I attend a PRMIA seminar this morning at the offices of Ernst & Young with the rather long title of "Risk, Regulation and Financial Technology & Identifying the Next Crisis".
First up was Matthew Richardson of NYU Stern with a presentation entitled "Identifying the Next Crisis". The focus of his presentation was on systemic risk, which he defined as the risk that financial institutions lose the ability to intermediate (i.e. continue to provide services) due to an aggregate capital shortfall. He presented a precise definition of the systemic risk of a firm as:
Expected real social costs in a crisis per dollar of capital shortage
x Expected capital shortfall of the firm in a crisis
Matthew explained that there are three approaches to estimating systemic risk contribution:
- Statistical approach based on public data
- Stress tests
- Market approach based on insurance against capital losses in a crisis
He explained that the methods his team have used have had some statistical success against data from the past crisis in showing those organisations in crisis early. I found his presentation reasonably dry (more regression analysis etc) but I thought the following where worth a mention:
- Crisis Insurance - Approach 3 on getting firms to insure themselves against capital shortfalls in a crisis sounded interesting but ended up with the insurer being the regulator (not enough capital to insure privately) and the beneficiary being the regulator. So effectively this was a tax on the systemically significant institutions, where the involvement of the private insurers was mainly to do with price discovery (i.e. setting the right level of premium (i.e. tax) for each institution)
- Short-term Indicators – Many of the approaches we have currently (VaR etc) are short term indicators and so in good times do not inhibit market behaviour as would be desired by the regulators. A good illustration was given of how short term volatility was very much lower than long term prior to the crisis and how these merged to similar levels once the crisis hit.
- Regulatory Loopholes – He put forward that this crisis was as a result not of monetary policy but of large complex financial institutions exploiting loopholes in regulation. The AIG Quarterly Filings of Feb 2008 showed that $379Billion of the $527Billion of CDS were with clients that were explicitly seeking regulatory capital relief (i.e. get the CDS in place and your capital requirement dropped to zero). He also explained how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were used by banks to simply "rubber stamp" mortgage pools and magically reduce the capital required down from 4% to 1.6%.
- Where to look – He said that "like water flows downhill, capital flows to its most levered point". He said to look for which parts of the financial sector are treated different under Dodd-Frank, Basel III etc and that the key candidates were 1) shadow banking and 2) government guarantees. Also you should look for those asset classes that get preferred risk weights for a given level of risk.
As often seems to be the case, I found the side comments more interesting than the main body of the presentation, but Matthew's presentation showed that a lot of work is being done on systemic risk identification and measurement in academia.