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The central bankers in the Basel committee have suddenly decided to make Basel III a lot less restrictive and a lot less urgent.
The Basel III rules, intended to make the world’s big banks safer during crisis, were scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2015, but banks will now have an additional four years to fully meet Basel’s “Liquidity Coverage Ratio” [LCR]. Now, they will only have to to be 60% of the way there by 2015. Mervyn King, the outgoing head of the Bank of England, says that the “vast majority” of the 200 banks under Basel’s auspices are already in compliance with these less restrictive standards. (Felix has a comprehensive set of posts on multi-year battle over Basel here.)
Crucially, the new Basel broadens the list of what banks can hold as “high-quality liquid assets” as a buffer against the next crisis. Banks can now count certain high-rated corporate bonds, equities, and mortgage-backed securities toward their LCR.
The NYT’s Jack Ewing says this marks “the first time regulators have publicly backed away from the strict rules imposed by the Basel Committee in 2010.” Reuters, for its part, called the previous Basel liquidity standards “draconian”. One bank analyst said the new rules amounted to “a fairly massive softening”. Per Kurowski says the rules will help banks, but will help kill the real economy.
The new rules, Simon Nixon writes, will free up money for banks to use productively, and will mean they’ll need to hold fewer soveriegn bonds. This could mean bigger profits: Barclays may see its pre-tax profit rise by 4%. Mervyn King, the outgoing head of the Bank of England, told reporters: “Nobody set out to make [Basel] stronger or weaker, but to make it more realistic.”
Realistic or not, the central bankers on the Basel committee have shifted their focus. When Basel III arrived in 2010, it was a “quiet victory” — central bankers succeeded in passing tough new rules to make big banks safer. Now, those central bankers are no longer primarily worried about preventing banks from taking down the financial system. They’re back to their monetary policy role: As FT Alphaville suggested, they’re worrying about banks lending. — Ryan McCarthy
On to today’s links: