S&P Comments on Basel 3

Standard & Poor’s has commented:

We understand that the Basel committee intends that Tier 1 capital should enable each bank to remain a going concern, with Tier 2 capital re-categorized as a “gone concern” reserve to protect depositors in the event of insolvency. We expect to assess the credit implications of the extension risk that may be created by the proposed introduction of a lock-in clause in respect of Tier 2 capital in the future.

The introduction of much stricter criteria for the inclusion of hybrid instruments into Tier 1 capital generally accords with our recent criteria refinement, under which our capital metrics would give only minimal equity content to certain types of hybrids that we do not view as providing sufficient flexibility to defer or suspend coupons. The loss absorption capacity provided by principal write-down or conversion features is not a condition for equity content under our criteria. (See “Assumptions: Clarification Of The Equity Content Categories Used For Bank And Insurance Hybrid Instruments With Restricted Ability To Defer Payments,” published Feb. 9, 2010.)

The proposals state that “innovative” capital instruments with an incentive to redeem through features like step-up clauses (currently limited to 15% of the Tier 1 capital base) will be phased out. We currently assign different levels of equity credit to some hybrids with step-up features (or equivalent features) depending on their individual features. As stated in our criteria, step-ups (and similar provisions) question the permanence of issues that incorporate them, and so undermine the equity content of a hybrid capital security. Such hybrids are in our view therefore a weaker form of capital than other hybrids included in our measures of capital, such as similar instruments without step-ups.

Contingent capital may address some of the demonstrated deficiencies of traditional hybrid structures. One of the difficulties in practice in our view, however, is how to assess whether contingent capital securities would convert into capital (through conversion or a form of write-down) early enough to help a bank experiencing capital pressures. Some triggers may be lagging indicators of the bank’s health.

As stated in our published criteria, we may take the view to deny equity credit to hybrid instruments even if regulators allow for grandfathering, based on our view of the fundamental characteristics of the instruments. We interpret the grandfathering proposals as being a method for regulators to enable banks to transition to a more conservative regulatory environment without requiring large capital-raising in the short- to medium-term. In our view, grandfathering can create inconsistencies and a lack of comparability in capital ratios that could remain for an extended period. Grandfathering could also result in hybrid instruments that have been demonstrated to be ineffective as a form of capital still being included in regulatory capital measures.

The proposal to discontinue regulatory adjustments for unrealized gains and losses on securities or properties we believe would likely exacerbate pro-cyclicality, which is already perceived as an issue under the Basel II regime.

Their emphasis on the need for contingent capital to have an effect early in a bank’s deterioration is sharply at variance with Flaherty’s position.

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