I wrote about how to think of resolution authority as a series of practices rather than an on-off switch. A few points are being made around the blogosphere about resolution authority, and I’d like to address them.
Ezra Klein likes this language:
Funeral Plans: Requires large, complex companies to periodically submit plans for their rapid and orderly shutdown should the company go under. Companies will be hit with higher capital requirements and restrictions on growth and activity, as well as divestment, if they fail to submit acceptable plans. Plans will help regulators understand the structure of the companies they oversee and serve as a roadmap for shutting them down if the company fails. Significant costs for failing to produce a credible plan create incentives for firms to rationalize structures or operations that cannot be unwound easily.
I do not. Notice how this strategy would look for FDA if we were creating the FDA now: “Drug companies will be required to submit the effects of their drugs that they market from internal studies that they’ve carried out. That is all.”
There’s an obvious agency problem: if you are a large, complex company and you’ve failed, you want the regulators to be as confused, scared, and uninformed as possible so they will bail you out. It’s worked before. What’s the penalty for a failed firm that doesn’t do this well? They are already failed. If you are less cynical about the financial markets than I am, it’s still costly, time consuming and kind of a pain in the ass to collect this information well, so you will probably half-ass it.
This is crucial for the “detection” part above. For detection to be credible, the information will have to be global, with deep knowledge of interconnectedness, especially when it comes to derivatives. All the focus is on repo 105, but people who are interested should check out Portnoy’s writeup of how the Federal Reserve monitored the books at Lehman after the SEC called them in to help. They had no clue how to do detection of problems in financial firms.
So if you want to support the Dodd Bill, one obvious way to increase the effectiveness of it would be to significantly beef up both the scale and scope of information that is collected on a large, complex financial company. Firms will fight this tooth and nail, of course.
Since we have no political will to shrink the size of the largest banks, even gradually, being able to monitor them to know whether or not they are failing so we can take appropriate actions beforehand is crucial. Commercial banks have to be resolved in a “least-cost” manner, the least-cost to the taxpayers. Financial firms, under early remediation requirements, will have the same mechanism. But to do that we need tools to monitor large banks, and we are going to be going into that process with the tools we use to monitor the George Bailey Bank.
Matt Yglesias writes about resolution authority:
And since dealing with an insolvent firm without bankruptcy isn’t going to be free, we set up a mechanism to raise the funds necessary from the institutions who are being given this protection from bankruptcy.
This is the $50 billion dollar fund.
I asked Rolfe Winkler, who blogs Bank Failure Fridays, and he told me, excluding WaMu (and the last two weeks, since he hadn’t updated the numbers), the Deposit Insurance Fund, the fund FDIC uses with money raised by banks, takes a hit on average of 23% of assets whenever it resolves a commercial bank, a George Bailey Bank.
So for a bank with $2 trillion dollars in assets, your Bank of America or JP Morgan, that’s $460 billion dollars. And the top six banks are much bigger than they were before the crisis, and everyone should believe they will continue to grow into the future. And this is a single failure, not a crisis of all the biggest firms getting into trouble together, as they most certainly will.
And that’s the George Bailey bank. We know how to do that well. Our detection methods are much better than in this new uncharted territory. Now we don’t have a scope of guarantees, which makes me wonder what exactly this fund will be used for. Maybe resolution authority will be handled in a much more cost effective way. I’ll see if I can crunch more numbers later, since Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program (TLGP) was a strung together sort of version of what this would be trying to do and maybe I can get a sense from there (any other suggestions?), but even in a best case scenario $50 billion seems small. Frank’s bill was $150 billion.
Given that it is in the realm of possibility that it could be exhausted, where does the $51st billion dollars come from for Goldman Sach’s resolution?
The meta argument I’m not seeing developed is that there is a conflict between what we’ll want the Federal Reserve to do if we are going to give it the responsibility to monitor large, interconnected financial firms. On one hand, it is essential that regulators are accountable, follow strict rules, serve the interests of the public, and are transparent. These are progressive values, though they are common sense now because we won that debate.
The Federal Reserve ferociously defends its right to be the exact opposite of these values when it comes to monetary policy. How can we then expect it to be a good regulator of the largest financial firms? Given the low level of trust in the Federal Reserve these days, it is essential that resolution authority is transparent as possible. But how will that impact the independence of monetary policy?