In the JEEA 14(4) (August 2016) Klaus Adam and Junyi Zhu argue that
unexpected price-level movements generate sizable wealth redistribution in the Euro Area (EA) … The EA as a whole is a net loser of unexpected price-level decreases, with Italy, Greece, Portugal, and Spain losing most in per capita terms, and Belgium and Malta being net winners. Governments are net losers of deflation, while the household (HH) sector is a net winner … HHs in Belgium, Ireland, Malta, and Germany experience the biggest per capita gains, while HHs in Finland and Spain turn out to be net losers. … relatively young middle class HHs are net losers of deflation, while older and richer HHs are winners. … wealth inequality in the EA increases with unexpected deflation, although in some countries (Austria, Germany, and Malta) inequality decreases due to the presence of relatively few young borrowing HHs. … HHs in high-inflation EA countries hold… systematically lower nominal exposures.
The table reports the estimated effects of a one-time unexpected change in the general price level by 10% (expressed either in thousand EUR per capita, or as a share of GDP); a positive sign indicates a gain from deflation.
(1000 EUR p.c.)
(1000 EUR p.c.)
(1000 EUR p.c.)
(share of GDP)
(share of GDP)
(share of GDP)
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.
In the FT, Ben McLannahan reports about a change in US accounting standards concerning the valuation of bank debt.
Under the rules in place since 2007
banks were allowed to use market prices when valuing their own debt, meaning they could book profits when their debt fell in value and losses when it rose.
Particularly during the financial crisis this led to sizable effects of swings in debt prices on bank profits. Under pressure from financial institutions, the Financial Accounting Standards Board “threw in the towel” and follows the International Accounting Standards Board which already backtracked in 2014. Under the new rules the debt valuation adjustments are expected to become more or less irrelevant.
The intention of the 2007 rules was clear:
… if banks were going to book their assets at market value, rather than cost, they should also book their liabilities at market value. Companies should therefore be allowed to recognise gains when the value of their bonds fell below par, the FASB reasoned, on the assumption that they would be able to buy them back at a discount.
But this implied that banks “booked income in bad times and expenses in good times.”
An interesting conference organized by CESifo and Japonica Partners brought together accountants, lawyers and economists with interests in public finance and sovereign debt. Discussions about Greece took center stage.
According to estimates based on the accounting standards IPSAS, ESA 2010 or SNA 2008, Greece’s gross government debt quota at the end of 2013 amounted to roughly 70% and its net debt quota didn’t exceed 20%. The debt numbers give the present values of the contractual payments, discounted at the market yields at the time the debt was issued or restructured. The estimate of the gross debt position closely resembles estimates of the market value of Greek government debt by economists.
The claim that Greece urgently needs debt relief received only limited support, and least from people who worked for and with the Greek government. My reading was that any need for near term debt relief is mostly of a political nature.
Some relevant links:
- Georgetown’s Anna Gelpern.
- Duke’s Mitu Gulati.
- IFAC, CIPFA.
- “The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations” by Jacob Soll.
- Japonica Partners.
- IPSAS: IFAC page, Wikipedia, slides with background info and examples, comparison with GFS (see p. 11).
- Chicago Fed Mark Wright’s “The Stock of External Sovereign Debt: Can We Take the Data at ‘Face Value’?“
- European System of National and Regional Accounts in the European Union (ESA 2010), Chapter 20 (Government accounts):
20.221: Debt operations can be particularly important for the general government sector, as they often serve as a means for government to provide economic aid to other units. The recording of these operations is covered in chapter 5. The general principle for any cancellation or assumption of debt of a unit by another unit, by mutual agreement is to recognise that there is a voluntary transfer of wealth between the two units. This means that the counterpart transaction of the liability assumed or of the claim cancelled is a capital transfer. No flow of money is usually observed, this may be characterised as a capital transfer in kind.
20.236: Debt restructuring is an agreement to alter the terms and conditions for servicing an existing debt, usually on more favourable terms for the debtor. The debt instrument that is being restructured is considered to be extinguished and replaced by a new debt instrument with the new terms and conditions. If there is a difference in value between the extinguished debt instrument and the new debt instrument, it is a type of debt cancellation and a capital transfer is necessary to account for the difference.
- UN, EC, OECD, IMF and World Bank System of National Accounts (2008 SNA):
22.109–110: Debt rescheduling (or refinancing) is an agreement to alter the terms and conditions for servicing an existing debt, usually on more favourable terms for the debtor. Debt rescheduling involves rearrangements on the same type of instrument, with the same principal value and the same creditor as with the old debt. Refinancing entails a different debt instrument, generally at a different value and may be with a creditor different than that from the old debt. Under both arrangements, the debt instrument that is being rescheduled is considered to be extinguished and replaced by a new debt instrument with the new terms and conditions. If there is a difference in value between the extinguished debt instrument and the new debt instrument, part is a type of debt forgiveness by government and a capital transfer is necessary to account for the difference.
In a recent NBER working paper (“Discounting Pension Liabilities: Funding Versus Value”), Jeffrey Brown and George Pennacchi discuss the appropriate choice of discount factor to discount pension liabilities. They conclude that it depends.
… if the objective is to measure pension under- or over- funding, a default-free discount rate should always be used, even if the liabilities are themselves not default-free. If, instead, the objective is to determine the market value of pension benefits, then it is appropriate that discount rates incorporate default risk.
… the use of a default-free discount rate is informative to participants who want to know how much money the plan would need to be assured that the plan will be able to pay promised benefits. This would also be a relevant measure if the plan wished to offload its liabilities to an insurance company that intends to make good on the future benefit payments.
… there are also cases for which the market value of the liability is important. Current or potential plan participants might want to know the market value of pension liabilities (rather than the promised value) when they are making decisions about the value of pension benefits…
… the market value of the liability can have odd properties as a system of funding measurement: specifically, the size of the total (funded plus unfunded) liability can vary with the degree of funding, and that funding levels asymptotically approach 100 percent as assets approach zero.
Brown and George Pennacchi also discuss how the appropriate discount rate may be measured and how cost-of-living adjustments may be accounted for.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond estimates that
60 percent of the liabilities of the financial system are subject to explicit or implicit protection from loss by the federal government. This protection may encourage risk taking, making financial crises and bailouts more likely.