Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Why are excessive bank exposures to what’s perceived safe considered as excessive risk-taking when disaster strikes?

In terms of risk perceptions there are four basic possible outcomes:

1. What was perceived as safe and that turned out safe.

2. What was perceived as safe but that turned out risky. 

3. What was perceived as risky and that turned out risky.

4. What was perceived as risky but that turned out safe.

Of these outcomes only number 2 is truly dangerous for the bank systems, as it is only with assets perceived as safe that banks in general build up those large exposures that could spell disaster if they turn out to be risky.

So any sensible bank regulator should care more about what the banks ex ante perceive as safe than with what they perceive as risky.

That they did not! With their risk weighted capital requirements, more perceived risk more capital – less risk less capital, the regulators guaranteed that when crisis broke out bank would be standing there especially naked in terms of capital. 

One problem is that when exposures to something considered as safe turn out risky, which indicates a mistake has been made, too many have incentives to erase from everyones memory that fact of it having been perceived as safe.

Just look at the last 2007/08 crisis. Even though it was 100% the result of excessive exposures to something perceived as very safe (AAA rated MBS), or to something decreed by regulators as very safe (sovereigns, Greece) 99.99% of all explanations for that crisis put it down to excessive risk-taking.

For Europe that miss-definition of the origin of the crisis, impedes it to find the way out of it. That only opens up ample room for northern and southern Europe to blame each other instead.

The truth is that Europe could disintegrate because of bank regulators doing all they can to avoid being blamed for their mistakes.