Federal agencies and prosecutors are being criticized for seeking so few indictments against individuals in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and its resulting banking failures. This article analyzes why—contrary to a longstanding historical trend—personal liability may be on the decline, and whether agencies and prosecutors should be doing more. The analysis confronts fundamental policy questions concerning changing corporate and social norms. The public and the media perceive the crisis’s harm as a “wrong” caused by excessive risk-taking. But that view can be too simplistic, ignoring the reality that firms must take greater risks to try to innovate and create value in the increasingly competitive and complex global economy. This article examines how law should control that risk-taking and internalize its costs without impeding broader economic progress, focusing on two key elements of that inquiry: the extent to which corporate risk-taking should be regarded as excessive, and the extent to which personal liability should be used to control that excessive risk-taking.
Posts Tagged ‘Shadow banking’
The term “shadow banking system” refers to the institutions that do not hold a banking license, but perform the basic functions of banks by refinancing loans to the economy with the issuance of money-like liabilities. Roughly speaking, licensed banks refinance the loans that they hold on their balance sheets with deposits or interbank borrowing, whereas the shadow banking system refinances securities backed by loan portfolios with quasi-deposits such as money market funds shares.
Money market funds (MMFs) have, since the 2008 financial crisis, been deemed part of the nefarious shadow banking industry and targeted for regulatory reform. In my paper, The Broken Buck Stops Here: Embracing Sponsor Support in Money Market Fund Reform, I critically evaluate the logic behind current reform proposals, demonstrating that none of the proposals is likely to be effective in addressing the primary source of MMF stability—redemption demands in times of economic resources that impose pressure on MMF liquidity. In addition, inherent limitations in the mechanisms for calculating the fair value of MMF assets present a practical limitation on the utility of a floating NAV. I then offer an unprecedented alternative approach—mandatory sponsor support. My proposal would require MMF sponsors to commit to supporting their funds as a condition of offering a fund with a fixed $1 NAV.
Ever since the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Research (“OFR”) released its report on Asset Management and Financial Stability in September 2013 (“OFR Report” or “Report”), the industry has vigorously opposed its central conclusion that the activities of the asset management industry as a whole make it systemically important and may pose a risk to US financial stability.
Several members of Congress have also voiced concern with the OFR Report’s findings, particularly during recent Congressional hearings, as have commissioners of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Further complicating matters, a senior official of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) recently expressed alarm about banks working with alternative asset managers or shadow banks on “weak” leveraged lending deals.
In prior articles (see, e.g., Regulating Shadows: Financial Regulation and Responsibility Failure, 70 Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 1781 (2013)), I have argued that shadow banking is so radically transforming finance that regulatory scholars need to rethink certain of their basic assumptions. In a forthcoming new article, The Governance Structure of Shadow Banking: Rethinking Assumptions About Limited Liability, I argue that the governance structure of shadow banking should be redesigned to make certain investors financially responsible, by reason of their ownership interests, for their firm’s liabilities beyond the capital they have invested. This argument challenges the longstanding assumption of the optimality of limited liability.
On November 22, 2013, Federal Reserve Board Governor Daniel Tarullo delivered a speech at the Americans for Financial Reform and Economic Policy Institute outlining a potential regulatory initiative to limit short-term wholesale funding risks.  This proposal could increase capital requirements for and apply additional prudential standards to firms dependent on short-term funding, with a focus on securities financing transactions (“SFTs”)—repos, reverse repos, securities borrowing/lending and securities margin lending.
There is a growing consensus that new financial reform legislation may be in order. The Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, while well-intended, is now widely viewed to be at best insufficient, at worst a costly misfire. Members of Congress are considering new and different measures. Some have proposed substantially higher capital requirements for the largest financial firms; others favor an updated version of the old Glass-Steagall regime.
In A Simpler Approach to Financial Reform, forthcoming in Regulation, I suggest a different and simpler strategy. This simpler approach would be compatible with other financial stability reforms. However, in the first instance, it is better understood as a substitute for Dodd-Frank and other measures. The simpler approach would require new legislation. It consists of the following specific measures, starting from a pre-Dodd-Frank baseline:
Traditionally, law and finance has been concerned with investor protection. That would be enough if the future were predictable. However, because the future is in fact uncertain and unpredictable, the prices of financial assets are flawed and in the short run they may result in serious mistakes, if not widespread crises. Although these mistakes are corrected in the long run, a lot of harm may occur in the meantime. Drawing on the experience from the global financial crisis, I argue that financial law should be concerned not only with investor protection, but also with mitigating the temporary excesses of markets in allowing or restricting access to finance.
The challenge of this goal is to remedy market malfunctioning without undermining market discipline. This is possible if central banks backstop banks’ illiquidity during a crisis, provided that regulation preserves the central banks’ incentives to distinguish illiquidity from insolvency. Moreover, in order to prevent the backstop from resulting in moral hazard by financial institutions, regulation should police the incentives of both managers and shareholders. On the one hand, bank managers should not be allowed to cash in the profit of short-term success. On the other hand, corporate law should allow shareholders to commit to the long term via takeover restrictions, granting bankers private benefits of control to complement the deferral of performance pay.
For the last four years, regulators and law makers have been focusing extraordinary efforts on ensuring that financial regulation is adequate to protect the financial system from risks emanating from the banking sector. However, it is only more recently that policy makers have turned their attention towards possible systemic risk related to entities which carry out similar functions to the banking sector or to which the banking sector is otherwise exposed. Such entities have, for convenience, been grouped under the heading of “shadow banks”, although no precise definition or description of shadow banking has yet been agreed upon by policy makers.
At their November 2010 Seoul Summit, the leaders of the G20 nations requested that the Financial Stability Board (FSB) develop recommendations to strengthen the oversight and regulation of the shadow banking system in collaboration with other international standard setting bodies, and in response to such request, the FSB formed a task force with the following objectives:
In our recent NBER working paper, Financial Regulation in General Equilibrium, my co-authors (Charles Goodhart of the London School of Economics, Dimitrios P. Tsomocos of the University of Oxford, and Alexandros Vardoulakis of the Banque de France) and I explore how different types of financial regulation could combat many of the phenomena that were observed in the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009. The primary contribution is the introduction of a model that includes both a banking system and a “shadow banking system” that each help households finance their expenditures. Households sometimes choose to default on their loans, and when they do this triggers forced selling by the shadow banks. Because the forced selling comes when net worth of potential buyers is low, the ensuing price dynamics can be described as a fire sale. The presence of the banking and shadow banking system, and the possibility that their interaction can create fire sales distinguishes our analysis from previous studies.
The model builds on past work by Tsomocos (2003) and Goodhart, Tsomocos and Vardoulakis (2010) and uses many of the same ingredients as their general equilibrium model. In particular, the model includes two periods and allows for heterogeneous agents who borrow and lend to each other through financial intermediaries. When the borrowers default, the intermediaries suffer losses and tighten lending standards to future borrowers. Thus, the model also includes a possible credit crunch.