ceiling set in the Stability and Growth Pact), then simply lending it more will merely delay the problem. Ultimately, if it cannot grow its way out of the debt, then either it must receive a fiscal transfer from the rest of the eurozone, or part of its debts must be cancelled or radically rescheduled.
But Greece is a small country, and relative to the size of the whole eurozone’s GDP, its debt is tiny. Italy is another matter. It’s public-sector debt to GDP ratio, at around 120% is lower than Greece’s, but the level of debt is much higher: $2 trillion compared with Greece’s $480 billion. Increasingly banks are becoming worried about their exposure to Italian debt – both public- and private-sector debt.
As we saw in the news item “The brutal face of supply and demand”, stock markets have been plummeting because of the growing fears about debts in the eurozone. And these fears have been particularly focused on banks with high levels of exposure to these debts. French banks are particularly vulnerable. Indeed, Credit Agricole and Société Générale, France’s second and third largest banks, had their creidit ratings cut by Moody’s rating agency. They have both seen their share prices fall dramatically this year: 46% and 55% respectively.
Central banks have been becoming increasingly concerned that the sovereign debt crisis in various eurozone countries will turn into a new banking crisis. In an attempt to calm markets and help ease the problem for banks, five central banks – the Federal Reserve, the ECB, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the Swiss National Bank – announced on 15 September that they would co-operate to offer three-month US dollar loans to commercial banks. They would provide as much liquidity as was necessary to ease any funding difficulties.
The effect of this action calmed the markets and share prices in Europe and around the world rose substantially. But was this enough to stave off a new banking crisis? And did it do anything to ease the sovereign debt crisis and the problems of the eurozone? The following articles explore these questions.
Central banks expand dollar operations Reuters, Sakari Suoninen and Marc Jones (15/9/11)
Europe’s debt crisis prompts central banks to provide dollar liquidity Guardian, Larry Elliott and Dominic Rushe (15/9/11)
From euro zone to battle zone Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Evans (17/9/11)
Global shares rise on central banks’ loan move BBC News (16/9/11)
Geithner warns EU against infighting over Greece BBC News (16/9/11)
How The European Debt Crisis Could Spread npr (USA), Marilyn Geewax (15/9/11)
No Marshall Plan for Europe National Post (Canada) (16/9/11)
Central banks act to help Europe lenders Financial Times, Ralph Atkins, Richard Milne and Alex Barker (15/9/11)
Central Banks Seeking Quick Fix Push Dollar Cost to August Lows Bloomberg Businesweek, John Glover and Ben Martin (15/9/11)
Central banks act to provide euro zone dollar liquidity Irish Times (15/9/11)
Central banks pump money into market: what the analysts say The Telegraph (15/9/11)
Central banks and the ‘spirit of 2008’ BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (15/9/11)
Central Bank statements
News Release: Additional US dollar liquidity-providing operations over year-end Bank of England (15/9/11)
Press Release: ECB announces additional US dollar liquidity-providing operations over year-end ECB (15/9/11)
Additional schedule for U.S. Dollar Funds-Supplying Operations Bank of Japan (15/9/11)
Central banks to extend provision of US dollar liquidity Swiss National Bank (15/9/11)
- Explain what is meant by debt servicing.
- How may the concerted actions of the five central banks help the banking sector?
- Distinguish between liquidity and capital. Is supplying extra liquidity a suitable means of coping with the difficulties of countries in servicing their debts?
- If Greece cannot service its debts, what options are open to (a) Greece itself; (b) international institutions and governments?
- In what ways are the eurozone countries collectively in a better economic and financial state than the USA?
- Is the best solution to the eurozone crisis to achieve greater fiscal harmonisation?
- What are the weaknesses of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) as currently constituted? Should it be turned into a bank or special credit institution taking the role of a ‘European Monetary Fund’?
- Should countries in the eurozone be able to issue eurobonds?
On 28 November 2010, a deal was reached between the Irish government, the ECB, the IMF and other individual governments to bail out Ireland. The deal involved an €85bn package to bail out the collapsing Irish banks. Not all of the money went directly to the banks and the Irish government did set aside some of the loan. However, some of this money will now be required by four key lenders in Ireland, after a stress test by a group of independent experts found that the Republic of Ireland’s banks need another €24bn (that’s £21.2bn) to survive the continuing financial crisis. Allied Irish Banks require €13.5bn, Bank of Ireland €5.2bn, Irish Life €4bn and EBS a meager €1.5bn. The governor of the central bank, Professor Patrick Honohan said:
‘The new requirements are needed to restore market confidence, and ensure banks have enough capital to meet even the markets’ darkest estimates.’
The stress test focused on an assumption of a ‘cumulative collapse’ in property prices by 62%, together with rising unemployment. Following this, the Irish Finance Minister announced the government’s intention to take a majority stake in all of the major lenders. The Irish banks have been told they need to reduce the net loans on their balance sheets by some €71bn (£63bn) by the end of 2013. This process of deleveraging is likely to generate further losses, as many loans and assets will be sold for less than their true value. The causes of this ongoing financial crisis can still be traced back to the weakness within the Irish economy and more specifically to mortgage accounts being in arrears following the property market bubble that burst. A key question will be whether this second bail-out is sufficient to restore much needed confidence in the economy and particularly in the banking sector. The articles below consider this ongoing crisis.
Irish hope it is second time lucky for bail-out Telegraph, Harry Wilson (1/4/11)
Irish Bank needs extra €24bn euros to survive BBC News (31/3/11)
Ireland forced into new £21bn bailout by debt crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott and Jill Treanor (31/3/11)
The hole in Ireland’s banks is £21bn BBC News Blogs: Peston’s Picks, Robert Peston (31/3/11)
ECB has given Ireland serious commitment Reuters (1/4/11)
Ireland banking crisis: is the worst really over? Guardian: Ireland Business Blog, Lisa O’Carroll (1/4/11)
Ireland: a dead cert for default Guardian, Larry Elliott (1/4/11)
Timeline: Ireland’s string of bank bailouts Reuters (31/3/11)
- What is the process of deleveraging? Why is likely to lead to more losses for Ireland’s banks?
- What are the causes of the financial crisis in Ireland? How do they differ from financial crises around the world?
- What are the arguments for and against bailing out the Irish banks?
- Will this second bailout halt the possible contagion to other Eurozone and EU members?
- If this second bailout proves insufficient, should there be further intervention in the Irish economy?
We’ve had numerous examples in recent years of the economic turmoil that natural disasters can have and unfortunately, we have another to add to the list: the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. As Japan tries to take stock of the damage and loss of life, the economic consequences of this disaster will also need considering. The previous Kobe earthquake cost the economy an estimated 2% of GDP, but this did hit a key industrial area. The economic consequences of the 2011 earthquake were originally not thought to be as bad, but the economy will undoubtedly suffer.
The Japanese economy, like the UK, shrank in the final quarter of 2010, but was expected to return to growth. The devastation of the earthquake and tsunami is now likely to delay this economic recovery. Many car companies are based in Japan and are expected to take some of the biggest hits. Nomura analysts suggested that annual operating profits of companies such as Toyota, Nissan and Honda would be dented by between 3% and 8%. You only have to look at some of the footage of the disaster to see why this is expected. Supply chains will undoubtedly be disrupted, many of whom are located in the exclusion zone and financial markets across the world have fallen, as the possibility of a nuclear disaster threatens. As Louise Armistead writes:
‘By lunchtime in Britain £32bn had been knocked off the value of the FTSE-100 dropped, which fell by more than 3pc in early trading but recovered later to close down 1.38pc at 5,695.28. Germany’s DAX plunged 3.19pc, recovering from a 4.8pc fall, and France’s CAC ended the day 3.9pc lower, while on Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Index dropped 2pc shortly after opening.’
A key question will be whether Japanese reconstruction will push the economy out of its deflationary spiral or make it even worse.
GDP measures the value of output produced within the domestic economy, but it is by no means an accurate measure of a country’s standard of living. Whilst it will take into account new construction that will be required to rebuild the economy, it doesn’t take into account the initial destruction of it. As output and growth are expected to fall in the immediate aftermath, we may see a boost to growth, as reconstruction begins.
The problem of scarcity is becoming more and more apparent to many survivors, as they begin to run short of basic necessities, which has led to various rationing mechanisms being introduced. Despite the devastating conditions which survivors now find themselves in, when supplies are delivered, the efficiency of Japan is still very evident. As noted by BBC Radio 4 coverage, as soon as the supplies arrived, a line was in place to unload the van in minutes. Teams have been set up to help everyone get through the tragedy. Even in the most devastating of times, Japanese efficiency still shines through and undoubtedly this will be a massive aid in the huge re-construction projects that we will see over the coming months and even years. Analysts say that there will be short term pain, but that the investment in construction will boost the economy later in the year.
Japanese earthquake: Markets shed £1trillion amid nuclear fears Telegraph, Louise Armistead (16/3/11)
Panic over Japan triggers market turmoil Independent, Nikhil Kumar (16/3/11)
Japan quake: Economy ‘to rebound’ after short term pain BBC News (14/3/11)
Japan disaster: The cost of a crisis Guardian (16/3/11)
Global stock markets tumble in ‘perfect storm’ amid fears of nuclear disaster Mail Online, Hugo Duncan (16/3/11)
Japan’s earthquake will cause a global financial aftershock Guardian, Peter Hadfield (15/3/11)
Economists’ estimate of Japan quake impact Reuters (16/3/11)
Fukishima factor adds pressure to economic fallout from Japan’s crisis Guardian, Larry Elliott (15/3/11)
- What is the likely impact on Japan’s GDP?
- Why is the potential disruption to the supply chain important for a firm?
- How and why will this catastrophe affect global financial markets?
- What are some of the main problems of using GDP as a measurement for growth? Think about the impact on GDP of Japan’s destruction and their future re-construction.
- What types of production methods etc have Japan implemented to allow them to become so efficient in production?
- What are the arguments to suggest that this disaster might help the Japanese economy recover from its deflationary spiral? What are the arguments to suggest that it might make it worse?
- What are some other examples of natural disasters or human errors that have also had economic consequences?