BoC Studies Capital Ratio Cost/Benefits

The Bank of Canada has released:

a comprehensive assessment of the potential impact on the Canadian economy of new global capital and liquidity standards, which are to be finalized later this year by the G-20.

The study is titled Strengthening International Capital and Liquidity Standards: A Macroeconomic Impact Assessment for Canada:

While this country boasts a strong financial sector, it too was buffeted by financial shocks from abroad. Our economy could not escape the spillover effects of the ensuing global economic downturn. Canadian economic output fell by more than 3 per cent during the crisis, and more than 400,000 jobs disappeared.

This looks like mistake number one, according to me – it assumes that the damage caused during the Panic of 2007 was all attributable to the financial crisis itself, which I think is a load of hooey.

Recessions are good things; a recession is nature’s way of telling us we’re doing things wrong. Most of the harm experienced in Canada during the Panic may be ascribed to the auto industry … hands up everybody who thinks that there were no problems in the auto industry prior to the crisis! Didn’t think so … the Panic brought things to light and forced the decision makers to address a problem … it didn’t actually cause the problem.

Financial crises are damaging because they bring a lot of problems to light all at the same time.

But for the first time, I see official acknowledgement that higher capital ratios are not automatically good:

The benefits of higher capital and liquidity standards must be weighed against their potential costs to the Canadian economy. Over time, it is expected that banks will seek to pass on the cost of higher capital and liquidity requirements through higher lending rates to borrowers. The cost of higher capital is higher lending spreads, which the Bank calculates would increase by about 14 basis points for every percentage-point increase in bank capital requirements. This figure was then used as an input to the Bank’s macroeconomic models to gauge the impact on economic output. New liquidity requirements also present costs for the Canadian economy. These requirements are estimated to add roughly an additional 14 basis points to lending spreads, and thus are equivalent in impact to an additional 1-percentage-point increase in bank capital requirements. Consequently, the cost of a 2-percentage-point increase in capital requirements, in conjunction with the new liquidity standards, should be an increase in lending spreads of about 42 basis points.

However, they show more than just a little political influence with:

In the wake of the crisis, the Bank of Canada cut its target for the overnight rate to a historic low of one-quarter of one per cent, and decades of progress in improving Canada’s fiscal position suffered a setback as fiscal support for the Canadian economy pushed federal and provincial government budgets back into substantial deficits.

The GST cut and elimination of the structural surplus had nothing to do with it, so vote Conservative!

The regulators have been busy:

To assess the potential economic implications of these reforms, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) and the BCBS conducted two international studies that assessed (i) the longer-run macroeconomic benefits and costs (the LEI report) and (ii) the shorter-term transition costs (the MAG report) associated with adopting the new standards. (footnote) The reports are: “An Assessment of the Long-Term Economic Impact of the New Regulatory Framework” (the LEI report), and “Assessing the Macroeconomic Impact of the Transition to Stronger Capital and Liquidity Requirements – Interim Report “ (the MAG report). Both are available at

They do acknowledge a major problem:

No allowance is made for the possibility that households and firms may find cheaper alternative sources of financing in the longer run that would reduce the impact of the new rules on the economy.

If loan rates increase 42bp, I would consider that a certainty. Private mortgages will take off and I’m wondering about the potential to start a private mortgage fund myself. What’s more, this will siphon off the good business from the banks and leave them with the dregs … but there’s no allowance for it.

Specifically, assuming a starting probability of a crisis of 4.5 per cent in any given country, the LEI report found that an increase of 2 percentage points in bank capital ratios reduced the probability of a financial crisis by 2.9 percentage points, while increases in capital ratios of 4 and 6 percentage points reduced the probability of a financial crisis by 3.6 and 4 percentage points, respectively. These calculations assume a combined effect from increases in capital as well as from new liquidity rules.

When these reductions in the probability of a crisis (e.g., 2.9 percentage points for a 2-percentage-point increase in capital ratios) are multiplied by the cumulative cost of crises (63 per cent of GDP), the benefits to annual economic output are potentially large, in the order of 2 per cent of GDP

If, as I assert, the bulk of the costs experienced during financial crises are simply reflections of structural problems that are merely brought to light by the crisis, then this calculation is … er … inoperable.

For example, following the approach used by the United Kingdom Financial Services Authority (U.K. FSA) and described in Barrell et al. (2009), the annual probability of a domestic financial crisis was estimated based on several domestic factors, including the unweighted capital ratio of banks, their liquid assets as a share of total assets, and house prices expressed in real terms. This approach suggests a 1.7 per cent probability of a financial crisis occurring in Canada (implying that a financial crisis occurs, on average, every 60 years or so). This figure is substantially lower than the LEI report’s 4.5 per cent likelihood of a foreign financial crisis (approximately once every 22 years).

Since the banks nearly blew themselves in the late eighties with the MBA crisis, I guess that means we’ve got about forty years to go.

As indicated in Annex 1, most Canadian banks appear to be well placed to meet the new Liquidity Coverage Ratio requirement, since they carry a large stock of residential mortgages that could be converted at a small cost to federal government-guaranteed National Housing Act Mortgage-Backed Securities that would qualify as eligible liquid assets under the new rules.

Great! Wave a magic wand, and suddenly you get to recategorize existing assets. This part really gives me a lot of confidence, you know?

Given the current exceptionally low level of bank deposit rates and the cost of bank debt funding more generally, it is also assumed that the wider interest margins will effectively result in higher interest rates (lending spreads) on bank loans to households, firms, and other sectors of the economy. It is further assumed that the higher lending spreads will be passed along to all bank borrowers, and not just to certain subgroups, such as households or small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), because all banks in Canada and abroad will be affected by the higher capital and liquidity requirements.

Apparently, Dr. Pangloss had a hand in this report. As noted above, increased spreads will increase the opportunity for shadow banks to move in … there will be a lot of business borrowing at prime (or prime+) who are going to find the commercial paper market (either directly or via BAs) and short-term bond issuance to be a whole lot more attractive if spreads increase 42bp.

Don’t get me wrong! I’m very happy to see that, at last, there is some official acknowledgment that increased capital standards will have a cost. But I think some of the embedded assumptions are more than just a little bit suspect and I look forward to seeing academic attacks on this paper.

A related post is Elliott: Quantifying the Effects on Lending of Increased Capital Requirements

4 Responses to “BoC Studies Capital Ratio Cost/Benefits”

  1. […] paper was referenced in the recent BoC analysis of capital ratio cost/benefits as the “LEI […]

  2. […] swallowing OSFI’s Kool-Aid and saying more is always better. I’ve highlighted the BoC study and the BIS report … so our first debater is Terence Corcoran, who wrote a column titled The […]

  3. […] results are also consistent with the Bank of Canada report (discussed in the post BoC Studies Capital Ratio Cost/Benefits, which stated: The results of this analysis are reported in Table 4, which summarizes the results […]

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