This year is ending the way it began for taxpayers without any sign of relief from the repeated burden of bailing out the banks during the financial crises and continued pressure to modify the Dodd-Frank Act in ways that favor bankers and lessen protections for taxpayers.
A year of continued concessions to the financial industry included: delaying a Dodd-Frank mandate that financial firms sell off bundled debt, known as collateralized loan obligations; exempting some private equity firms from registering with the Securities and Exchange Commission; and loosening regulations on derivatives. The recent requirement that banks increase their capital ratio to 16% or 18% in the next few years still leaves the taxpayer responsible for the remaining 80% of the losses.
During the financial crisis and its aftermath, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) sold nearly 500 failed banks in the United States.
These hurried sales of institutions seized by the agency reverberated throughout local and regional economies and had serious consequences nationally. The FDIC lost US$90 billion in the deals, and at the height of the crisis in 2009, the agency’s deposit insurance fund was $21 billion underwater.
I have been exploring this extraordinary episode in US banking history with two other researchers, Gregor Matvos and Amit Seru, both of the University of Chicago. We wanted to find out what happened to banks when they were sold, who bought them and why, and what the implications might be for public policy. To do this, we compiled information on all FDIC bank sales from 2007 to 2013 and analyzed the data using probability models and other methods.
More broadly, our study focused on understanding the nature and efficiency of allocation outcomes when failed assets are sold. These findings have direct implications for the design of the bank resolution process – how to deal with the death of a financial firm – an issue that is confronting policymakers and researchers both in the US and the EU.
In this study, we tried to understand the costs associated with failed bank sales in the US. We hope that these facts will help policymakers to weigh the costs of selling banks against the costs of supporting them outright during future financial crises. Understanding these trade-offs should help policymakers reduce the taxpayer costs associated with reorganizing a banking system in distress.
During the economic crisis, we saw an interesting pattern of activity among commercial banks. As prices of securities dramatically dropped, banks purchased the securities, looking to make profits when the prices later increased. This had an effect on lending, as banks used their capital to buy securities rather than make loans. This despite the banks taking billions at the time from the Federal Reserve in liquidity support.
Now, regulators around the world are debating whether banks should be allowed to trade in securities. In the U.S. we have the Volcker rule, which prevents banks from proprietary trading. In Europe, they have the Liikanen Report. But an important question in these discussions is what are the benefits and costs to not having banks trade securities?
Answering that question has been difficult due to a lack of comprehensive micro data at the security level on banks’ trading activities. However, in a recent study, my colleagues and I were given access to a unique, proprietary dataset from the Bundesbank (the German central bank) that provides information on security-level holdings for all banks in Germany at a quarterly frequency for the period between 2005 and 2012.
So we were able to analyze whether, during a financial crisis, banks with higher trading expertise increase their investments in securities, especially in securities that had a larger price drop, to profit from the trading opportunities. Further, we examined how this impacts lending.
With regard to financial reform, the outcome of the November election seems straightforward. At the presidential level, the too-big-to-fail banks bet heavily on Mitt Romney and lost; President Obama received relatively few contributions from the financial sector, in contrast to 2008. In Senate races, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio demonstrated that it was possible to win not just without Wall Street money but against Wall Street money. Read More »
When a bank considers a loan, it looks at the borrower’s income, assets, credit history, and plans for the money. On microloan websites, lenders have one other way to evaluate a borrower’s creditworthiness. They can observe the behavior of other lenders.
With a colleague, Peng Liu of Cornell University, I have been studying Prosper.com, the largest of the microlending sites. On Prosper, lending is transparent. Borrowers make requests in public postings and typically rely on multiple lenders. Prosper assigns credit ratings to borrowers, and friends of borrowers can post endorsements. Once the process is under way, lenders can see how other lenders respond to the listing.
We analyzed over 2 ½ years of Prosper data to determine the dynamics of lender behavior. We thought we might see what is known as “irrational herding,” or mimicking. If irrational herding is at work, then a listing that received a strong initial response would attract more and more lenders. As we sifted through the data, we found no evidence this was happening.