Tag Archives: Equity

Have Banks Become Less Risky?

In BPEA, Natasha Sarin and Larry Summers argue that bank stock has not:

… we find that financial market information provides little support for the view that major institutions are significantly safer than they were before the crisis and some support for the notion that risks have actually increased. …

… financial markets may have underestimated risk prior to the crisis … Yet we believe that the main reason for our findings is that regulatory measures that have increased safety have been offset by a dramatic decline in the franchise value of major financial institutions, caused at least in part by these new regulations.

This table is taken from their paper:


However, their finding need not be as bad as it sounds. After all, bank regulators intended to insulate taxpayers against bank failure and to render the financial system more shock proof, not bank equity.

Efficiency versus Equity

On VoxEU, Torben Andersen and Jonas Maibom point out that empirical findings of a positive correlation between efficiency and equity need not contradict elementary theoretical predictions.

The trade-off [between efficiency and equity] applies at the frontier of the possibility set of combinations of economic performance and income equality available to policy makers. If policies and institutions are ‘well-designed’, the country is at the frontier. There is no free lunch and a trade-off inevitably arises.

However, there may be many historical, institutional and political reasons why countries are not at the frontier. … in which case there is scope for improvements in both economic performance and income equality.

This insight leaves one important message. In cross-country comparisons … differences in the distance to the frontier should be accounted for …

Banks Without Debt

In his blog, John Cochrane points to SoFi, a FinTech company, as proof that banking services can be delivered by institutions without the traditional characteristics of a bank.

SoFi finances loans by selling equity. The loans are securitized and the cash is reinvested in loans. As John points out:

  • A “bank” (in the economic, not legal sense) can finance loans, raising money essentially all from equity and no conventional debt. And it can offer competitive borrowing rates — the supposedly too-high “cost of equity” is illusory.
  • There is no necessary link between the business of taking and servicing deposits and that of making loans. Banks need not (try to) “transform” maturity or risk.
  • To the extent that the bank wants to boost up the risk and return of its equity, it can do so by securitizing loans rather than by borrowing. (Securitized loans are not leverage — there is no promise of your money back when you want it. Investors bear any losses immediately and without recourse.)
  • Equity-financed banking can emerge without new regulations, or a big new Policy Initiative.  It’s enough to have relief from old regulations (“FDIC-free”).
  • Since it makes no fixed-value promises, this structure is essentially run free and can’t cause or contribute to a financial crisis.

Central Bank Reserves: Debt vs. Equity

In jusletter.ch, Corinne Zellweger-Gutknecht argues that the legal status of central bank reserves is more equity- than debt-like—at least as far as the Swiss National Bank (SNB) is concerned. According to Zellweger-Gutknecht, reserves constitute debt only if the SNB is legally obliged to redeem them in exchange for central bank assets.

If the SNB purchases dollars against Swiss Francs in an open market operation, it creates reserves which are equity-like. But if it acquires dollars against Swiss Francs and is committed to engage in a reverse transaction in the future (a swap), then it (temporarily) creates reserves which are debt-like.

ERNs Rather Than CoCos?

The Economist reports about a proposal by Jeremy Bulow and Paul Klemperer for equity recourse notes (ERNs) that could bolster a bank’s equity after negative shocks. While contingent convertible bonds (CoCos) are converted into equity when bank capital falls below a defined threshold, ERNs would convert when the share price fell below a trigger price. Moreover, the new shares would be valued at the trigger price even if the share price had fallen much lower. Low share prices thus would trigger both a conversion and a partial default.