#capital rules

28 05, 2024

Karen Petrou: Why Regulators Fail

2024-05-28T12:38:29-04:00May 28th, 2024|The Vault|

Last week, the House voted on a bipartisan basis to stick its collective fingers in the SEC’s eye over its cryptoasset jurisdiction.  And, in recent weeks, the Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve has been forced to concede that the end-game capital rules that are his handiwork as much as anyone’s will get a “broad, material” rewrite.  What do these two comeuppances have in common?  Each results from regulatory hubris so extraordinary that even erstwhile allies abandoned the cause.  For all MAGA fears about an omnipotent “administrative state,” these episodes show that those seeking sweeping change without plausible rationales are still subject to the will of the people even if the people’s will befuddles those in the government’s corner offices.

First to the SEC.  Chairman Gensler’s position on cryptoassets over the past three years is that many ways to use them are securities and anything that’s a security is his for the enforcing.  I’m not even going to venture a conclusion on who’s right or wrong when it comes to abstruse Supreme Court rulings on complex definitions.  What underpins the SEC’s downfall – temporary though it may be – is that any question as big as what’s a cryptoasset and who can do what with it should be answered by rules subject to public notice and comment, not episodic enforcement actions meant to teach everyone else a lesson.

Most people would learn the lesson if a coherent regulatory policy spelled it out.  When policy is set by whack-a-mole instead of …

4 12, 2023

Karen Petrou: Why Curbing Banks Won’t Curtail Private Credit

2023-12-04T11:03:15-05:00December 4th, 2023|The Vault|

Last Wednesday, Sens. Brown and Reed wrote to the banking agencies pressing them to cut the cords they believe unduly bind big banks to private-credit companies.  The IMF and Bank of England have also pointed to systemic-risk worries in this sector, as have I.  Still, FSOC is certainly silent and perhaps even sanguine.  This is likely because FSOC is all too often nothing more than the “book-report club” Rohit Chopra described, but it’s also because it plans to use its new systemic-risk standards to govern nonbanks outside the regulatory perimeter by way of cutting the banking-system connections pressed by the senators.  Nice thought, but the combination of pending capital rules and the limits of FSOC’s reach means it’s likely to be just thought, not the action needed ahead of the private-credit sector’s fast-rising systemic risk.

One might think that banks would do all they can to curtail private-credit competitors rather than enable them as the senators allege and much recent data substantiate.  But big banks back private capital because big banks will do the business they can even when regulators block them from doing the business they want.  Jamie Dimon for one isn’t worried that JPMorgan will find itself out in the cold.

Of course, sometimes banks should be forced out of high-risk businesses.  There is some business banks shouldn’t do because it’s far too risky for entities with direct and implicit taxpayer backstops.  This is surely the case with some of the wildly-leveraged loans private-credit companies …

13 11, 2023

Karen Petrou: How Inequitable Rules Stoke Financial Crises and What the Banking Agencies Should do to Cut This Link

2023-11-13T15:41:25-05:00November 13th, 2023|The Vault|

Last week, OMB issued another edict redesigning the way most of the federal government writes rules, going beyond its earlier directive to consider competitive impact now also to demand detailed consideration of the broader public good, especially when it comes to economic equality.  I focused on public-good regulation in last week’s memo because it is sadly alien to federal financial regulation even though, as OMB says, “the benefits and costs of a regulation are ultimately experienced by people.”  I grant that economists are people, but some are also people who don’t like people, at least when qualitative assessment of what people need challenges the quantitative conclusions they cherish.  Pending banking rules thus ignore the public good in favor of complex market constructs, rationalizing them on assertions that, whatever else befalls finance, crises are less likely.  This is a methodology fraught with perverse consequences, the most important of which is that the agencies’ standards will hike the risk of financial crises precisely because they omit distributional analysis.

A demand for distributional consideration is not – repeat not – a plea for the banking agencies to go easy on banks.  It’s a plea for them to be as sure as they can that none but banks that need to be reined in are throttled.  As OMB now also says, “some alternatives may change distributional effects even without significantly changing stringency.”  The extent to which this is the case with bank standards is unknown because not one regulator has ever asked a distributional …

8 11, 2023

FedFin on: Rebirth at 91

2023-11-08T16:55:16-05:00November 8th, 2023|The Vault|

Although FHFA calls its FHLB report a centenary event ahead of the System’s 2032 birthday, the agency clearly plans structural substantive reform well before that milestone.  Much of what’s planned will crimp FHLB profitability, increasing the importance of what would otherwise seem like tidying-up operational improvements to protect the viability of the System’s weaker Banks.  With its eye on keeping the System in line, FHFA does not even suggest it should be allowed by law or regulatory sleight-of-hand to issue MBS or …

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6 11, 2023

Karen Petrou: How Regulators Unwittingly Run Roughshod Over the Public Good

2023-11-06T15:47:01-05:00November 6th, 2023|The Vault|

Friday’s American Banker included a Kyle Campbell article quoting me reiterating some points in my recent testimony about the need for cumulative-impact analyses of the raft of pending rules.  This led others to suggest ulterior motives, arguing that calls for cumulative-impact analyses are fig-leaves dangling over efforts to gut the rules.  While advocates do not often argue for analytical purity when obscurity suits them, the absence of analytical rigor is nonetheless an abrogation of the public good by public officials.  Setting rules based on airy assertions that it will all come right in the end since there most likely won’t be financial crises or at least new financial crises like the old financial crises ensures that this regulatory round will have at least as much wreckage as those that came before.

The public good when it comes to financial policy is best measured by careful consideration of something wholly absent in all of the agencies’ thinking:  economic equality.  In its absence, the nation will suffer from still-worse political acrimony, an even worse public-health crisis, growing populations of Americans without fundamental financial security, and even higher odds for still more devastating financial crises.  How do I know this?  Look at American financial policy since at least 2000 and see what happened.

The Fed is particularly high-handed when it comes to public-good rationales not just for its rules, but also for its still more vital monetary-policy responsibilities.  The Fed cloaks itself with the “dual” mandate of “maximum employment” and “price stability” even …

23 10, 2023

Karen Petrou: Why the New CRA Rules Won’t Serve Communities Any Better Than the Old CRA Rules

2023-10-23T12:03:22-04:00October 23rd, 2023|The Vault|

On Tuesday, the banking agencies will release the final version of their 679-page proposal to rewrite the Community Reinvestment Act.  Regrettably, much of the proposal reflected the worst of false-science staff seeking complex new models defining subjective goals combined with certainty-loving compliance officers and lawyers who just want to be told the number they need to hit, not if the number makes any sense.  Unsurprisingly, there were hundreds of comment letters in which banks generally said the agencies should ease up and community groups urged still more stringent standards.  But the story doesn’t end with this unremarkable line-up– in just the last few months, two major bank trade associations and one often-virulently anti-bank advocacy group agreed on one crucial thing:  anything close to what the agencies proposed won’t work.

There are of course sharp differences between what banks and public advocates want in a new CRA rule, but what unites them is the over-arching understanding that the new approach is a cumbersome exercise remote from the reality confronting both banks and borrowers in the least-served urban and rural communities.  Banks complain – often with good reason as I showed in my book on economic inequality – that risk-based capital rules over-estimate the risk of lending to many community-focused borrowers.  The new capital proposals would ameliorate some of this in their “enhanced” risk weightings, but these weightings actually don’t count for much of anything since the proposed “higher-of” standards applies current, higher weightings.

The agencies in fact acknowledge as much …

10 10, 2023

Karen Petrou: The Urgent Financial Reform the Fed and FDIC Hope we Forget

2023-10-10T11:29:16-04:00October 10th, 2023|The Vault|

Even after the great financial crisis in 2008, the repo meltdown of 2019, a financial-market bailout of unprecedented proportions in 2020, and three bank failures so far this year, the FDIC and Fed are no closer than they were in 2007 to knowing what to do if a medium-size bank fails, a nonbank barrels down on the banking system, or critical financial-infrastructure flickers.  Bond markets are back on the brink and geopolitical risk have become a still-greater concern.  The agencies may think new capital and resolution rules are an iron dome allowing them to forego agency repair, but history – see the Gaza Strip – provides no comfort – as I hope we don’t have to learn again, fortifications aren’t enough in the absence of effective surveillance and rapid response.

The hard truth is the banking agencies after 2008 did what politicians and lawyers know best: they identified gaps in the law that the agencies self-defensively said barred them from preventing a crisis, asking for and then getting a new rulebook without also meaningfully addressing and then correcting their own structural weaknesses. And so it goes again.  Thinking dominated by lawyers and politicians – for every successful public leader is a politician no matter his or her nominal independence – is writing lots and lots more rules.  Some fix gaps found in the old law and rule, many pave over problems that could have been fixed under old law and rule, and some are as counter-productive as we’ve noted in …

25 09, 2023

Karen Petrou: How to Right the Raft of New Rules

2023-09-25T09:28:19-04:00September 25th, 2023|The Vault|

What struck me most about the HFSC hearing at which I testified last week was how lukewarm Democrats are to the new rules unless they feel compelled to defend the White House or core political objectives.  When the partisan spotlight dimmed, more than a few Democrats said that the rules might have both small and even significant perverse consequences. Given that GOP-led repeal of the rules is impossible and court overturn is at best a lengthy process, hard work to get the rules more to the middle is essential.  Even if large banks still think the rules are bad, they’ll be better and that’s all to the good.

What’s the how-to?  In short, it’s a concerted campaign to fix the most problematic technical confusions in the massive body of new rules – these are manifest and manifold, focusing hard on obvious flaws and saving raging debates such as those over how big banks should be for another day.  I think this approach is best not only because it avoids political landmines, but also because it works.

In the mid-2000s, a group of custody banks with which we worked laid out numerous unintended consequences in the Basel II approach to operational risk-based capital.  By the time this landed in the final Basel III rules, it wasn’t great, but it was a lot, lot better in terms of actually capitalizing real risk at savings mounting to billions in what would have been unnecessary regulatory capital.

My testimony lays out a road-map of …

11 09, 2023

Karen Petrou: The PCA Cure for Much That Ails New Banking Rules

2023-09-11T09:40:05-04:00September 11th, 2023|The Vault|

It’s a cliché, but it’s also true that one can’t beat something with nothing, especially in Washington.  This is an axiom well worth remembering when it comes to all of the new capital and resolution rules befalling the nation’s biggest banks.  I don’t think they need to be beaten back in their entirety – much in the proposals fixes vital flaws.  But the agencies have done a remarkably poor job conjuring the impact of each of these sweeping proposals, let alone their cumulative impact in the context of all the other rules and the grievous supervisory lapses that contributed to recent failures no matter all the rules that could well have sufficed if enforced.  Thus, the most obvious problems with this new construct are opacity, complexity, and most importantly reasonable doubts that, even with all these sharpened arrows, supervisors will still fail to draw their bows and then fire early and often.  All too much in the new rules is false science, as even a cursory read of the impact analyses makes painfully clear.  Instead of setting standards on lofty, unproven models, safeguards should rely on an engineering axiom:  use warning lights that force prompt and corrective action.  Think of the ground warning in an airplane followed by urgent “pull-up” commands and then go to work on the banking dashboard with clear, enforceable rules and new PCA thresholds forcing supervisory action and accountability.

The need for new PCA triggers is even more urgent than I thought when I first outlined

7 09, 2023

FedFin on: Living-Will Requirements

2023-09-07T16:39:01-04:00September 7th, 2023|The Vault|

In conjunction with proposing a new long-term debt (LTD) requirement for categories II, III, and IV banks, the Fed and FDIC are pursuing other ways to enhance resolvability. Among these is new guidance for large domestic and foreign banking organizations that requires U.S. banking organizations and foreign banking organization (FBO) intermediate holding companies (IHCs) along with all their insured depositories when any is over $100 billion to file resolution plans. These are also redesigned to make the plans much closer in substance to those mandated for GSIBs.

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