The Great Debate UK

Bank bonus season again

–Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School . The opinions expressed are his own–

Bank bonuses are in the news again, and once more we see the spectacle of the Prime Minister indirectly pleading with the bankers not to be too greedy. Note the contradiction in the government’s position: even though we own two of the largest and most culpable banks, we dare not impose explicit limits on their pay lest they decamp to places where the political climate is more hospitable and the regulators more tolerant. But although enforced limits are out of the question, it’s quite OK to pressure them by every other means  – which, of course, raises the question: why should bankers be more willing to stay in Britain when their pay packet is limited by “voluntary” restraint rather than government intervention?

Of course, as I have argued here before, the likelihood of them moving any substantial part of their business overseas is grossly exaggerated and in any case is a far less worrying prospect than is often suggested. We should not be intimidated by dark hints about investment banking operations moving lock, stock and barrel to Frankfurt, Paris, Singapore or Shanghai. First, the world’s major investment banks typically employ hundreds, sometimes thousands of people in every major financial centre, so at worst we are talking about a marginal reallocation of staff from London towards the other four or five cities which are serious competitors. Is that such an awful prospect?

Recall that no less a figure than Adair Turner called for a reduction in Britain’s financial sector, on the grounds that it is far too large relative to our economy. Moreover, every time you hear mention of the contribution of investment banks to the UK economy – the taxes they pay and the number of people they employ – bear in mind that in the last two years they have cost us far, far more than they will ever provide in tax revenue, and that will still be true even if we are able to avoid another systemic banking crisis for the rest of the century.

A changing of the guard in UK regulatory structure

Press Action Head and Shoulders– Richard Saunders is Chief Executive of the Investment Management Association. The opinions expressed are his own. –

Last week I was among a number of people asked to appear before the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee to talk about the Government’s plans for reorganising financial services regulation.  It was an opportunity both to see the new Committee in action and to set out how I see the plans affecting the investment management industry.

from Breakingviews:

Far too little stress in U.S. bank reform

Improving U.S. bank regulation may call for a little more stress. The disclosure and discipline imposed by the Federal Reserve's stress tests of big banks a year ago drew a line under the crisis. The tests separated sheep from goats and led to tens of billions of dollars of new capital being raised. It's a shame that stress tests aren't becoming an annual event.

The tests have been overshadowed by the Troubled Asset Relief Program. After all, that $700 billion plan to recapitalize the banking system kept institutions like Citigroup, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley from going under. But the TARP scheme was fraught with conflicts still bedeviling the debate over reform, including the problem of bankers paying themselves handsomely on the back of taxpayer bailouts. As a result, few are calling for a repeat of the TARP experience.

from Breakingviews:

Global bailout fund looks unlikely to fly

Regulators and bankers rarely see eye to eye. But at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the two sides were in surprising agreement about creating a global fund, financed by a tax on banks, to deal with future bailouts.

Mario Draghi, head of the Financial Stability Board, which is spearheading a new global financial regulatory regime under the auspices of the G20, floated the idea of a cross-border body to manage this fund. Surprisingly, several big European banks -- including Barclays and Deutsche Bank -- support it.

from Breakingviews:

Strong local units good for bank reform

The debate about reforming the financial system is often presented as an argument between regulators on one side and banks on the other. But it is also beginning to throw up some differences among banks. One such rift has been exposed by the suggestion that banks should be forced to hold greater reserves of liquidity and capital in national subsidiaries.

Regulators see this as a way of dealing with the future failure of a big bank. Rather than relying on the bank's home government to pick up the tab -- something it may not be able or willing to do -- each country where the institution operates could take responsibility for its local subsidiary.

from Commentaries:

Why banks should welcome “living wills”

A year after Lehman Brothers collapsed, policymakers are still getting to grips with the key question raised by the Wall Street firm's fall: how to ensure that the failure of a large bank does not jeopardise the entire financial system.

After much debate, politicians and central bankers are warming to the idea that banks should make preparations for their own failure. This plan -- memorably dubbed a "living will" by Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England -- would allow regulators to wind down even large, cross-border institutions without putting public money at risk.

from Commentaries:

Orange squeezes the UK’s mobile competition

Merging T-Mobile UK with Orange will bring 3.5 billion pounds of value to shareholders, and "substantial benefits to UK customers." Goodness, why on earth didn't they get together years ago? A merger that simultaneously enriches shareholders and customers is rare indeed, and one to be treasured - if this really is one of those seldom-seen beasts.

While the 3.5 billion pound figure is credible, the second claim, from Timotheus Hottges, the finance director of Deutsche Telecom, T-Mobile's parent, is harder to believe. The immediate reaction from other shares in the sector rather gave the game away, with retailer Carphone Warehouse down on the prospect of fewer suppliers, and Vodafone up on the hope of less competition in Britain's mobile phone market.

from Commentaries:

Team Obama punts again on derivatives

The Obama administration formally sent its plan for regulating derivatives to Capitol Hill today. And to no one's surprise, the key proposal in the 115-bill is a plan to regulate "standard'' derivatives on regulated exchanges of clearinghouses.

As I've pointed out a number of times, Team Obama has yet to come-up with a workable definition for a standard derivative. The administration seems content to kick the issue down the road.

Big Finance reverting to bad old ways


paul-taylor– Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

They’re at it again. No sooner has the financial system begun to stabilise than Big Finance is reverting to its old ways — aggressive hiring, remuneration on steroids, wriggling out of regulation or threatening to decamp to evade tougher supervision.

EU funds regulation hits the wrong target


REUTERS– Margaret Doyle is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own –

If generals have a habit of fighting the last war, regulators are prone to fighting the war that they think they ought to have fought.