Basel Committee Says All Capital Should Be Loss-Absorbing

By Donna Borak

Taxpayers shouldn’t be the only ones paying the price for bank bailouts, international regulators said Thursday. The Basel Committee on Banking Supervision said investors should also help in absorbing losses in the event of future public-sector assistance because of excessive risk-taking. “During the recent financial crisis a number of distressed banks were rescued by the public sector injecting funds in the form of common equity and other forms of Tier 1 capital,” the committee wrote. “This had the effect of supporting not only depositors but also the investors in regulatory capital instruments.” The Basel panel issued a consultative paper arguing that all regulatory capital instruments should be capable of absorbing losses — either written off or converted to common shares — in the event a bank is unable to find support in the private market. International regulators are trying to avoid a repeat of what occurred during the latest financial crisis, when Tier 2 capital instruments, primarily subordinated debt, did not absorb losses. “In order for instruments to be treated as regulatory capital, the committee considers it a precondition that such instruments are capable of bearing a loss,” the Basel panel wrote. Still, some analysts viewed the committee’s proposal as evidence of a continued dispute among regulators over how to define capital. “The consultative paper goes beyond talk of contingent capital to address both Tier 1 and Tier 2 capital, mandating that all instruments have demonstrable loss-absorption capacity,” said Karen Shaw Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics Inc. “This is in conflict with other proposals to permit certain intangible capital — e.g., deferred tax assets — to count, making clear that the overall issue of what’s capital remains a significant point of contention.”