ECB Wants New Capital Rules Amid Credit Crunch Fears

It’s supports the notion that they understand that for govt debt to go down with the current institutional structure they need private sector debt (and/or exports) to increase.

However with the private sector necessarily pro cyclical (which is what Minsky boils down to),
at best this policy will keep mainly keep things from getting worse than otherwise.

ECB Wants New Capital Rules Amid Credit Crunch Fears

December 15 (MNI) — The European Central Bank, fearful of a looming credit crunch, is pushing regulators to alter new recapitalization rules in a way that will dissuade banks from shrinking their balance sheets to reach the 9% core tier 1 ratio required by the middle of next year, well-placed Eurosystem sources told Market News International.

In late October, the European Banking Authority (EBA) said it was requiring the region’s biggest banks to establish an exceptional and temporary buffer: the ratio of their highest quality capital to the assets on their balance sheet, weighted for risk, must reach 9% by the end of June 2012.

Eurosystem central bank officials as well as some EU governments are concerned that this new capital requirement could lead to a massive deleveraging by banks in Europe, which would entail selling off assets and significantly tightening conditions for lending.

There is widespread fear that such a development would depress loans to households and businesses. Some say it is already partly to blame for the big selloff in sovereign government bonds last month that led to sharply higher borrowing costs for Italy and Spain.

The original idea behind the EBA directive was that banks would need to maintain a constant 9% ratio over the entire period during which the requirement was in force. They could do so either by raising new capital — a big challenge in current market conditions — or by dumping assets and not acquiring new ones, which turned out to be the easier route.

“If you combine [asset] disposals with an aggressive fiscal tightening, you are creating the conditions for a sharp contraction,” a Eurozone central banker warned. He projected that the combined hit on GDP from fiscal tightening and bank retrenchment could be as much as two full percentage points. “That means a recession next year,” he said.

In recent public comments, ECB President Mario Draghi expressed concern about the potentially pernicious impact of bank deleveraging to meet the new capital targets. “We want to make absolutely sure that this process does not aggravate the credit tightening that is going on now,” the ECB president said. “It is important that banks raise capital, but not in a way that affects lending.”

Sources said that under a new proposal intended to address this problem, banks would be required not to reach a 9% ratio but to raise a specified, fixed amount of capital by the mid-2012 deadline.

Based on figures banks provided to the EBA as of end-September, the regulators would calculate the amount of capital a bank would have needed to hit the 9% capital ratio at that time. Banks would then be required to raise that level of capital regardless of what they had done with their assets since then or what they might do with them in the future.

Because banks would be required to raise the same amount of core tier one capital regardless of subsequent balance sheet moves, they would no longer have the same incentive to dump assets as a means of meeting the capital requirement.

A senior EU source said that a recent letter from the chairman of the EBA and the Polish EU presidency had noted that bank deleveraging was hurting the recovery, and it laid out a plan by which the 9% ratio would be calculated on the basis of risk-weighted assets on banks’ books as of September 30.

If the plan is approved, “you won’t see a change to the actual ratios or the sums [to be raised], but there will be a clarification that this should not be achieved through asset disposal,” this source said. “It should slow the aggressive [asset] disposal, which many people think is killing any chance of an upswing.”

After releasing new figures last Thursday on the total capital shortfall of European banks, totaling E114.7 billion, the EBA told banks to raise the money from investors, retained earnings and lower bonuses. Banks may only sell assets if the disposals do not limit overall lending to the economy, the EBA said.

However, it is not clear how bank regulators and supervisors would enforce this and whether there would be a level playing field, a well-placed Eurosystem source said. A new EBA requirement of the type now being discussed could address this issue, he said.

The decision on whether to switch from a capital ratio to a fixed amount of capital that each bank must raise lies in the hands of supervisors and regulators. It is too early to tell whether regulators will adopt the recommendation, since deliberations are still going on, another Eurosystem source said.

In its own effort to ensure the Eurozone’s economy won’t be starved for credit, the ECB last week announced a radical set of new liquidity measures, including a looser collateral framework and refinancing operations with a maturity of three years.