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Two Cakes by James Kwak

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Jefferson23 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-21-11 12:45 PM
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Two Cakes by James Kwak
By James Kwak

Eric Dash of DealBook reports on the latest stress tests conducted by the Federal Reserve, which apparently went swimmingly, at least for some of the healthier banks. I have no independent basis on which to assess the accuracy of those test results, so I wont.

What I did notice is that JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo are using the green light from the Fed to start buying back stock: $15 billion for JPMorgan, 200 million shares (about $6 billion) for Wells. Does something seem wrong with this picture to you? Me, too.

Last summer, the argument from the big banks was that higher capital requirements were bad because they would reduce the amount of bank lending. The argument is pretty simple: Say you have a 5 percent capital requirement, $5 in capital, and $100 in assets, so youre barely adequately capitalized. Then say your regulator increases your capital requirement to 10 percent. Now you either need to raise $5 more in capital or, since that could be difficult, you have to shrink your assets to $50 which means youre lending half as much money as before. The rules are much more complex than that, but thats the basic concept. And, so the story goes, less lending means less economic growth means fewer jobs. Most infamously, the Institute of International Finance put out a report claiming that higher capital requirements would mean 9.7 million fewer jobs in the U.S., Japan, and Europe over five years.

But for this argument to even make sense, as many people pointed out at the time, bank lending would have to be constrained by capital at the margin. And the banks knew this was false at the time, because at the same time in other contexts they were saying that they were purposefully overcapitalized (e.g., Bob Diamond of Barclays saying his bank had 13 percent Tier 1 capital and almost 10 percent core capital). Now, this was not necessarily duplicitous at the time: the banks could plausibly say they were overcapitalized because of regulatory uncertainty they didnt know how high the capital regulations would turn out to be.

remainder in full:
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