29 09, 2023

Karen Petrou: How a Shut-Down Stokes Systemic Risk

2023-09-29T11:41:22-04:00September 29th, 2023|The Vault|

Although there’s been some talk of what a government shut-down does to the SEC, there’s lots, lots more to worry about.  Risks are out there, risks that should be taken very, very seriously by the Members of Congress who seem to think that more chaos stokes their political fortunes.  Perhaps it does, but it could well do a lot of damage to their finances, not to mention those of all the voters who might well bear a reasonable grudge.

Where’s the systemic scary place?  Or, better said, places?  Some are right in front of us; others lurk in the closet waiting to pounce.

What worries me the most in the immediate future is the ability of bad actors to exploit what could be lightly- or even unguarded portals into critical financial market infrastructure.  There are of course many, many bad actors out there with the sophistication and/or state sponsorship quickly to test and then attack critical points in the payment, settlement, and clearing systems and/or the grids on which they rely.

As I discussed on Tuesday, not all providers of critical financial market infrastructure are under the hopefully-eagle eyes of the federal banking agencies which, funded outside federal appropriations, will remain open.  Some fall under the SEC or CFTC, agencies that will be hobbled, and some critical providers are wholly outside the regulatory perimeter.  Even if their nodes of market access seem small, disruption has a bad habit of migrating at lightning speed.  Even if power outages are …

4 08, 2023

FedFin on: Credit-Risk Capital Rewrite

2023-08-04T13:41:04-04:00August 4th, 2023|The Vault|

In this report, we proceed from our assessment of the proposed regulatory capital framework to an analysis of the rules governing credit risk.  In addition to eliminating the advanced approach, the proposal imposes higher standards for some assets than under the old standardized approach (SA) via new “expanded” requirements.  As detailed here, many expanded risk weightings are higher than current requirements either due to specific risk-weighted assessments (RWAs) or definitions and additional restrictions.  This contributes to the added capital costs identified by the banking agencies in their impact assessment, suggesting that lower risk weightings in the expanded approach reflected the reduced risks described in the proposal for other assets and will ultimately have little bearing on regulatory-capital requirements and thus ….

The full report is available to retainer clients. To find out how you can sign up for the service, click here and here.…

18 07, 2023

FedFin on: MMF Redemption Fees, Liquidity-Risk Mitigation

2023-07-19T16:52:22-04:00July 18th, 2023|The Vault|

The SEC has significantly revised its proposed MMF-reform standards, eliminating a controversial swing-pricing approach to reduce first-mover advantage in favor of new redemption fees at institutional prime and tax-exempt funds.  These and most other funds now also come under stiff new liquidity requirements, which may combine to impose new and costly disciplines that may enhance the relevant appeal of bank deposits without early-redemption risk.  Changes in MMF liquidity requirements may also alter demand for commercial paper, municipal obligations, bank debt, and ….

The full report is available to retainer clients. To find out how you can sign up for the service, click here and here.…

17 01, 2023

Karen Petrou: How FHLBs Miss the Mission, Heighten Financial Risk

2023-01-17T17:01:18-05:00January 17th, 2023|The Vault|

Recent revelations about the Federal Home Loan Bank System have made it still more imperative to address whether at least $1 trillion of implicitly-guaranteed federal debt should be authorized to feather the FHLBs’ pockets instead of furthering public welfare.  As we detailed in a recent client report,  flat-out mission contradictions are clear in the case of a crypto-heavy bank’s use of FHLB funding as a lifeline which it surely obtained because the System can lend with impunity because it has a prior lien ahead of even the FDIC.  However, this case isn’t the only current mission conundrum.  The other is little-noticed but at least as problematic: the extent to which Home Loan Banks lend not to support homes, but instead to give foreign banks in the U.S. a tidy revenue source via a nifty interest-rate arbitrage play that disadvantages U.S. banks and may even threaten financial stability and monetary-policy transmission.

But first to the question of whether the FHLB System is required to do better.  It would seem totally obvious that Home Loan Banks issue debt through the System’s Office of Finance thanks to taxpayer benefits.  However, in connection with a discussion of the prior lien, an FHLB spokeswoman said the System operates without any resort to taxpayers.  Leaving aside the fact that the Banks don’t pay taxes and couldn’t raise hundreds of billions at near-Treasury spreads if they weren’t cushioned in the taxpayers’ bosom, the law says these entities are agencies of the U.S. Government and regulates …

18 07, 2022

Karen Petrou: A Pragmatic Vision of a Purposeful Home Loan Bank System

2023-01-06T14:56:42-05:00July 18th, 2022|The Vault|

Although a new paper by former FRB Gov. Tarullo and Fed staffers on the FHLB stirred considerable consternation across the Federal Home Loan Bank System, it’s a crushing and persuasive critique of a giant GSE that has long preferred to go unnoticed.  That’s not unreasonable since the System has evolved from an essential small-bank funding source for mortgages into a taxpayer-subsidized capital-markets investment option.  When public wealth is not allocated for public welfare, resources are misallocated and market integrity is compromised.  But, unless the Home Loan Banks blow themselves up, they are here to stay.  Thus, the policy challenge is not how to abolish them, but how best to redirect an established funding channel back to servicing the public good.  Traditional single-family mortgages don’t need the Banks anymore, but much else does.

The paper’s criteria for considering taxpayer subsidies are a very helpful guide for moving forward and thus worth quoting at length:

“There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong with government subsidies. But subsidies should meet two conditions if they are to be sound public policy. First, they must be shown to be correctives for identified market failures or instruments of targeted redistribution policies.  Second, there must be governance mechanisms to ensure that the subsidies are used to achieve the ends specified by the legislature or regulator, and not for other purposes.”

I suspect the authors would agree with a third point:  if a credible, forward-looking case for the subsidy cannot be made by virtue of demonstrable public benefits …

25 04, 2022

Karen Petrou: Why Prime Brokers are Prime Suspects

2023-03-01T16:00:47-05:00April 25th, 2022|The Vault|

Although Ukraine and emerging-market distress were the most frequently discussed topics around last week’s Bank/Fund meetings, two other high-impact issues were also top of mind.  One is the end of the international financial order as we’ve known it for decades; I’ll return to this shortly as well as in my forthcoming book.  The other to which I now turn is more immediate: commodity-market stress and what regulators will do to avert it if they can. I have heard a lot about a number of options, but I fear that regulators will do what they always do when trouble lurks:  double-down on banks under their thumb instead of flexing their muscles to govern nonbanks at the heart of the global financial infrastructure.

In the commodity markets, as in all but the most direct financial-intermediation functions, banks are increasingly risk enablers, not takers.  This isn’t because banks are just too darn good; it’s because they are regulated and, after 2010, regulated to the point at which the capital costs of engaging directly in key businesses outweighed the profit potential in financial markets where nonbanks do not face the same costly constraints.

Going back to 2011, we’ve pointed out that asymmetric market regulation leads to rapid risk migration.  In market after market, nonbanks have driven prices down to the point where they can still earn comfortable margins, pushing banks saddled by capital, conduct, and risk-management standards to bow out of a market except where legacy assets such as low-cost funding and …

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