U.S. banking regulation resembles a cat-and-mouse game of industry change and regulatory response. Often, a crisis or industry innovation will lead to a new regulatory regime. Past regulatory regimes have included geographic restrictions, activity restrictions, disclosure mandates, risk management rules, and capital requirements. But the recently enacted Dodd-Frank Act introduced a new strain of banking-industry supervision: regulation by hypothetical. Regulation by hypothetical refers to rules that require banks to predict future crises and weaknesses. Those predictions—which by definition are speculative—become the basis for regulatory intervention. Two illustrative instances of this regulation were codified in Dodd-Frank: stress tests and living wills. They are two pillars on which Dodd-Frank builds to manage risk in systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs).  As I argue in my forthcoming article, regulation by hypothetical in Dodd-Frank should be abandoned for three reasons: it relies on a faulty premise, tasks an agency with a conflicted mission, and likely exacerbates the moral hazards involved with governmental sponsorship of private institutions. Because of these weaknesses, the regulation-by-hypothetical regime must be either abandoned (my first choice) or strengthened. One way to strengthen these hypothetical scenarios would be to conduct financial war games.
Posts Tagged ‘Systemic risk’
In a comment letter and supporting paper to the FDIC on its single-point-of-entry (SPOE) resolution concept release, Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics, argues that SPOE is conceptually sound and statutorily robust. However, progress to date on orderly liquidation has been so cautious as to cloud the credibility of assertions that the largest U.S. financial institutions, especially the biggest banks, are no longer too big to fail (“TBTF”). Crafting a new resolution regime is of course a complex undertaking that benefits from as much consensus as possible. However, if definitive action is not quickly taken on a policy construct for single-point-of-entry resolutions resolving high-level questions about its practicality and functionality under stress, markets will revert to TBTF expectations that renew market distortions, place undue competitive pressure on small firms, and stoke systemic risk. Even more dangerous, the FDIC may not be ready when systemic risk strikes again.
Questions addressed in detail in the paper and Ms. Petrou’s answers to them are summarized below:
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 the paper, Bank Capital and Financial Stability: An Economic Tradeoff or a Faustian Bargain?, forthcoming in the Annual Review of Financial Economics, I review the literature on the relationship between bank capital and stability. Higher capital contributes positively to financial stability. On this issue, there seems to be little disagreement. There is, however, disagreement in the literature on whether the high leverage in banking serves a socially-useful economic purpose, and whether regulators should permit banks to operate with such high leverage despite its pernicious effect on bank stability, and this disagreement seems at least as strong as that over the causes of the subprime crisis (Lo (2012)). Some of the disagreement over higher capital requirements is between those who emphasize the potential benefits of this in terms of reducing systemic risk and those who believe that sufficiently high capital requirements will generate various costs (e.g., lower lending and liquidity creation and the migration of key financial intermediation services to the unregulated sector).
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 December 10, 2013, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (the “FDIC”) proposed for public comment a notice (the “Notice”) describing its “Single Point of Entry” (“SPOE”) strategy for resolving systemically important financial institutions (“SIFIs”) in default or in danger of default under the orderly liquidation authority granted by Title II of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (the “Dodd-Frank Act”).  The Notice follows the FDIC’s endorsement of the SPOE model in its joint paper issued with the Bank of England last year.
Five years after the failure of Lehman Brothers, asset price bubbles remain in forefront of the public imagination. Commentators see potential bubbles from Bitcoin to Chinese real estate. Three articles in this week’s edition of the Economist examine whether bubble are afflicting various economies and markets. This year’s Nobel prizes in economics brought to the forefront questions of market efficiency and whether bubbles exist.
My new book, Law, Bubbles, and Financial Regulation, looks at the often overlooked legal dimensions of bubbles. The book examines how market frenzies and regulatory interact in powerful and often destructive ways. (You can read the first chapter of the book, published by Routledge in November, here). Feedback between market and legal dynamics leads to a pernicious outcome: financial regulation can fail when it is needed the most. The dynamics of asset price bubbles weaken financial regulation just as financial markets begin to overheat and the risk of crisis spikes. At the same time, the failure of financial regulations adds further fuel to a bubble.
The book examines the interaction of bubbles and financial regulation through the history of over three centuries of financial frenzies and crises. This perspective reveals that law is crucial to the story of bubbles and that the legal history of the current global crisis has many forerunners. Bubbles involve more than irrational exuberance or low interest rates. Financial law and legal change play critical roles in the severity and consequences of bubbles. The book explores the ways in which bubbles lead to the failure of financial regulation by outlining five dynamics, which it collectively labels the “Regulatory Instability Hypothesis” (with apologies to Hyman Minsky). These five dynamics include:
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.
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.
The recent financial crisis and subsequent events  show the dangers that can result when banks trade for their own accounts while disregarding their customers’ interests. During the financial crisis, U.S. taxpayers were forced to cover losses sustained by major financial institutions that resulted from speculative proprietary trading activities.  While several factors combined to cause the financial crisis, proprietary trading by major financial institutions was a key contributor to that crisis.  In particular, proprietary trading by deposit-taking institutions exposed a bank’s capital—and FDIC-insured deposits—to unacceptable risks and saddled taxpayers with massive losses.