Benchmarks are heavily wired into modern financial markets. For example, trillions of dollars in bank loans and several hundred trillion dollars (notional) of derivatives transactions depend on daily announcements of LIBOR. The WM/Reuters foreign exchange fixings dominate the currency markets, in which there are over $5 trillion of transactions per day. Benchmarks are the basis for trade of a wide range of commodities such as gold, silver, oil, and natural gas. They have also been the focus of scandals (Brousseau et al. 2013).
Years after a devastating crisis that spread from the U.S. across Europe and Asia, policymakers all over the world are still trying to come up with strategies to make sure that a financial crisis of that magnitude never happens again. One essential element of this task is building back the trust of the public.
When the every day participants in the financial system—the depositors, holders of short-term commercial paper of banks, and other bank investors—feel confident in the banks, the financial system stabilizes. Business runs more smoothly. And growth improves.
In the U.S. our faith in banks is abysmally low. According to a Gallop poll conducted in June, Americans’ confidence in U.S. banks stands at 26%, up from the record low of 21% a year ago. The percentage of Americans saying they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in U.S. banks remains well below its pre-recession level of 41%, measured in June 2007. Meanwhile, across the pond, only 19% of Britons say that banks are well managed, according to the British Social Attitudes Report released in September.
Perhaps the simplest way to instill confidence in the public is transparency. That is: to compel banks to provide full and complete balance sheet information. They must disclose more detailed information to the public on their holdings of securities, government bonds, commercial real estate, and commercial paper; they must reveal their amounts of equity and capital; and they should be more forthcoming about outstanding loans and other liabilities. There should be no such thing as “off balance sheet” assets.
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 »
Professor of Applied Economics Roberto Rigobon, co-creator of the Billion Prices Project at MIT, asserts that countries with higher inflation are recovering more slowly from the global financial crisis. During a talk that was part of MIT Sloan’s Alumni Weekend, he predicts there will be another financial crisis and that governments will again over-react in an attempt to address it: “Whenever we have a financial crisis, regulation always overshoots.”
Rigobon says that neither rising commodity prices nor monetary expansion explains rising inflation rates, and points out that the traditional measures that governments uses to track the prices of goods are inefficient or suspect. He and MIT Sloan colleague Alberto Cavallo launched the Billion Prices Project, which now tracks online prices of commodities in 70 countries, providing real-time information on major inflation trends. As a result, even after the earthquake hit Japan earlier this year, the Billion Prices Project was still able to monitor prices in that country and track Japan’s inflation rate.