Tag Archives: Banking reform

Could “banksters” become bankers again?

By Lena Deros – The term “bankster” has become trendy recently due to the various financial problems governments and economies are facing. Problems arise and somehow get resolved, but only through financial ruses.

In the 1980s, I was working with one of the world top Investment Banks in Europe. At that time hedge funds, derivatives and all kind of paper products were traded through the capital markets and were the top theme for any sophisticated investor.

One of the most legendary traders in the bank at that time was recruiting the best minds in math and physics from the top schools in the UK to train them and create financial products (derivatives).

The profits that the boys were accumulating were out of proportion to what a normal business person or executive could earn in a normal business, especially as they were just coming out of the university.

Of course, they were all ecstatic. The simplified procedure was based on the real economy. They were creating products 3 or 4 levels over the real assets and these were bought and traded by hedge and pension funds. Since trading was done in big amounts, and on a daily basis, the profits were excellent, but the result when viewed from the perspective of the economy, was that strong minds were deprived from producing real services and products. Instead, profit was created through paper trading. This generated claims to real wealth without creating one potato.

This enhanced inflation and created bubbles. Of course, no banker, financial consultant, or investor wanted to use their logic at the time as they were all plunging into the flood of increased profits without thinking of the immediate future.

It took some years until the surprised sector began to see what it knew all-to-well to be wrong as it was going bankrupt. Everyone was looking for a scapegoat, and most of the solutions were, again, based on 2+2=5 logic. more>

Why Society’s Biggest Freeloaders are at the Top

No, wealth isn’t created at the top. It is merely devoured there.
By Rutger Bregman – This piece is about one of the biggest taboos of our times. About a truth that is seldom acknowledged, and yet – on reflection – cannot be denied. The truth that we are living in an inverse welfare state.

These days, politicians from the left to the right assume that most wealth is created at the top. By the visionaries, by the job creators, and by the people who have “made it”. By the go-getters oozing talent and entrepreneurialism that are helping to advance the whole world.

Now, we may disagree about the extent to which success deserves to be rewarded – the philosophy of the left is that the strongest shoulders should bear the heaviest burden, while the right fears high taxes will blunt enterprise – but across the spectrum virtually all agree that wealth is created primarily at the top.

So entrenched is this assumption that it’s even embedded in our language. When economists talk about “productivity”, what they really mean is the size of your paycheck. And when we use terms like “welfare state”, “redistribution” and “solidarity”, we’re implicitly subscribing to the view that there are two strata: the makers and the takers, the producers and the couch potatoes, the hardworking citizens – and everybody else.

In reality, it is precisely the other way around. In reality, it is the waste collectors, the nurses, and the cleaners whose shoulders are supporting the apex of the pyramid. They are the true mechanism of social solidarity. Meanwhile, a growing share of those we hail as “successful” and “innovative” are earning their wealth at the expense of others. The people getting the biggest handouts are not down around the bottom, but at the very top. Yet their perilous dependence on others goes unseen. Almost no one talks about it. Even for politicians on the left, it’s a non-issue.

To understand why, we need to recognize that there are two ways of making money. The first is what most of us do: work. That means tapping into our knowledge and know-how (our “human capital” in economic terms) to create something new, whether that’s a takeout app, a wedding cake, a stylish updo, or a perfectly poured pint. To work is to create. Ergo, to work is to create new wealth.

But there is also a second way to make money. That’s the rentier way: by leveraging control over something that already exists, such as land, knowledge, or money, to increase your wealth. You produce nothing, yet profit nonetheless. By definition, the rentier makes his living at others’ expense, using his power to claim economic benefit. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

How the Fed plans to pay the country’s bills
By John H. Cochrane – Public attention in the United States during the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis has been largely on the disease itself, the massive social and economic shock of the shutdown, and how we can orchestrate a safe reopening. But we also need to pay some attention to the financial side of the current situation, and the Federal Reserve’s immense reaction to it. Whatever one thinks of that reaction, it’s important to understand what the bank did, what beneficial and adverse consequences there are, and how our financial and economic system and policies might be set up better in the future.

We face a severe economic downturn of unknown duration. If it is something other than a V-shaped downturn spanning months rather than years, there will be a wave of bankruptcies, from individuals to corporations, and huge losses all over the financial system. “Well, earn returns in good times and take losses in bad times,” you may say, and I do, more often than the Fed does, but for now this is simply a fact.

Our government’s basic economic plan to confront this situation is simple: the Federal Reserve will print money to pay every bill, and guarantee every debt, for the duration. And, to a somewhat lesser approximation, the plan is also to ensure that no fixed-income investor loses money.

To be clear, my intention here is not to criticize this plan. From a combination of voluntary and imposed social distancing, the economy is collapsing. Twenty million people, more than 1 in 10 US workers, lost their jobs in the first month of the COVID-19 shutdowns. That’s more than the entire 2008–09 recession, all in the course of three weeks. A third of US apartment renters didn’t pay April rent. Run that up through the financial system: most guesses say that companies have one to three months of cash on hand, and then fail.

If you want to know why the Fed hit the panic button, it’s because every alarm went off.

Is the plan really to try to pay every bill?

Yes, pretty much. This is not stimulus. It is “get-through-it-us.” People who lost jobs and businesses that have no income can’t pay their bills. When people run out of cash, they stop paying rent, mortgages, utilities, and consumer debts. In turn, the people who lent them money are in trouble. Businesses with zero income can’t pay debts, employees, rent, mortgages, or utilities either. When they stop paying, they go through bankruptcy, and their creditors get into trouble. If you want to stop a financial crisis, you have to pay all the bills, not just hand out some cash so people can buy food.

And that’s more or less the plan. more>

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Updates from McKinsey

Banking models after COVID-19: Taking model-risk management to the next level
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed unexpected flaws in the business models that banks rely upon. How can they best address this challenge?
By Marie-Paule Laurent, Olivier Plantefève, Maribel Tejada, and Frédéric van Weyenbergh – The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a terrible toll in human life and in the livelihoods of millions the world over. As people and institutions struggle to contain the spread of the virus, the measures necessarily imposed have caused major economic disruptions.

Every industry has been affected, and banking is no exception. Capital, profit-and-loss, and liquidity positions have been hit very hard. One consequence has been that banks’ models have broken down across their business. The flaws have put the reliability of these models in doubt and suggest that they cannot be trusted to help banks navigate through the crisis.

Few business leaders could have foreseen a global economic shutdown of this magnitude. The models that financial institutions depend on to run their businesses simply did not account for such a crisis. Most models are almost by necessity designed to predict a stable future. In truth, the real failure is not that banks used models which failed in this crisis but rather that they did not have fallback plans to manage when the crisis did come.

There are a number of reasons for the failures. First, model assumptions and boundaries defined at the design stage were developed in a pre-COVID-19 world. Second, most models draw on historical data, without the access to high-frequency data that would enable recalibration. Finally, while access to the needed alternative data is theoretically possible, models would not be able to integrate the new information in an agile manner, because the systems and infrastructure on which they are built lack the necessary flexibility.

Banks are experiencing ever more model failures, and further issues can be expected with time. Financial institutions must now urgently review their model strategies. They need to develop and apply both efficient short-term actions and a long-term plan to improve model resilience. Over two prioritized time horizons, banks can carry out coordinated model adjustments to enable business continuity in the short term while reviewing their model development and redevelopment needs and upgrading their model-risk-management (MRM) frameworks over the longer term. more>

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The IMF: The World’s Controversial Financial Firefighter

The International Monetary Fund, both criticized and lauded for its efforts to promote financial stability, continues to find itself at the forefront of global economic crisis management.
By Jonathan Masters and Andrew Chatzky – Since its inception in July 1944, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has undergone considerable change as chief steward of the world’s monetary system. Officially charged with managing the global regime of exchange rates and international payments that allows nations to do business with one another, the fund recast itself in a broader, more active role following the 1973 collapse of fixed exchange rates, intervening in developing countries from Asia to Latin America. In 2010, it gained renewed relevance as the European sovereign debt crisis unfolded.

The fund has received both criticism and credit for its efforts to promote financial stability.

Forty-four allied nations convened at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 to establish a postwar financial order that would facilitate economic cooperation and prevent a rehash of the currency warfare that helped usher in the Great Depression. The new regime was intended to foster sustainable economic growth, promote higher standards of living, and reduce poverty. The historic accord founded the twin institutions of the World Bank and the IMF and required signatory countries to peg their currencies to the U.S. dollar. However, the system of fixed exchange rates broke down in the late 1960s and early 1970s due to an overvaluation of the U.S. dollar and President Richard Nixon’s decision to suspend the greenback’s convertibility into gold.

The IMF is akin to a credit union that permits its membership access to a common pool of resources—funds that represent the financial commitment or quota contributed by each nation, relative to its size. In theory, members with balance-of-payments trouble seek recourse with the IMF to buy time to rectify their economic policies and restore economic growth. The fund pursues its mission in three fundamental ways:

Surveillance. A formal system of review monitors the financial and economic policies of member countries and offers macroeconomic and financial policy advice.

Technical assistance. Practical support and training directed mainly at low- and middle-income countries help manage their economies.

Lending. The fund gives loans to member countries that are struggling to meet their international obligations. Loans, or bailouts, are provided in return for implementing specific IMF conditions designed to put government finances on a sustainable footing and restore growth. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Why the big banks aren’t safe yet
By Haresh Sapra – The next financial crisis will not come from the traditional banking sector. So goes conventional thinking among financial policy makers. The world’s biggest banks are now safer, according to the narrative, thanks to stricter capital requirements and frequent stress tests that have curbed the appetite for extreme risk and tightened up lax regulatory standards.

I wish I were completely reassured. But as an accountant, I know that the headline capital numbers result from a subjective calculation. Banking regulators typically spend too little time digging into how those figures are calculated. I also know that when the US financial system is healthy, as it is now, we should strive to do better at accounting for potential losses, because that might cushion the blow when the inevitable downturn arrives.

To be sure, the big banks have all passed the Federal Reserve’s stress tests with flying colors. And this reflects substantial increases in capital buffers: the 35 banks that underwent 2018’s stress test have added about $800 billion in the highest quality type of capital over the past decade, according to the Fed. The central bank has deemed that the banks would therefore be strong enough to continue lending if the economy were to plunge into another severe downturn.

But I am not the only observer who remains concerned. In a speech to Americans for Financial Reform in May, Georgetown’s Daniel Tarullo, who was a Fed governor from 2009 to 2017, questioned the robustness of the stress tests. Banks know what regulators are looking for, Tarullo observed, enabling them to “find clever ways to reshape their assets,” thereby reducing their capital levels without reducing their risk exposures. And he also cast doubt on a Fed proposal to create a “stress capital buffer” to stop banks from running down their capital cushions by using dividend payments. Such a buffer, Tarullo argued, could actually prompt banks to take on even more risk. more>

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The Ideology of Self-interest Caused the Financial Crash. We Need a New Economic Paradigm

By Mark van Vugt and Michael E. Price – We are still feeling the effects of the global financial crisis, which started in the US in 2008, and that has now spread to every corner of the world.

The financial crisis should teach us some important lessons about the way economies work and the way we design our organizations. In essence, we have simply made the wrong assumptions about human nature. The leading model in economic theory is that of Homo economicus, a person who makes decisions based on their rational self-interest. Led by an invisible hand, that of the market, the pursuit of self-interest automatically produces the best outcomes for everyone. Looking at the financial crisis today this idea is no longer tenable. When individual greed dominates, everyone suffers. We could have known this all along had we looked more closely at human evolution.

Economic scientists often portray competition between firms as a Darwinian struggle where firms compete and only the fittest ones survive. The British financial historian Niall Ferguson wrote “Left to itself, natural selection should work fast to eliminate the weakest institutions in the market, which typically are gobbled up by the successful.”

This may be true but it is not the outcome of individual greed and competition.

Competition between firms presupposes that individuals cooperate well with each other, and the most cooperative organizations survive, and the least cooperative organizations go extinct. This is group selection, selection operating at the level of groups, where the best groups survive.

This is a far more accurate model of how economies and business operate, and it offers a totally new way of thinking about the design of organizations and ways to avert global financial crises.

A team of evolutionary minded psychologists, biologists and economists led by biologist David Sloan Wilson have come together over the past few years to come up with a more accurate model for how businesses and economies operate. It is based on Homo sapiens rather than Homo economicus. Their efforts are put together in an Evolution Institute report on socially responsible businesses “Doing Well By Doing Good.” more>

Hedge funds assets plunged by $88 billion in 2018

By Matt Egan – The hedge fund industry suffered a brutal 2018 as nervous clients yanked tens of billions of dollars from their portfolios. Hundreds of funds shut down and bets on tech stocks and oil blew up.

Hedge fund assets under management plummeted by $88 billion last year, according to research by eVestment, a firm that provides software to institutional investors. It was easily the deepest decline in assets for the industry since the financial crisis a decade ago, eVestment said in a report published.

Extreme turbulence across financial markets exposed glaring performance issues that have dogged hedge funds for years.

“Investors were again reminded that the industry is not necessarily full of exceptional managers,” wrote Peter Laurelli, eVestment’s global head of research. “There is no disputing the numbers.”

That realization hit a crescendo last month, when the S&P 500 suffered its steepest December decline since the Great Depression.

Jittery clients pulled $19.6 billion out of hedge funds that month alone, lifting annual withdrawals to $35.3 billion, eVestment said. more>

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Hedge funds

To end poverty, think like a spy

By Paul M. Bisca – For anyone working to end poverty, fragile states call for the ultimate juggling act. Countries in conflict seldom control their territories, and even when most areas are at peace, others may still be engulfed by violence for decades to come.

The intensity of civil wars can ebb and flow, while forcibly displaced people cross borders in search of shelter. Politicians and warlords can shift alliances abruptly and neighboring states often interfere militarily to prop up local proteges.

When geopolitics is not at play, internal disputes over land, water, or other scarce resources can ignite fighting between local populations. To make sense of all these moving parts, even the most knowledgeable experts must look for new ways to comprehend the world.

What can be done?

To better manage the unknown, development professionals might want to take a leaf from the intelligence community book and draw inspiration from how spies try to predict the future. Reduced to its simplest terms, the CIA defines intelligence as “knowledge and foreknowledge of the world around us—the prelude to decisions by policymakers.”

Other definitions emphasize the collection, processing, integration, analysis, and interpretation of available information from closed and open sources.

Development practitioners are not spies, nor should they aspire to be. Further, the idea that project managers and economists should behave like spies is bound to raise eyebrows for professionals driven by the quest for sustainability and equity.

Yet, the methodology of intelligence is well-suited to paint in our minds the interplay of actions, information, and analysis needed to navigate the complex, uncertain, and downright dangerous environments where extreme poverty stubbornly persists.

This approach is not about acting like James Bond, but rather about thinking like him. more>

Time for a red shift from Germany’s ‘black zero’

By Peter Bofinger – If our children and grandchildren look back on the present day in 30 years, they will wonder how it was that such a civilised country as the United Kingdom could actually entertain leaving the European Union and robbing itself of its economic and political prospects.

In Germany they could ask the question why the land of poets and thinkers came up with the idea of ​​blindly sacrificing itself to the ideology of the ‘black zero’.

How could it be that Germany deliberately renounced investments in the future—and even believed that in doing so it was doing future generations a favor?

The German social-democrat party (SPD) is currently correcting mistakes from the past. This applies in particular to the 2005 ‘Hartz IV’ labor-market reform proposed by the eponymous commission, chaired by the personnel director of Volkswagen, established when Gerard Schröder was SPD chancellor. It has been celebrated as a great success for many years. On closer inspection, however, it turns out to resemble the fairy tale of the emperor’s new clothes.

Today, Germany has a ratio of public debt to gross domestic product of 56 per cent, which is already below the 60 per cent threshold set by the Maastricht treaty. It is considerably below the level of the other G7 countries: Japan has the highest debt at 237 per cent of GDP, followed by Italy (129 per cent), the United States (108), France (96), the United Kingdom (87) and Canada (85).

Economics has so far failed to derive convincingly an upper limit on the debt-to-GDP ratio. more>