Category Archives: Banking

Fixing climate finance

Finance was at the heart of the COP26 rupture between developed and developing countries—it’s time for a new approach.
By Jeffrey D Sachs – The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) fell far short of what is needed for a safe planet, owing mainly to the lack of trust which has burdened global climate negotiations for almost three decades. Developing countries regard climate change as a crisis caused largely by the rich countries, which they also view as shirking their historical and ongoing responsibility for the crisis. Worried that they will be left paying the bills, many key developing countries, such as India, don’t much care to negotiate or strategise.

They have a point—indeed, several points. The shoddy behaviour of the United States over three decades is not lost on them. Despite the worthy pleas for action by the US president, Joe Biden, and the climate envoy, John Kerry, Biden has been unable to push Congress to adopt a clean-energy standard. Biden can complain all he wants about China but after 29 years of congressional inaction, since the Senate ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, the rest of the world sees the truth: America’s broken and corrupt Congress remains in the pocket of Big Oil and Big Coal.

Finance is at the heart of the geopolitical rupture on climate change. Developing countries are already reeling under countless pressures: the Covid-19 pandemic, weak domestic economies, increasingly frequent and severe climate-related disasters, the multiple disruptions of the digital age, US-China tensions and high borrowing costs on international loans. They watch the rich countries borrow trillions of dollars on capital markets at near-zero interest rates, while they must pay 5-10 per cent if they can borrow at all. In short, they see their societies falling even further behind a few high-income countries. more>

Are Policymakers Being Too Patient on Inflation Risk?

The Fed is modestly tapping the brakes on monetary stimulus, but will it do enough to cool a stock market that may be at risk of overheating?
By Lisa Shalett – The Federal Reserve last week made its highly anticipated announcement on “tapering” its asset purchases, the first step in pulling back on the unprecedented support it provided markets and the economy early in the pandemic. Later this month, the Fed will begin reducing its $120 billion-per-month asset-buying program by $15 billion a month.

In his announcement, Fed Chair Jerome Powell largely kept to the script, hitting consensus expectations spot-on regarding the pace of tapering. Powell also acknowledged that the risk of inflation may not be as transitory as the Fed had anticipated earlier this year. But he left interest rate hikes for another day, stressing patience as well as a need for the job market to get back to “maximum employment” before any hikes took place. Stocks rallied to yet more new highs in response to the broadly dovish communique.

Although the Fed is working with some uncertainty around policy choices, we are concerned that the Fed’s emphasis on patience remains disconnected from actual economic data, which could possibly result in policymaking that’s late in raising rates to tame inflation. Consider the following points:
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Updates from Chicago Booth

Don’t rely on central banks to fight climate change
By Jeff Cockrell – In late August, five members of the US House of Representatives issued a statement urging President Joe Biden not to reappoint Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, when his term expires in February 2022. The group, which included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democrat of New York), cited two concerns with Powell’s leadership: the Fed’s relaxation of banking regulations and its lack of action “to mitigate the risk climate change poses to our financial system.”

Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow members of Congress are not the first to suggest that central banks—whose policies have traditionally focused on objectives such as price stability and low unemployment—have a role to play in fighting climate change. The British Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has encouraged the Bank of England to conduct its bond purchases with borrowers’ carbon emissions in mind. Many central banks themselves have also accepted some responsibility for fighting climate change: the European Central Bank says it is “committed to taking the impact of climate change into consideration in our monetary policy framework.”

But Chicago Booth’s Lars Peter Hansen cautions that monetary policy is a weak substitute for fiscal policy, which is far better suited to address climate change through tools such as carbon taxation and investment in green technologies. Asking central bankers to step in where fiscal policy makers can’t or won’t risks exposing central banks to reputational damage and a loss of political independence, he argues. more>

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Updates from McKinsey

The 2021 McKinsey Global Payments Report
By Alessio Botta, Philip Bruno and Jeff Galvin – Last October, when we published McKinsey’s 2020 Global Payments Report, it was already clear that the pandemic’s economic impact would lead to the first decline in global payments revenues in 11 years.

One year later, the picture is unexpectedly positive—on the payments front—despite challenges. Payments revenue did indeed decline—to $1.9 trillion globally—but by less than we anticipated last fall. Indicators point to a nominal but geographically uneven rebound in 2021, bringing revenue back into the range of 2019’s record high. From there, McKinsey projects a return to historical mid-single-digit growth rates, generating 2025 global payments revenue of roughly $2.5 trillion.

The relatively muted 2020 topline numbers mask some important countervailing effects, however, which are poised to reset the scale of opportunity for payments players for years to come. The pandemic accelerated ongoing declines in cash usage and adoption of electronic and e-commerce transaction methods. Revenue gains in these areas were offset by tightening of net interest margins earned on deposit balances. All these trends are expected to outlast the pandemic. The contraction of net interest income—combined with technology breakthroughs and the impact of open banking and fintech innovation—has spurred the creation of revenue models that within five years will offer adjacent opportunities as large as the core payments revenue pool. more>

Lebanon’s public debt default

By Ilias Bantekas – The nature and causes of sovereign debt differ from one country to another. Yet, the popular or engineered narrative of debt usually conceals its true origin or cause.

In the case of Lebanon, currently facing a financial and economic crisis ranked by the World Bank as possibly among the top three most severe global crises episodes since the mid-19th-century, one of the key lessons from the Greek experience is the importance of understanding the cause. The truth about how and why Lebanon reached the current debt crisis, including its suspension of a $1.2 billion Eurobond payment in March 2020, must precede any step toward recovery and restructuring under current solvency conditions.

A look at the Greek experience

At the time of Greece’s sovereign debt crisis, the popular narrative was that successive Greek governments had augmented the public sector and had exceeded their finances. This further supports the popular myth that people in the south of Europe are lazy, take long siestas, aspire to be civil servants, and that their governments are corrupt. Even so, an independent parliamentary committee set up in 2015 disproved this narrative.

The committee’s extensive findings clearly showed that the Greek public sector was the lowest spender among its then 27 European Union counterparts (apart from defense-related expenditures). In fact, until the beginning of the global financial crisis in 2008, Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio was one of the lowest in Europe and certainly sustainable. So, why did it shoot through the roof the following year? This is because Greek banks had accumulated private debt (in the form of loans) to the tune of about €100 billion.

At the time, Greek banks had largely been acquired by French and German banks and hence the private (and now unsustainable) debt of Greek banks was about to become a Franco-German problem. Instead of this happening, the then-Greek prime minister was ‘convinced’ to nationalize Greek banks and thus transform a purely private debt into a public one. By so doing, it was now the Greek taxpayer that was saddled with the debt and the ensuing austerity this entailed, while Greek banks were restructured (effectively re-financed) and France and Germany were relieved. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Buy now, pay later: Five business models to compete
Financing at the point of sale may be a small share of unsecured lending in the United States today, but it’s growing fast. Banks seeking long-term growth should explore market entry, and merchants should reassess their financing offers.
By Puneet Dikshit, Diana Goldshtein, Blazej Karwowski, Udai Kaura, and Felicia Tan – Point-of-sale (POS) financing services in the United States have grown significantly over the past 24 months, especially since the onset of COVID-19. Trends fueling growth include digitization, rising merchant adoption, increasing repeat usage among younger consumers, and an expanding set of players targeting lending at point of sale, a service also known as “buy now, pay later.”

Thus far, fintechs have taken the lead, to the point of diverting $8 billion to $10 billion in annual revenues away from banks, according to McKinsey’s Consumer Lending Pools data. In our view, only a few banks are responding fast enough and boldly enough to compete. Banks that underestimate the threat may see continued loss in share and could lose out on participating in a growing value pool and gaining share among younger and new-to-credit customers, as banks in Australia and China did when facing a similar situation. To avoid that outcome, US banks need to understand the landscape for POS financing and choose from among the emerging models.

This article seeks to give POS financing players as well as merchants the necessary insights to refine their strategies in the POS-financing arena. It provides an overview of the market, details key trends and factors influencing growth, and offers ideas for market entry for banks and partnerships for merchants. The insights are based on McKinsey research, including McKinsey Consumer Lending Pools (a proprietary database covering granular market size and growth trends), the McKinsey POS Financing Consumer Survey and POS Financing Merchant Survey, and our recent experience with banks and merchants. more>

Germany’s renewable electric plan gets green light from EU

New scheme lifts some important barriers for the use of electrolysers in order to produce hydrogen
By Kostis Geropoulos – The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, the prolongation and modification of a German scheme to support the production of electricity from renewable energy sources and from mine gas, as well as reductions of charges to fund support for electricity from renewable sources, the EU’s competition chief said.

The German Renewable Energy Act (Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz – EEG) 2021 scheme will provide important support to the environmentally-friendly production of electricity, in line with EU rules, European Commission Executive Vice-President in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager said.

“Thanks to this measure, a higher share of electricity in Germany will be produced through renewable energy sources, contributing to further reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and supporting the objectives of the Green Deal,” she said. “The scheme introduces new features to ensure that aid is kept to the minimum and electricity production occurs in line with market signals, while at the same time ensuring the competitiveness of energy-intensive companies and reducing pollution caused by ships in harbour. In this way, the scheme provides the best value for taxpayers’ money, while minimizing possible distortions of competition,” Vestager added.

The scheme also introduces small modifications to the German EEG surcharge reductions for energy intensive companies, a dedicated rule for surcharge reductions for hydrogen for energy intensive companies, as well as EEG surcharge reductions to promote the use of shore-side electricity by ships while at berth in ports.

Hydrogen Europe Secretary General Jorgo Chatzimarkakis told New Europe on April 30 the new scheme lifts some important barriers for the use of electrolysers in order to produce hydrogen. “This is good news and important signal for investments in the sector of ‘HydroGenewables,’” he said. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

How to forge relationships with the ‘enemy’
By Alice G. Walton – When it comes to seemingly insurmountable conflicts, the one between Israelis and Palestinians ranks high.

But a Maine summer camp program called Seeds of Peace, which brings together Jewish Israeli and Palestinian teens, has been overwhelmingly successful at facilitating not just tolerance but close, positive relationships, suggests research by Facebook’s Shannon White and University of California at Berkeley’s Juliana Schroeder (both graduates of Chicago Booth’s PhD Program), along with Booth’s Jane L. Risen.

The work grew out of previous research by Schroeder and Risen, who in 2014 studied the program and found that campers’ attitudes toward people of the other nationality (in the “outgroup”) became significantly less negative after completing the program, particularly for campers who said they’d formed a close relationship with someone from the outgroup.

Why was that the case? To find out, White, Schroeder, and Risen analyzed data from surveys they collected of more than 500 participants who attended one of the Seeds of Peace summer camps between 2011 and 2017. Schroeder and Risen surveyed the teens before their camp stay began, including how positive, sympathetic, and anxious they felt toward or about members of the other group. more>

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Tesla Sold Some Bitcoins

Also the deli, the first law of tax, a JPMorgan Bitcoin fund and Dogecoin vs. lottery tickets.
By Matt Levine – Tesla pulled a new lever to juice earnings in the quarter, generating $101 million in income from selling about 10% of its Bitcoin holdings.

Profit from the cryptocurrency and the sale of regulatory credits and tax benefits contributed about 25 cents to Tesla’s adjusted earnings of 93 cents a share, allowing the carmaker to beat Wall Street’s 80-cent average estimate, Dan Levy, an analyst with Credit Suisse, wrote in a note Monday.

That’s wonderful, my sincere congratulations to them. People want to be mad about this? There is a vague sense out there that it is somehow fraud to buy a thing, say you like it, and then sell some of it. For instance Dave Portnoy, who I guess is an investment celebrity now, used the words “pumps” and “dumps” to describe Tesla’s actions on Twitter, prompting Musk to reply that “Tesla sold 10% of its holdings essentially to prove liquidity of Bitcoin as an alternative to holding cash on balance sheet.” (Tesla’s “Master of Coin,” Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn, also talked a lot about liquidity on the earnings call; Tesla decided to put a chunk of its corporate cash into Bitcoin and I guess needed to make sure that its money wasn’t trapped. A reasonable concern! “We’ve been quite pleased with how much liquidity there is in the Bitcoin market,” said Kirkhorn.) more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Do we need a Chapter 11 for banks?
By Emily Lambert – When the retailer Sears filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2018, it came as little surprise to those who watched its long decline—including investors who put heat on CEO Eddie Lampert.

But contrast this failure, of a well-known chain, with the failure of financial institutions such as the 2008 collapse of Bear Stearns. When banks fail, it’s often more of a shock, even to the people with money at stake.

Chicago Booth’s Yueran Ma and Columbia’s José A. Scheinkman find that creditors monitor financial institutions less closely than they do other types of companies. Banks get less oversight, in large part because there’s no mechanism investors can use to discipline management if they need to, the researchers argue. This amounts to a significant weakness for the entire financial system.

Banks, in their simplest of forms, take in monetary deposits and lend out the funds at a profit. But modern banks also raise money from nondeposit funding sources such as capital markets, and the amounts can be substantial. At JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, the researchers write, nondeposit sources represent 35 percent of the banks’ liabilities.

In principle, investors who have stakes in banks would watch their investments just as much as they do any others. After all, even if some standard metrics used to analyze companies don’t apply—such as EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization)—there are other ways, such as capital ratios and liquidity ratios, to measure and analyze the performance of financial institutions. Yet the researchers find that investors’ oversight of financial institutions is weaker, at banks both big and small. more>

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