Regulation – Putting out the fire once you know where the fire is – NYU-Poly
June 18, 2011
The first panel session at NYU-Poly after Nassim Taleb concerned itself with the increasing competition between banks and insurers, which I didn't think reached any great conclusions as to where things are heading but did give background for why banks and insurers are increasingly offering the same services (disintermediation, regulation and industry structural changes being the main reasons). One of the presenters also said that acturial methods may provide a useful framework for unhedgeable risks taken by banks. I must acknowledge that my attention span was also challenged during this session by a very early start (up pre-6am) and a distinct lack of caffeine (later rectified many times over).
Second panel session up was entitled "The Future of Financial Regulation" and proved a lot more interesting to me given that I think I learned a few new things. Main presenter was Allen Ferell from Harvard Law School. Main point I took away from this presentation was that regulation should focus more on the resolution of financial distress after (ex-post) it has occurred at an institution rather than rules and regulations to prevent it before it happens.
I found this argument quite appealing since to a large degree it avoids provisioning for the "unknown unknowns" through more and more rules and increases in capital. The reduction in pre (ex-ante) rules would also reduce the gaming of the rules that enevitability would occur, and shareholders knowing that they would be penalised and penalised quickly following financial distress would encourage them to become more interested in the levels of risk being taken on their behalf. I guess one of the main issues for the above is how such a level of financial distress would be defined and enforced in order to act as a trigger for say automatic conversion of debt to equity. Anyway, on with what Allen Ferrell had to say:
Allen said that if a financial institution had had the foresight to see the financial crisis coming, then looking across the industry there would have been a great variation in the amount of capital needed to survive the crisis. I guess here the implication here was that higher levels of capital across the industry will help, but they are unlikely to be enough for some organisations in the crisis to come.
After the crisis had hit, he said that financing from the repo market dried up as repo haircuts exploded, and he said that this was like the modern day equivalent of a bank run (where a solvent bank faced difficulty due to having to sell good assets cheaply to satisfy demands for returning of cash deposits).
Allen said that leverage and "debt overhang" made it much less likely that a financial institution would get in more equity capital following the crisis since it implied a transfer of wealth from the stockholders to bondholders. More of this important point later.
He put forward that it was not yet clear whether the 2007-8 crisis was mainly due to insolvency or due to a bank run. He argued that it was some combination of both, and referred back to the recent re-assessment of the Great Depression being caused not by a run on (solvent) banks but rather by flight of retail investors away from insolvent banks.
He concluded that much of the action for any future crisis will have to take place after any new crisis hits (ex-post), partly due to his assessment of the disconnect between equity capital needed (the current focus of things like Basel III) prior to a crisis and an institution's financial health following a crisis.
Allen suggested that contingent capital, i.e. debt capital that automatically converted in equity based on some market trigger might be very helpful in dealing with a financial crisis. Such a conversion would happen early than if an institution agreed to it earlier and would automatically dilute existing stockholders. Overall this was a thought provoking talk and the panel discussion afterwards was interesting too. One of the panelists commented that he looked for a high leverage and high ratios of CEO to CRO compensation as his measure of where to look for the next set of risky institutions. The panel also seemed to agree that with the benefit of hindsight, allowing Lehmans to fail and the resultant drying up of the money markets was a mistake, and more consistency was needed in bankruptcy and distress resolution.