Category Archives: Banking

Lurking in the shadows – the source of the next financial crisis?

By Justin Urquhart Stewart – In 2008 the collapse of Lehman Brothers was the start of the banking crisis. For those close to it, the issues had been lurking below the surface of the financial world for some time. The secondary banking crisis and the sub-prime mortgage fiasco were all in effect warning quakes for the “big one” to follow. However, even then no one really appreciated just how deep this disaster was going to be.

Other banks were supported either by shareholders or, more drastically, governments bailing them out as they teetered on the edge of collapse. For those of us watching there was fear over just how far this could go and how dangerous was the contagion of bad money poisoning good. There was also a feeling of just desserts for those arrogant and overpaid financial pseudo-aristocrats who had lorded it over their apparent domains. Not only had these people paid themselves astonishing sums of money, but then had the gall to turn to the citizens, through their governments, to bail them out, with little or no personal pain to themselves – for most at any rate. The real pain was felt by the taxpayers, the ordinary shareholders and the greater economy who bore the brunt of this.

Today’s issue is not just banking, be it commercial or investment, but rather something far more elusive – and that is the world of “shadow banking”. In essence, shadow banking is the provision of financial services but not through the usual banking outlets and companies. This may not seem to be such an issue until you consider issues such as regulation, compliance and risk management. In effect you now have new beasts on the wild financial savanna, but ones that previously you had not realized might be dangerous. Quite rightly, I will be wary of lions but don’t expect a nasty nibble from a wildebeest. more>

To Tackle Inequality, We Need to Start Talking About Where Wealth Comes From

Thatcherite narrative on wealth creation has gone unchallenged for decades.
By Laurie Macfarlane – Do people in Britain resent the rich? According to two new studies published this week, the answer to this question is: not really.

The studies, one commissioned by Trust for London and another by Tax Justice UK, explore public attitudes towards wealth based on focus groups held across England. Both found that most people are relatively content with people getting rich, and that attacks on the wealthy are often viewed negatively.

This presents a dilemma for progressives. In recent years left-wing leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have taken a more confrontational approach towards the super-rich. In Britain, the Labour Party’s war cry under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has been ‘For the many, not the few’, while in the US Bernie Sanders has made no secret of his contempt for billionaires.

But what if it turns out that ordinary people don’t agree? One response to this dilemma, as outlined by Sonia Sodha in the Observer, is to accept that “the belief that Britain is a meritocracy is ingrained in our collective psyche”, and adjust policies and narratives accordingly. This would mean ditching the class-war rhetoric and instead putting forward solutions designed to appeal to a meritocratic worldview. This might include, for example, closing tax loopholes and increasing particular taxes on grounds of fairness and efficiency.

Sodha is right to point out that this strategy is more likely to chime with people’s existing attitudes towards wealth. As the authors of the Tax Justice UK report note: “The participants in our focus groups largely believe in meritocracy. Those with wealth were seen as having acquired it through hard work.” Participants in the Trust for London research expressed similar views.

But does this mean that progressives should accept the way things are and move on? Not necessarily. As a well-known philosopher once said: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.”

People’s views aren’t formed in a vacuum: they are shaped by social and political forces that evolve over time. Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal revolution wasn’t just successful because it reorganized the economy – it was successful because it embedded a particular narrative about how wealth is created and distributed in society. This is a world where, so long as there is sufficient competition and free markets, every individual will receive their just rewards in relation to their true contribution to society. There is, in Milton Friedman’s famous terms, “no such thing as a free lunch”. It’s a world where businesses are the “wealth creators” who create jobs and drive innovation, and business owners are entitled to the financial rewards of success – regardless of how enormous they are.

The problem, of course, is that it bears little resemblance to how the economy actually works. While it is true that working hard will generally help you earn more money, this causality doesn’t hold in reverse: not all wealth has been attained through hard work. In practice, the distribution of wealth has little to do with contribution, and everything to do with politics and power. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

India’s economic recovery from its COVID-19 lockdown
By Chuck Burke – In response to COVID-19’s rise, India ordered most of the country’s 1.3 billion residents to stop working and remain indoors starting in March 2020—the world’s largest lockdown. The government began relaxing restrictions in June, and research finds that while India’s economy improved rapidly in the following months, the outlook for a return to prelockdown levels remained unclear.

In a report for Chicago Booth’s Rustandy Center for Social Sector Innovation, Booth’s Marianne Bertrand and Rebecca Dizon-Ross, Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s Kaushik Krishnan, and University of Pennsylvania’s Heather Schofield examined household-level survey data to establish a more comprehensive view of India’s initial recovery than national economic indicators could provide. These charts and maps highlight a selection of their main findings. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Could the US raise $1 trillion by hiking capital gains rates?
By Natasha Sarin, Lawrence H. Summers, Owen Zidar, Eric Zwick – Capital gains taxes are a perennial issue in US tax-reform debates. Some people maintain that preferential rates on capital gains encourage entrepreneurship and capital formation, while others question whether these benefits are worth the costs.

What are those costs, exactly? It’s clear in terms of direct fairness costs: the wealthiest 1 percent of US households accounted for two-thirds of capital gains realizations in the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances. However, the fiscal costs, which are estimated by the Joint Committee on Taxation, are far less clear. In the parlance of policy makers, the JCT is considered the official “scorekeeper” that decides how tax legislation “scores” if implemented. The prevailing wisdom in the taxation-scorekeeping community appears to be that the revenue-maximizing rate for capital gains is about 30 percent, which is well below both current top marginal tax rates on other income and top rates currently under debate. But in a simple exercise, we estimate that increasing capital gains rates to match the ordinary income level could raise more than $1 trillion over a decade. This illustrates the need to rethink scorekeeping in the debate.

The prototypical example of a capital gain is a share of corporate stock. An individual who bought an $18 share of Amazon when it went public could sell that share today and pay taxes on more than $3,100 of appreciation.

If the revenue-maximizing rate is 30 percent, setting a rate too far above this level will actually reduce the total amount of revenue collected, as the gains expected will fail to materialize because the dynamic response of taxpayers will dramatically shrink the tax base.

Such a response could take the form of an investor retiming a stock sale to avoid realizing a capital gain event. This certainly happens, but we suspect that in most instances the investor doesn’t avoid paying taxes on that gain entirely, just immediately. The tax is simply postponed, in which case these behavioral effects are overstated, resulting in a potentially severe underestimate of the revenue at play. more>

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Rising Rates May Signal Significant Market Shifts Ahead

Some investors may be tempted to buy amid the moderate dips in stock prices, but we lay out the rationale for a more nuanced approach.
By Lisa Shalett – The second half of February brought not just a market selloff, but also indications of a more serious potential shift in market outlook. Just two weeks after hitting a high of 3948 on Feb 16, the S&P 500, the benchmark index of the broader U.S. market, has fallen 3.5%, while the tech-and-growth-stock-heavy Nasdaq index is down about 6.4%. For some, that may seem like the kind of moderate dip that could be a buying opportunity, but we don’t believe that’s the case right now.

A close look at interest-rate dynamics suggests that fundamental market conditions may be changing. In the past two weeks, we’ve seen the benchmark 10-year Treasury yield surge as high as 1.6% from 1.3%—compared with its historic low of 0.5% last August. The recent surge may indicate a reassessment of the speed of the U.S. economic recovery and the likely Federal Reserve policy response.

Investor faith that interest rates would remain stable at very low levels has helped support sky-high price-to-earnings multiples this year. Growth stocks are often valued against the yield on a low-risk Treasury bond—the wider the spread, the larger premium that an investor is expected to pay for the added risk of growth. As rates move higher, stock prices often adjust to reflect that narrowing gap. That may be a big reason why tech stocks, in particular, got hit so hard last week.

Also, survey-based indicators from primary dealers and investors suggest that market participants believe that a tapering of the Fed’s bond-buying program will begin in the first quarter of 2022. For that timeline, the Fed would have to start signaling a shift later this year to avoid major market upset, similar to what we saw with the 2018 “taper tantrum.”

This shift in policy expectations has material implications for portfolio construction, suggesting not only shifts in sector and regional positioning, but fresh approaches to diversification, as rising rates produce potential headwinds for both stocks and bonds simultaneously.

Investors should consider adding economically cyclical sectors that can take advantage of global reflation. We also suggest maintaining positions in defensive sectors that would likely do well if the faster-growth, rising-rate scenario takes longer to materialize than indicators now suggest. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

How central bankers misjudge forward guidance
By Rose Jacobs – One of the best ways to spur an economy is to get people spending, and policy makers have a number of tools to do that. Yet growing evidence suggests a favored approach of late—forward guidance by central banks—doesn’t work. Such guidance, usually focusing on the outlook for interest rates, is meant to make clear to consumers that prices are likely to rise soon, so buying big items now would be smart.

While people may agree with the buy-now logic, they still may not react as economists and policy makers expect, according to Boston College’s Francesco D’Acunto, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology’s Daniel Hoang, and Chicago Booth’s Michael Weber. That’s because they don’t understand the signal, the researchers find.

“If you’re an economist too much stuck in your model world, this is very surprising to you,” Weber says. On the other hand, he acknowledges that not everyone can follow the logic chain that leads from a central banker predicting depressed interest rates, to lower borrowing costs, to higher inflation, to the urgency of buying now. “If you’re not too detached from reality, it’s not surprising,” Weber says.

The researchers analyzed two events in which governments or central banks signaled that prices were set to rise. One was a 2005 announcement by the German government that the country’s value-added tax (similar to the US sales tax) would increase from 16 percent to 19 percent in 2007. The second was a 2013 statement by then European Central Bank president Mario Draghi that interest rates would stay low or decline further for some time. To economists, this statement was a clear signal that price inflation would soon follow. more>

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Updates from ITU

Banking for all: Can AI improve financial inclusion?
ITU – In a world where an estimated 1.7 billion people do not have a bank account, can artificial intelligence help make financial inclusion a reality for everyone?

This was the topic under discussion at a webinar during the year-round AI for Good Global Summit 2020.

Inclusive financial access directly helps enable seven of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It requires people and businesses in underserved areas to have affordable and easy access to secure financial services and products.

This means being able to build credit, receive funds, deposit money, buy insurance, invest in education and health and withstand economic shocks.

With the rise of mobile phone use and information and communication technologies (ICTs) penetration in developing countries, financial service providers are now turning to artificial intelligence to make financial inclusion happen.

‘Superpowers’ for digital services

Typically, to lend money, providers use documents to verify the identity of a person, evaluate their credit score and offer a collateral loan. But AI tries to fix this for people who cannot meet these requirements, said panelist Rory Macmillan, Founding Partner at Macmillan Keck, Attorneys & Solicitors. more>

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Updates from McKinsey

The future of payments is frictionless—now more than ever
Amrita Ahuja, the CFO of Square, explains how the company’s payment platform and services have helped small enterprises stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.
By Amrita Ahuja – Cash is king when it comes to maintaining corporate liquidity. It is in a somewhat less prestigious position when it comes to fulfilling consumer-to-business transactions. The onset of the COVID-19 crisis and ongoing fears of infection have prompted consumers and businesses to rely more on digital and contactless payment options when buying and selling goods and services.

How have the past few months been, and what’s changed for Square as a result of the crisis?

We’re taking it a day at a time. We serve merchants, who we call sellers, and individual consumers. And we know that this has been an incredibly trying time for everyone, where a lot of people’s livelihoods have been in question. The first thing we did was focus on our employees and their health. We shut down our offices on March 2. We wanted to do right by our communities and do our part to halt the spread of the virus. We took an all-hands-on-deck approach to understand what was happening in our customers’ businesses and what was happening in our own business. Every single day in March and April felt like a year, frankly, in terms of our understanding and how fast things were moving. We ran through scenarios, and asked ourselves, “OK, if the situation resembles a V, or if things look like an L, or if it looks like a U, what does that mean for us and our ability to serve our various stakeholders, employees, customers, and investors?”

We’ve had to be fast and clear with our communications during a time in which there are still so many unknowns. It was important to own up to this uncertainty and yet not downplay the severity of the situation. We met far more frequently with the board than the typical quarterly cadence. We held an update call with [investment bankers and analysts] outside the typical earnings cadence. We suspended our formal guidance to Wall Street, but we actually shared more information about the real-time views that we were seeing in our business across a number of different metrics and geographies. And with employees, we had a far more frequent and transparent mode of communication. We were sending weekly email updates, we built comprehensive and regularly updated FAQs, we set up a Slack channel for questions, and we held biweekly virtual all-hands meetings. We didn’t know everything, but we had a process for learning things over time and communicating them transparently. Ultimately, that has served us well, in terms of motivating our employees, serving our customers, and giving stakeholders a clear understanding of where we are as a business and how we are proceeding. more>

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5 Ways Joe Biden’s Presidency Will Affect Your Money – and How to Act Now

By Farnoosh Torabi – As with any new President, Joe Biden will have his work cut out for him when he takes the oath of office in January. And while his “build back better” plans are already laid out, it’s yet to be seen how much of an impact his administration can actually make on your finances.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s not behind us, so the recovery will be slow, which Biden has been clear about. Not to mention, with a very possible Republican Senate majority, many of the new administration’s initiatives could face serious pushback, if not a total squashing. The outcome will be determined in a couple months when Georgia’s two Senate run-off races happen.

In short, we can’t read far into what Biden is proposing and use it as a playbook for our personal finances today. “I’m not a big fan of people overhauling their finances or making moves on a presumption of something passing, simply because there are just too many unknowns,” Greg McBride, Chief Financial Analyst at Bankrate.com, told me on my podcast.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the major economic initiatives proposed by President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and how to interpret them for the sake of our financial well-being. As always, personal accountability will be just as — if not more — important than matters of policy. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

There will be more innovation post-COVID. Here’s why.
By Harry L. Davis – Since the COVID-19 pandemic threw our lives into disarray, we’ve had to change how we do anything involving other people. Rather than counting on bumping into colleagues in the hall, we now have to schedule Zoom calls around the competing demands (childcare, a broken water heater) that everyone is dealing with. There isn’t time for the kind of small talk that often, unpredictably, leads to big ideas.

There are unquestionably benefits to handling some tasks over video conference. Last spring, I taught a class in which groups of students take on consulting projects with the guidance of Chicago-based Kearney. Consultants spend countless hours on airplanes to make face-to-face meetings with their clients possible, and it’s a big part of their culture. In past years, regular in-person meetings and schmoozing were built into the syllabus.

Of course, none of that was possible this year. Our students were thrust into a new world where even senior executives were caught off-guard and without webcams. Whiteboard brainstorming sessions became Zoom calls.

Curious about their experiences, we surveyed the students about the impact of remote work throughout the quarter. While pessimistic at first, by the end of the nine-week course, they later felt that their remote situation was actually helping them be more efficient and helped them do do a better job responding to their clients’ needs. I had a similar experience with teaching remotely—although daunted at first, I found that I was able to deliver my classes effectively, even if I was tethered to my desk chair.

Once the pandemic is behind us, we’ll have to choose what to return to and what to keep from our remote way of working. I think Zoom and its ilk will continue to have an important place for those situations where teams are geographically dispersed or there’s some urgent decision that needs to be made. But the type of work that delivers innovation—creative work—will still best be done in person. more>

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