source of strength

8 01, 2024

M010824

2024-01-08T11:25:26-05:00January 8th, 2024|6- Client Memo|

Reflections on Regulatory Failure and a Better Way

Earlier today, we released our 2024 regulatory outlook, a nice summary of which may be found on Politico’s Morning Money.  As I reviewed the draft, I realized how much of what the agencies plan is doomed to do little of what has long been needed to insulate the financial system from repeated shock.  This is a most wearisome thought that then prompted the philosophical reflection also to be found in this brief.  It asks why lots more bank rules do so little for financial resilience yet are always followed by still more rules and then an even bigger bust.   I conclude that financial policy should be founded on Samuel Johnson’s observation that, “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”  That is, redesign policy from one focused on endless, ever-more-complex rules spawning still larger bureaucracies into credible, certain, painful resolutions to concentrate each financial institution’s mind and that of a market that would no longer be assured of bailout or backstop.

m010824.pdf

8 01, 2024

Karen Petrou: Reflections on Regulatory Failure and a Better Way

2024-01-08T11:25:21-05:00January 8th, 2024|The Vault|

Earlier today, we released our 2024 regulatory outlook, a nice summary of which may be found on Politico’s Morning Money.  As I reviewed the draft, I realized how much of what the agencies plan is doomed to do little of what has long been needed to insulate the financial system from repeated shock.  This is a most wearisome thought that then prompted the philosophical reflection also to be found in this brief.  It asks why lots more bank rules do so little for financial resilience yet are always followed by still more rules and then an even bigger bust.   I conclude that financial policy should be founded on Samuel Johnson’s observation that, “when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”  That is, redesign policy from one focused on endless, ever-more-complex rules spawning still larger bureaucracies into credible, certain, painful resolutions to concentrate each financial institution’s mind and that of a market that would no longer be assured of bailout or backstop.

We know in our everyday lives that complex rules backed by empty threats lead to very bad behavior.  For example, most parents do not get their kids to brush their teeth by issuing an edict reading something like:

It has long been demonstrated that brushing your teeth from top to bottom, tooth-by-tooth, flossing hereafter and using toothpaste meeting specifications defined herein will achieve cleaner teeth, a brighter smile, improved public acceptance of the tooth-bearer, and lower cost to …

28 08, 2023

Karen Petrou: What Happens When a Bank’s Parent Goes Up in Smoke

2023-08-28T12:31:01-04:00August 28th, 2023|The Vault|

I recently bemoaned the Fed’s failure before and after SVB’s collapse to demand source-of- strength backstops from the parent holding company. That these would have materially reduced the FDIC’s cost and thus that of the large banks picking up this tab is still more obvious by the fact that it took the Justice Department to bar big pay-outs to the parent company’s executives. Clearly, there’s still money to be made, just not for anyone else. However, the source-of-strength question takes on still more immediate importance in light of the highly worrisome case of Hawaii Electric. It owns American Savings Bank (ASB), a $9.6 billion insured depository. Some parent-company investors somehow think ASB will bail out the beleaguered Maui electric utility, redefining who is the source of strength. ASB can’t, but that doesn’t mean the insured depository is safe and sound. Without downstreamed parent-company cash in hand to protect it from the utility’s travails, the insured depository and thus the FDIC are sure to suffer.

Yet another formidable post on the Bank Reg Blog lays out the history of how it came to be that an public utility owns an insured depository. Barriers between banking and commerce that Congress didn’t close for BHCs in 1956 were shuttered in 1970 and 1987, leaving only industrial loan companies and unitary thrift holding companies (i.e., parent companies such as Hawaii Electric) as the only ones allowed to own insured depositories. Unitary thrifts were prospectively barred in 1999 and several large grandfathered ones did themselves …

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