In the paper Supersize Them? Large Banks, Taxpayers and the Subsidies that Lay Between, I provide an in-depth study of the substantial, non-transparent governmental subsidies received by the biggest banks. Though some continue to deny the existence of these subsidies, I conclude that the subsidies exist and negatively impact the financial markets. The most significant implicit subsidy stems from market perception that the government will not allow the biggest banks to fail—i.e., that they are “too-big-to-fail” (TBTF)—enabling them to borrow at lower interest rates. I outline the solutions that have been proposed and/or implemented as an attempt to solve the TBTF problem, and I suggest a new user-fees framework that can be used in conjunction with other approaches to mitigate the consequences of the TBTF subsidies.
Posts Tagged ‘Bailouts’
In our recent NBER working paper, Financing as a Supply Chain: The Capital Structure of Banks and Borrowers, we propose a novel framework to model joint debt decisions of banks and borrowers. Our framework combines the models used by bank regulators with the models used to explain capital structure in corporate finance. This structure can be used to explore the quantitative impact of government interventions such as deposit insurance, bailouts, and capital regulation.
Today an enormous global civilization rests upon a jury-rigged financial frame rife with moral hazards, perverse incentives, and unintended consequences. This article, SIFIs and States, forthcoming in the Texas International Law Journal, addresses one aspect of that fragile structure. It argues for basic reform in the international management of financial institutions in distress, with a special emphasis on SIFIs (Systemically Important Financial Institutions). The goal is to examine public institutional arrangements for resolution of financial institutions in the midst of a crisis, rather than the substantive rules governing the resolution process. The proposition central to this article is that the resolution of major financial institutions in serious distress will generally require substantial infusions of public money, at least temporarily. The home jurisdiction for a given financial institution must furnish the bulk of the public funds necessary for the successful resolution of its financial distress. The positive effect is that other jurisdictions may be likely to acquiesce in the leadership of the funding jurisdiction in exchange for acceptance of that financial responsibility. On the other hand, acceptance of the funding obligation would have profound consequences for the state as well as the institution, because the default of a SIFI may threaten the financial stability of that state. Until the crisis of 2007-2008, all that was implicit and unexamined in the political process; to a large extent it remains so.
One, of several, regulatory responses to the financial crisis has been to consider the extent to which bank failure can be explained by flaws in banks’ corporate governance arrangements.
In many jurisdictions this diagnosis has generated calls upon shareholders to act as effective owners and hold boards of banks to account, as well as calls to empower shareholders to enable them to do so. But what do we know about the relationship between shareholder power and bank failure? To date scholarly attention has been paid to the relationship between board independence and bank failure, but limited attention has been given to the relationship between bank failure and the core corporate governance rules that determine the ease with which shareholders can remove and replace management. In our paper, Shareholder Empowerment and Bank Bailouts, we examine the relationship between shareholder power — and, thus, managerial accountability — and the probability of bank bailouts.
In the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney identified the Dodd-Frank Act as the “biggest kiss” to Wall Street, opening a topic that has received too little attention in this election season. Supporters of the act argue that it ends bailouts, but this is true only if bailouts are defined narrowly as the use of taxpayer funds to rescue a failing financial institution. However, the source of funds for a bailout is not the real issue. The possibility of a creditor bailout creates moral hazard, no matter where the bailout funds originate, and it is moral hazard that provides the largest banks or other large financial firms with competitive advantages. The same is true of the special “stringent” regulation required by the act for banks and other firms deemed systemically important. These provisions create moral hazard by reassuring creditors that there is less risk in lending to these large firms than to small ones, and thus provide the biggest firms with a continuing competitive advantage in the form of lower funding costs. Romney is correct to see this as a subsidy to big banks and other large financial institutions. Title I invokes stringent regulation for systemically important firms, Title II provides a mechanism for bailing out creditors if a systemically important firm should fail, and Title VIII authorizes Federal Reserve funding for an unlimited number of additional financial institutions. If President Obama is re-elected, Dodd-Frank is likely to continue in its current form, adding materially to the problem of moral hazard and TBTF in the US financial system.
At its enactment, the Dodd-Frank Act (DFA) was advertised as legislation that would end financial bailouts. When signing the legislation on July 21, 2010, President Obama said, “There will be no more tax-funded bailouts—period.” But this is an accurate depiction of the act only because the president and the act’s other proponents define bailouts as the use of public funds for rescuing failing financial institutions.
From the election of a French president who has openly expressed his opposition to austerity without a greater focus on stimulating economic growth to the struggles to form a new Greek government that may or may not agree to abide by the conditions set out in the existing bailout plan, recent elections have enveloped the Eurozone in yet more uncertainty. With the desire for an alternative to a programme of strict austerity gathering increasing popular support, balancing the challenges of the Eurozone’s rapidly escalating political crisis alongside the fiscal imperatives that need to be tackled has rarely been so difficult, or the path ahead for Europe’s leaders so unclear.
In these circumstances few would dare to predict the future. But the ability to assess and anticipate potential market risks – from the impact of sovereign debt issues on an already weakened banking sector to the prospect of a country, or even countries, leaving the Eurozone – is crucial. Also crucial is the need to prepare for a variety of eventualities, whether through more stringent credit assessment, tighter documentation, careful counterparty choice or other tactics.
American corporations today are like the great European monarchies of yore: They have the power to control the rules under which they function and to direct the allocation of public resources. This is not a prediction of what’s to come; this is a simple statement of the present state of affairs. Corporations have effectively captured the United States: its judiciary, its political system, and its national wealth, without assuming any of the responsibilities of dominion. Evidence is everywhere.
The “smoking gun” is CEO pay. Compensation is an expression of concentrated power — of enterprise power concentrated in the chief executive officer and of national power concentrated in corporations. Median US CEO pay for 2010 was up 35 percent in the midst of a lingering recession, while CEO pay over the last decade has doubled as a percentage of pre-tax corporate income. Yet there has been no justification for current levels of CEO pay based on economic value added.
When Lee Raymond retired as CEO of ExxonMobil at the end of 2005, after six years at the helm of the merged firm and another six as head of Exxon before that, he walked away with more than a quarter billion dollars in realizable equity. In his final year alone, Raymond received in excess of $70 million in total compensation — an hourly wage of about $34,500 calculated at 40 hours a week for 50 weeks. No metric can justify such a raid on the corporate treasury and shareholder equity, but Raymond is only a particularly egregious and early example of what has since become common practice. Little wonder that the driving concern of banks receiving TARP “bailout” money was to pay it back so as to escape any restriction on executive pay.
In the paper, Safer Ratios, Riskier Portfolios: Banks’ Response to Government Aid, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we investigate the effect of TARP on bank risk taking. One of the key features of the past decade has been an increased role of government regulation, which culminated in the bailout of over 700 firms under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA) of 2008. At the forefront of an ongoing regulatory debate is the potential effect of the bailout on the risk-taking behavior of financial institutions, since imprudent risk-taking is often blamed for leading to the crisis in the first place. On the one hand, recent regulatory reforms, including the EESA, the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, and Basel III, were tasked with promoting financial stability and preventing excessive risk-taking by financial institutions. On the other hand, the bailout sent a signal of implicit protection of certain financial institutions, which could encourage risk-taking as a response to a perceived safety net for institutions that encounter financial distress.
We study three channels of bank operations – retail lending, corporate lending, and financial investments. We use hand-collected data on bank applications for government capital to control for the selection of fund recipients and investigate the effect of both application approvals and denials. To distinguish banks’ risk taking behavior from changes in economic conditions, we also control for the volume and quality of credit demand based on micro-level data on home mortgages and corporate loans.
As used in this post, “clawback” means a repayment of previously received compensation required to be made by an executive to his or her employer. Three federal statutes that provide for clawbacks are discussed in this post. They are:
- 1. Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (SOA) §304; 15 U.S.C. §7243(a);
- 2. Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA) §111(b)(3)(B), as added by Section 7001 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA); 12 U.S.C. §5221(b)(3)(B) (applicable only to recipients of assistance under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that have not repaid the Treasury); and
- 3. Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (DFA) §954, 15 U.S.C. §78j-4(b).
A summary comparison of the three statutory clawback rules is provided in the chart below.
(Editor’s Note: This post is Lucian Bebchuk’s most recent column in his series of monthly commentaries titled “The Rules of the Game” for the international association of newspapers Project Syndicate, which are available here.)
A year after the United States government allowed the investment bank Lehman Brothers to fail but then bailed out AIG, and after governments around the world bailed out many other banks, key question remains: when and how should authorities rescue financial institutions?
It is now widely expected that, when a financial institution is deemed “too big to fail,” governments will intervene if it gets into trouble. But how far should such interventions go? In contrast to the recent rash of bailouts, future government bailouts should protect only some creditors of a bailed-out institution. In particular, the government’s safety net should never be extended to include the bondholders of such institutions.
In the past, government bailouts have typically protected all contributors of capital of a rescued bank other than shareholders. Shareholders were often required to suffer losses or were even wiped out, but bondholders were generally saved by the government’s infusion of cash.