Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dodd-Frank Causes Much More Harm than Help

KPC friend Amar Bhide has an interesting piece in Barrons.

In an email, Amar writes:

This is a general problem. Well-intentioned securities laws work only too well, turning judgment and relationship based finance into anonymous, arm’s length transactions. This also discriminates against financings that can’t be easily securitized; thus we get lots of mortgaged backed securities, fewer small business loans.

Tell that to the next person who tries to say that "lack of regulation" caused the financial crisis.  It's not true.  STUPID regulation caused the financial crisis, and Dodd-Frank is even more stupid than what we had in 2007.

Excerpt from the article, since it's gated:

When little else was regulated in the 19th and early 20th centuries, lawmakers kept banks on a tight leash. Even so, we didn't get all the pieces of bank regulation right until the 1930s. In contrast, the securities markets functioned adequately under the private rules of the stock exchanges.

We can argue about what kind of regulatory model is best—whether or not deposit insurance should be capped, for instance. But skin-in-the-game rules that require banks to take on more risk are perverse.

Banks were vulnerable to the collapse of the housing and mortgage-backed securities markets in many ways. They had financed the inventory of mortgages that had not yet been turned into securities and invested heavily in the securities themselves. Providers of wholesale short-term funds shunned mega-banks exposed to derivatives based on mortgage-backed securities.

These problems arose from risks that banks had taken on, not ones they had palmed off to investors.

The seemingly arcane 5% rule also raises another basic public-policy issue: Why single out investors in mortgage-backed securities for protection? Bonds issued by rock-solid companies can also become nearly worthless. Think of the formerly rock-solid General Motors and American Airlines. Stocks of high- or low-tech companies often crater.

According to Barney Frank's reasoning, forcing underwriters to retain some of the risk should improve the quality of corporate securities as well. Yet, with uncommon good sense, Congress hasn't imposed such a requirement.

MORTGAGE-BACKED SECURITIES should be less deserving of lawmakers' solicitude. Corporate bonds first were widely issued in the 19th century by railroads that had to raise more funds than a single lender could advance. Utilities and industrial companies with similarly large capital requirements followed. But even a small community bank can make and hold mortgages; securitization isn't compelled by the scale of the activity financed. The economic advantages of securitization supposedly derive from efficiencies in the financing process, in the mass-production and mass-marketing of credit.

Mass production in turn entails the use of backward-looking statistical models that pay no heed to the specific circumstances of the borrower. This virtually ensures bad credit decisions in a dynamic economy in which the demand for loans starts with the forward-looking judgments of aspiring borrowers.

Traditional corporate bonds aren't meant to be mass-produced, although they may be mass-marketed to public investors. Good underwriting requires careful forward-looking assessments of each issuer's prospects.

The securitization of mass-produced mortgage credit surged before the 2008 crash because public policies and officials inflated what would otherwise have been a fringe activity.

Banks have had to set aside less capital against investments in securitized mortgages than they do for their direct holdings of mortgage loans. This has encouraged banks to try to raise their return on equity by replacing loans with securities.

Banks and other investors in mortgage securities could also eliminate the costs of monitoring borrowers, relying instead on the ratings provided by SEC-certified agencies.

Public officials averred that securities comprising geographically diversified mortgages were perfectly safe. And not long before the housing bubble burst, Ben Bernanke said that a nationwide decline in home prices was unlikely.

Most mortgages have been securitized by government-sponsored entities, virtually guaranteeing investors a free lunch: higher interest than paid by Treasury bonds but with practically no more risk.

Guaranteeing housing debt was instrumental in discouraging careful lending. It drew credit away from more worthwhile borrowers and activities, even before the crash.

The housing and securitized-mortgage markets remain weak. Instead of trying to pump them back up, lawmakers and regulators must focus relentlessly on recreating a banking system that lends prudently and evenhandedly to all creditworthy businesses and individuals. 

AMAR BHIDÉ, the Schmidheiny Professor at Tufts' Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, is the author of A Call for Judgment: Sensible Finance for a Dynamic Economy (Oxford University Press, 2010).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The regulation of banks in the 19th and early 20th century was done by the states. The repeated financial crisis that occurred in the period was the reason the Federal Reserve Act was written in 1913. Decentralized regulation did not work well at all actually. Banks may have had regulation on the books in the states; however, the actual supervision and regulation by the states was very slack and corruption was pervasive. Mike, do really believe that the last crisis would have occurred without the repeal of Glass-Steagall and the commodity futures modernization act?