A glass of red and contrary ideas on Triple-A risk
June 20, 2011
I enjoyed myself at the drinks reception after the NYU-Poly event. Nothing new in that I guess for those of you that know me well and like me find it difficult to resist a glass or two of red wine. Whilst attempting to circulate (I am almost 2 metres tall, so rather than "circulate" I think a more appropriate word might unfortunately be "intimidate"), I struck up a conversation with an interesting gentleman by the name of Per Kurowski.
Per is a former director of the World Bank and has some contrary and interesting ideas on the financial crisis and our current methods of regulation. His first that financial crises rarely start with assets that are perceived as "risky", which I think is a pretty self-evident point but not one that I had not previously registered. His second line of argument is that our current regulation biasses our banks away from "riskier" assets and hence away from just the kinds of organisations that are a) needed for employment creation and b) do not cause crises.
Per argues that many of the big institutions are near triple-A rated and hence benefit from being able to leverage up cheaply (at low-interest rates, since they are triple-A) and are then biased by lower capital requirements to use this leveraged funding to invest in yet more triple-A assets (SPVs/other institutions such as themselves). Hence you get the double-whammy of cheap funding and biased capital requirements which naturally leads to potential distortions in anything perceived as triple-A, and a bias away from riskier assets and the risk-takers that the world economy needs.