Today [October 22, 2014], the Commission will consider the recommendation of the staff to adopt, jointly with five other federal agencies, final rules for the asset-backed securities market that will require securitizers to keep “skin in the game.” Specifically, we will consider rules to require certain securitizers to retain no less than five percent of the credit risk of the assets they securitize. These rules, which are mandated by Section 941 of the Dodd-Frank Act, are part of a strong and comprehensive package of reforms that will address some of the most serious issues exposed in the asset-backed securities market that contributed to the financial crisis.
Posts Tagged ‘Credit risk’
In our recent ECGI working paper, A Strict Liability Regime for Rating Agencies, we study how to induce Credit Rating Agencies (CRAs) to produce ratings as accurate as the available forecasting technology allows.
Referring to CRAs, Paul Krugman wrote that: “It was a system that looked dignified and respectable on the surface. Yet it produced huge conflicts of interest. Issuers of debt […] could choose among several rating agencies. So they could direct their business to whichever agency was most likely to give a favorable verdict, and threaten to pull business from an agency that tried too hard to do its job.”
However, the conflicts of interest stemming from the issuer-pays model and rating shopping by issuers are not sufficient to explain rating inflation. Because ratings are valuable only as far as they are considered informative by investors, in a well-functioning market, reputational sanctions should prevent rating inflation.
Recent events in Europe have illustrated how government defaults can jeopardize domestic bank stability. Growing concerns of public insolvency since 2010 caused great stress in the European banking sector, which was loaded with Euro-area debt (Andritzky (2012)). Problems were particularly severe for banks in troubled countries, which entered the crisis holding a sizable share of their assets in their governments’ bonds: roughly 5% in Portugal and Spain, 7% in Italy and 16% in Greece (2010 EU Stress Test). As sovereign spreads rose, moreover, these banks greatly increased their exposure to the bonds of their financially distressed governments (2011 EU Stress Test), leading to even greater fragility. As The Economist put it, “Europe’s troubled banks and broke governments are in a dangerous embrace.” These events are not unique to Europe: a similar relationship between sovereign defaults and the banking system has been at play also in earlier sovereign crises (IMF (2002)).
Last week, James Kwak (UConn law professor, co-author of 13 Bankers and White House Burning, and blogger at the Baseline Scenario) provided a nice writeup of some of the key issues I identify in my paper, Understanding the Failures of Market Discipline, recently posted to SSRN. But I wanted to take a few words to provide a slightly more detailed explanation of my work.
“Market discipline”—the notion that short-term creditors (such as bank depositors) can efficiently identify and rein in bank risk—has been a central pillar of banking regulation since the 1980s. Obviously, market discipline did not prevent the buildup of bank risk that caused the recent financial crisis, but the general consensus has been that this failure was due to structural impediments to the effective operation of market discipline—such as misaligned incentives, a lack of transparency, or moral hazard caused by implicit guarantees—rather than any problems with the concept itself. As a result, a major point of emphasis in financial regulatory reform efforts has been to improve and strengthen market discipline.
In our paper, The Economics of Solicited and Unsolicited Credit Ratings, forthcoming in the Review of Financial Studies, we develop a dynamic rational expectations model to address the question of why rating agencies issue unsolicited credit ratings and why these ratings are, on average, lower than solicited ratings. We analyze the implications of this practice for credit rating standards, rating fees, and social welfare. Our model incorporates three critical elements of the credit rating industry: (i) the rating agencies’ ability to misreport the issuer’s credit quality, (ii) their ability to issue unsolicited ratings, and (iii) their reputational concerns.
In Rollover Risk: Ideating a U.S. Debt Default, forthcoming in the Boston College Law Review, I systematically examine how a U.S. debt default might occur, how it could be avoided, its potential consequences if not avoided, and how those consequences could be mitigated. The impending debt-ceiling showdown between Congress and the President makes these questions especially topical. The Republican majority in Congress is conditioning any raise in the federal debt ceiling on spending cuts and reforms. Yet without raising the debt ceiling, the government may end up defaulting, perhaps as early as mid-October.
Even without that showdown, however, these questions are important. As the article explains, certain types of U.S. debt defaults, due to rollover risk, are actually quite realistic. This is the risk that the government will be temporarily unable to borrow sufficient funds to repay—sometimes termed, to refinance—its maturing debt.
Because rollover risk is such a concern, one might ask why governments, including the United States, routinely depend on borrowing new money to repay their maturing debt. The answer is cost: using short-term debt to fund long-term projects is attractive because, if managed to avoid a default, it tends to lower the cost of borrowing. The interest rate on short-term debt is usually lower than that on long-term debt because, other things being equal, it is easier to assess a borrower’s ability to repay in the short term than in the long term, and long-term debt carries greater interest-rate risk. But this cost-saving does not come free of charge: it increases the threat of default.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or “Commission”) today approved a joint rule reproposal to implement Section 941 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”).  I am not able to support the release in the form approved because the reproposal does not contain necessary economic analyses and does not adequately consider alternatives to credit risk retention requirements or the interplay between those requirements and other regulatory reforms.
Before discussing these shortcomings, I want to recognize all the hard work the SEC’s staff in the Division of Corporation Finance and the Division of Economic and Risk Analysis (“DERA”) put into developing the joint rule reproposal. I also want to thank them for briefing me on the rulemaking and answering my questions.
While I am not able to vote in favor of the reproposal, I am encouraged that some improvements were made to the original proposal in response to public comments. For example, the reproposal removes the problematic premium capture cash reserve account approach. And, with respect to some classes of asset-backed securities (“ABS”), the reproposal revises various risk retention obligations and allows alternative incentive alignment practices.
In our paper, Fair Value Accounting for Financial Instruments: Does it improve the Association between Bank Leverage and Credit Risk?, which was recently made publicly available on SSRN, we contribute to the debate on whether financial instruments should be measured at fair value in financial statements. Accounting standard setters have been deliberating the role of fair values for financial instruments for decades. A fair value is the price at which two willing parties would exchange an asset or settle a liability. Starting after the savings and loan crisis in the late 1980s, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has increased the extent to which financial instruments are recognized at fair value (see Godwin, Petroni, and Wahlen 1998). In 2010, the FASB proposed to require that all financial instruments be recognized at fair value, with limited exceptions for receivables and payables and some companies’ own debt (FASB 2010). The proposal was controversial, with over 2,800 comment letters submitted, the vast majority of which objected to the fair value measurement of loans, deposits, and financial liabilities. The FASB is redeliberating this project and has tentatively decided that all financial instruments should be measured at fair value except certain debt financial assets and most financial liabilities (including deposits), which would be measured at amortized cost (FASB 2011).
To empirically provide insight on the controversy, we assess whether a fair value leverage ratio can explain measures of a bank’s credit risk better than a leverage ratio based on a mixture of fair values and historical costs consistent with the mixed-attribute model of US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) and a leverage ratio based on even fewer fair values than GAAP, which is consistent with regulatory Tier 1 capital. We focus on balance sheet leverage because it is very commonly used for assessing firm risk. We define a bank’s credit risk as the risk that the bank defaults on its obligations, and we focus on credit risk because understanding a bank’s credit risk is essential to understanding its financial condition.
How important is the role of credit availability in inflating asset prices? And what are the consequences of past greater credit availability when perceived fundamentals turn? In our recent NBER paper, The Anatomy of a Credit Crisis: The Boom and Bust in Farm Land Prices in the United States in the 1920s, my co-author, Rodney Ramcharan, and I broach answers to these questions by examining the rise (and fall) of farm land prices in the United States in the early twentieth century, attempting to identify the separate effects of changes in fundamentals and changes in the availability of credit on land prices. This period allows us to use the exogenous boom and bust in world commodity prices, inflated by World War I and the Russian Revolution and then unexpectedly deflated by the rapid recovery of European agricultural production, to identify an exogenous shock to local agricultural fundamentals. The ban on interstate banking and the cross-state variation in deposit insurance and ceilings on interest rates are important regulatory features of the time that allow us to identify the effects of credit availability that we incorporate in the empirical strategy.
The Federal banking agencies have recently issued three notices of proposed rulemaking (and applicable related guidance) in connection with the implementation of Section 939A of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”). Section 939A generally requires that all Federal agencies remove from their regulations references to and requirements of reliance on credit ratings and replace them with appropriate alternatives for evaluating creditworthiness.
Market Risk Capital NPR:
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (the “OCC”), the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (the “Federal Reserve”) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (the “FDIC” and, together with the Federal Reserve and the OCC, the “agencies”) issued a joint notice of proposed rulemaking (the “Market Risk Capital NPR”) concerning their market risk capital rules applicable to certain U.S. banking organizations with significant trading operations by proposing standards of creditworthiness to be used in place of credit ratings when calculating the specific risk capital requirements for covered debt and securitization positions, including the following: