Transactions that reduce regulatory capital requirements for banks have recently come under media and regulatory scrutiny. The New York Times characterized them as a “trading sleight of hand.” The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision has proposed limiting the ways in which capital requirements can be reduced by such transactions. This post discusses the new Basel proposals in light of prior guidance published by Basel and the Federal Reserve. As banks seek ways to meet heightened capital requirements and surcharges that are being implemented, they may find greater difficulties in reducing their exposures.
Posts Tagged ‘Basel Committee’
On March 26, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (“Basel Committee”) published a Consultative Document in which it proposes a revised supervisory framework for measuring and controlling large counterparty exposures (“Proposal,” or “Exposure Framework”) of systemically important financial institutions (“SIFIs”). Comments on the Proposal are due by June 28, 2013.
As the banking industry emerges from the 2008 financial crisis, there is no question that it caused great strain on banks of all sizes. Hundreds of community banks failed, and the largest institutions were unable to continue operating without massive, unprecedented government intervention. This region in particular experienced the full impact of the crisis and the stress it placed on small institutions. A key ingredient in the market disruption was inadequate capital protection. Looking forward, it is important that the regulatory community arrive at a capital framework that is appropriate for the range and complexity of risks in today’s financial system.
As someone who served on the Treasury Department’s crisis response team in 2008, it became clear that the market was punishing firms and business models that took on too much risk without sufficient capitalization. Yet, upon returning recently to government service I have been surprised at what I see as a lack of progress towards constraining excessive leverage. Some policymakers point to advancements in the Basel III agreement, developed by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision, which implements a global leverage ratio for the first time. However, I think that it is difficult to argue that achieving a Tier 1 leverage ratio of three percent my 2018 is significant reform, particularly as this leverage ratio requirement is not solely anchored in tangible common equity.
The Basel Committee has made significant revisions to the Basel III Liquidity Coverage Ratio (“LCR”). The revised LCR standards allow banks to use a broader range of liquid assets to meet their liquidity buffer and relax some of the run-off assumptions that banks must make in calculating their net cash outflows. The revised standards also clarify that banks may dip below the minimum LCR requirement during periods of stress. The Basel Committee expects national regulators to implement the LCR on a phased-in basis beginning on January 1, 2015. The Basel Committee will also press ahead with its review of the Basel III Net Stable Funding Ratio (“NSFR”).
While the Federal Reserve has expressed its intent to implement some version of the LCR and other Basel III liquidity standards in the United States, the scope, timing and nature of U.S. implementation is currently unclear. This memorandum and the accompanying tables explore key aspects of the revised LCR standards and issues relating to their implementation in the United States.
The basic argument about the procyclical effects of bank capital requirements is well-known. In recessions, losses erode banks’ capital, while risk-based capital requirements, such as those in Basel II, become higher. If banks cannot quickly raise sufficient new capital, their lending capacity falls and a credit crunch may follow. Yet, correcting the potential contractionary effect on credit supply by relaxing capital requirements in bad times may increase bank failure probabilities precisely when, because of high loan defaults, they are largest. Given the conflicting goals at stake, some observers think that procyclicality is a necessary evil, whereas others think that procyclicality should be explicitly corrected. Basel III is a compromise between these two views. It reinforces the quality and quantity of the minimum capital required to banks, but also establishes that part of the increased requirements be in terms of mandatory buffers—a capital preservation buffer and a countercyclical buffer—that are intended to be built up in good times and released in bad times.
In our paper, The Procyclical Effects of Bank Capital Regulation, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we develop a model that captures the key trade-offs in the debate. The model is constructed to highlight the primary microprudential role of capital requirements (containing banks’ risk of failure and, thus, deposit insurance payouts and other social costs due to bank failures) as well as their potential procyclical effect on the supply of bank credit.
The Federal Reserve launched the 2013 capital planning and stress testing process for large bank holding companies (“BHCs”) with the publication, on November 9, 2012, of two sets of instructions: one set for the 19 BHCs that participated in the 2011 Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (“CCAR”) process (“CCAR BHCs”) and another set for the 11 other U.S.-domiciled, top-tier BHCs with total consolidated assets of $50 billion or more that did not participate in the 2011 CCAR process (“non-CCAR BHCs”). On the same day, the Federal Reserve joined with other U.S. banking agencies to announce that recent proposals to implement Basel III in the United States will not become effective on January 1, 2013.
The Federal Reserve’s instructions for the CCAR BHCs, which reveal how the Dodd-Frank Act’s stress testing requirements will be integrated with the Federal Reserve’s capital planning requirements, are instructive for the non-CCAR BHCs that will become subject to Dodd-Frank stress-testing requirements in the 2014 capital planning cycle. Similarly, nonbank financial companies designated by the Financial Stability Oversight Council (“FSOC”) for supervision by the Federal Reserve will be subject to Dodd-Frank stress-testing requirements and, under a proposal by the Federal Reserve, would also be required to submit annual capital plans to the Federal Reserve.
For the CCAR BHCs, the two most significant changes from the 2012 process are:
The three federal bank regulatory agencies announced  that their proposed new capital rules based on Basel III (and other Basel standards)  would not take effect on January 1, 2013, a date previously proposed apparently in order to adhere to international consensus. The announcement was overdue. The comment period for the three proposed capital rules ended only a few weeks ago on October 22, 2012. The agencies received hundreds of comments that they will have to digest in order to finalize the rules, making implementation on January 1, 2013, a practical impossibility.
January 1, 2013, was set by international agreement as the effective date for new Basel-based rules in all countries. The United States will not be the only jurisdiction to miss this deadline. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision (the “BCBS”) released preliminary reviews of the implementation of Basel III in the European Union, the United States, and Japan. Only Japan has new rules in place. The European Parliament is expected to take up its version of the new rules, colloquially known as CRD IV, on November 20, 2012, in plenary session. If Parliament approves CRD IV, it will go to the European Council for review. Finalization, accordingly, will take several months.
The announcement leaves two questions that the agencies did not answer.
On September 24, 2012, the federal banking agencies released the “Regulatory Capital Estimation Tool,” intended to help community banking and thrift organizations estimate the overall impact on their capital levels of the proposed revisions to the U.S. regulatory capital rules that were published this past summer. 
The tool will serve at least two purposes. The resulting estimates should provide a new source of quantitative information for a bank’s capital planning. They should also spur an assessment of the impact of the proposed rules and how the bank might provide a meaningful comment on the proposed rules. The comment period expires three weeks from today, on October 22, 2012.  The tool involves two of the three regulatory capital rules that the agencies proposed in June 2012: the Basel III Proposal, which addresses capital components and capital ratios, and the Standardized Approach Proposal, which sets forth risk weights for different asset classes. 
In the paper, The Legal System and the Development of Alternative Methods of Financing to Bank Credit… Or How French Law Has Failed to Adapt to the Evolution of the Economy and Finance, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, I evaluate the French legal system following the strengthening of the “Basel III” prudential regulations and advocate urgent reform. A large number of commentators have predicted that Basel III is likely to result in a reduction in the contribution made by banks to financing the economy. This evolving role for banks invites us to re-examine French law (to the extent that the legal system has an impact on the development of alternative methods to traditional bank financing, recourse to financial markets and the private equity market). It is indeed a major issue for France. Unlike the US and the UK, financial markets in France (as in the rest of Continental Europe), are bank-centered. Against the backdrop of a declining economy and the development of prudential regulations, France must therefore adjust quickly its legal system. This is the tenet of my paper, which is the long version of a report that I wrote initially at the request of the French National Economic Council for the office of the French Prime Minister.
I have been involved in central banking and financial supervision my entire career. I understand the importance of having the right market conditions and regulatory framework for an economic system to thrive. And most certainly I know that the foundation of a strong financial system is strong capital. For these reasons I wish to add my perspective on the discussion regarding Basel III. After reading the entire 1,000-plus page proposal, I would encourage the Basel Committee and the international regulatory community to step back and rethink the Basel capital standards.
It may be helpful here to recall how Basel has evolved. Following the implementation of Basel I, many in economics and finance and many of the world’s largest banks wanted a more sophisticated and flexible risk-based capital standard. The U.S. chaired the Basel II Committee then and with others agreed that such change was necessary for the largest firms to remain globally competitive. Basel II and III were also given the task of satisfying various national interests, adding more complexity. As a result, the number of Basel risk weights evolved from five to thousands.