Banks' payout decisions at the beginning of the financial crisis of 2007-2009 were particularly controversial as the crisis eroded the capital of many banks. Concerns were raised that banks may have engaged in wealth transfer to shareholders, or that they may have been reluctant to reduce dividends to avoid negative signalling. This column examines these arguments using a large dataset on US bank holding companies. Cross-sectional tests do not provide clear-cut evidence of active wealth transfer. Similarly, the evidence on signalling is mixed.
Peter Cziraki, Christian Laux, Gyöngyi Lóránth, 26 October 2016
Ross Levine, Chen Lin, Wensi Xie, 07 October 2016
Many policies have been put in place to constrain the expansion of banks across economic borders, in part to avoid them becoming too big and interconnected to fail. However, some argue that such expansion can reduce risk. This column evaluates the impact of geographic expansion on the cost of a bank’s interest-bearing liabilities. Geographic diversification materially lowers bank holding companies’ funding costs, suggesting there is a real cost of restricting banks from using geographic expansion to diversify their risks.
Louis Nguyen, Jens Hagendorff, Arman Eshraghi, 30 September 2016
Banks are regularly under scrutiny for their professional and ethical behaviour. This column assesses the role of boards in monitoring and advising conduct, and offers new insights for how to structure bank boards to prevent misconduct. Conventional board measures such as board independence and financial expertise have no measurable impact on misconduct being committed or detected. Instead, governance metrics revolving around CEO connections warrant more attention from regulators, investors, and governance activists.
Markus K Brunnermeier, Sam Langfield, Marco Pagano, Ricardo Reis, Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh, Dimitri Vayanos, 20 September 2016
The Eurozone lacks a safe asset that is provided by the region as a whole. This column highlights why and how European Safe Bonds, a union-wide safe asset without joint liability, would resolve this problem, and outlines steps to put them into practice. For given sovereign default probabilities, these bonds would be as safe as German bunds and would approximately double the supply of euro safe assets. Moreover, owing to general equilibrium effects, they would weaken the diabolic loop between sovereign risk and bank risk.
Marco Buti, José Leandro, Plamen Nikolov, 25 August 2016
The fragmentation of financial systems along national borders was one of the main handicaps of the Eurozone both prior to and in the initial phase of the crisis, hindering the shock absorption capacity of individual member states. The EU has taken important steps towards the deeper integration of Eurozone financial markets, but this remains incomplete. This column argues that a fully-fledged financial union can be an efficient economic shock absorber. Compared to the US, there is significant potential in terms of private cross-border risk sharing through the financial channel, more so than through fiscal (i.e. public) means.
Laurence Ball, 24 August 2016
Much of the damage from the Great Recession is attributed to the Federal Reserve’s failure to rescue Lehman Brothers when it hit troubled waters in September 2008. It has been argued that the Fed’s decision was based on legal constraints. This column questions that view, arguing that the Fed did have the legal authority to save Lehman, but it did not do so due to political considerations.
Priyank Gandhi, Hanno Lustig, Alberto Plazzi, 21 August 2016
Governments and regulators are commonly assumed to offer special protection to the stakeholders of large financial institutions during financial crises. This column measures the ex ante cost of implicit shareholder guarantees to financial institutions in crises, and suggests that such protection affects small and large financial institutions differently. The evidence suggests that in the event of a financial crisis, stock investors price in the implicit government guarantees extended to large financial institutions, but not to small ones.
Claudio Raddatz, Sergio Schmukler, Tomás Williams, 12 August 2016
The categorisation of countries into relevant international benchmark indices affects the allocation of capital across borders. The reallocation of countries from one index to another affects not only capital flows into and out of that country, but also the countries it shares indices with. This column explains the channels through which international equity and bond market indices affect asset allocations, capital flows, and asset prices across countries. An understanding of these channels is important in preventing a widening share of capital flows being impacted by benchmark effects.
Toshihiro Okubo, Tetsuji Okazaki, Eiichi Tomiura, 19 July 2016
In the context of increased global trade and accompanying competition, firms are increasingly engaged in industrial clusters. This column uses firm-level transaction data to analyse the impact of firms’ relationships with financial institutions on their networking within clusters. Firms participating in government-supported cluster programmes increase their transaction networks significantly faster than those not in clusters. The column also finds that firms with expanding networks are mainly financed by regional banks, not national or global ones.
Giudici Paolo, Laura Paris, 30 June 2016
In April 2016, Italian banks set up an equity fund intended to recapitalise troubled financial institutions in a ‘private bail-out intervention’ scenario, with a view to avoiding a bail-in under the European Bank and Recovery Resolution directive. This column analyses the main differences between a bail-in and a bail-out scenario. In particular, it compares contagion effects, and thus the total default probabilities of financial institutions in these two circumstances, in order to establish which banks would benefit more from a bail-out rather than a bail-in.
Federico Cingano, Francesco Manaresi, Enrico Sette, 24 June 2016
Negative shocks to bank balance sheets are problematic not just for financial markets, but for employment and economic growth more widely. This column uses evidence on a bank liquidity shock in Italy in 2007-10 to show the impact on firms’ production, investment, and employment. Firms borrowing from banks with a high exposure to the shock experienced a more intense fall both in credit flows and in investment expenditure. While the credit cut has been homogeneous across borrowers, firms with easier access to external finance were able to contain the negative consequences of the drop in credit for investment.
Thomas Eisenbach, David Lucca, Robert Townsend, 17 June 2016
The two main elements of bank industry oversight are regulation and supervision. This column provides a framework for thinking about supervision in relation to regulation. Using US data on supervisory hours spent, it finds evidence of economies of scale for bank size. Additionally, less risky banks receive substantially lower amounts of supervisory hours. The findings highlight that supervisors face resource constraints and trade-offs.
Charles Calomiris, Matthew Jaremski, 01 June 2016
Liability insurance is a fundamental part of banking regulation of today, but despite being accepted as best practice now, it did not expand out of the US until the second half of the 20th century. This column discusses economic and political explanations for the spread of liability insurance availability, and finds that a political explanation reflects the empirical evidence well. Liability insurance was preferable to other policies despite being inefficient, due to its use as political leverage.
Kris Mitchener , Gary Richardson, 28 May 2016
The Global Crisis emphasised the fragility of international financial networks. Despite this, there has been little historical research into how networks propagate financial shocks. This column explores how interbank networks transmitted liquidity shocks through the US banking system during the Great Depression. During banking panics, the pyramided-structure of reserves forced troubled banks to reduce lending, thus amplifying the decline in investment spending.
Thomas Gehrig, 25 May 2016
During normal operations, price discovery is an important feature of decentralised market trading. But the process can be distorted when markets are under great stress, such as during the run up to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. This column uses trading data from the days leading up to and following the collapse to show that price discovery at US stock exchanges remained remarkably efficient, even at the height of the turmoil.
Maryam Farboodi, 14 May 2016
Banks' balance sheets are complicated and opaque, making it hard to assess their health. In this Vox Views video, Maryam Farboodi suggests that opacity is an intentional choice by banks. Banks want to maximise their profits by offering the lowest return possible to investors without scaring them away. They choose to provide just enough information to maximise profits. The video was recorded in April 2016 at the First Annual Spring Symposium on Financial Economics organised by CEPR and the Brevan Howard Centre at Imperial College.
Dennis Bams, Magdalena Pisa, Christian Wolff, 02 May 2016
In the absence of full information about small businesses’ risk of loan default, banks are unable to accurately calculate counterparty risk. This column suggests that banks can use industry and linked-industry data to better establish counterparty risk, because distress from one industry is transmitted to supplier and customer industries. A reliable and easily available signal for such distress is any failure reported by S&P.
Ester Faia, Beatrice Weder di Mauro, 30 April 2016
The default of key financial intermediaries like Lehmann Brothers, as well as the global banking panic following the 2007-2008 financial crises, set in motion the path for a fundamental restructuring of the global financial architecture. This column argues that the most pressing question has been how to design an efficient mechanism for resolution of significantly important banks. Bail-in, as opposed to bailout, has been the worldwide solution. But this presents issues for global banks, which must adhere to the rules in many different jurisdictions.
Jaap Bos, Ralph De Haas, Matteo Millone, 22 March 2016
Screening loan applicants is a key principle of sound banking, but it can be challenging when trustworthy information about applicants is not available. Many countries have therefore introduced credit registries that require banks to share borrower information. This column examines how the introduction of a new registry affected the functioning of the credit market in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mandatory information sharing allowed loan officers to lend more conservatively at both the extensive and intensive margins. The improved credit allocation improved loan quality and lender profitability.
Di Gong, Harry Huizinga, Luc Laeven, 18 February 2016
Prior to the Global Crisis, banks could easily use off-balance sheet structures to lower their effective capitalisation rates. This column examines another way that US banks circumvented capital regulations – by maintaining minority-owned, non-consolidated subsidiaries. Had these subsidiaries been consolidated, average reported equity-to-assets ratios would have been 3.5% lower. These findings suggest that some US banks were actively misrepresenting the riskiness of their assets prior to the crisis.