Opinion

The Great Debate

from The Great Debate UK:

Bankers’ bonuses: the fish stinks from the head

copelandl- Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School and a co-author of “Verdict on the Crash” published by the Institute of Economic Affairs. The opinions expressed are his own. -

The awful thing about lynch mobs is they so often hang an innocent man, leaving the guilty totally untouched.  In the case of the banks, the danger is acute.  As I have already argued, hedge funds and private equity are being unfairly targeted, especially in Europe. But there is another, even less popular class which is likely to end up in the firing line, for no good reason and with consequences which could be damaging for all of us.

Broadly speaking, the banks pay 6- and 7-figure bonuses to two quite different sorts of people. First, there is a layer of what we might call technocrats: the striped-shirted traders of legend, with their loud voices and even louder dress codes, along with the managers who try to control them, the quants who invent complex trading strategies and price exotic new instruments, and a variety of others with specialised skills. Since they are rewarded in proportion to the profit they generate for their employer, which can usually be measured with considerable accuracy, their bonuses are often very large indeed. The question is: should we treat these professionals who trade on their expertise and who heavily outnumber senior management in the same way as their bosses? Not as far as I can see.

However unpopular these market professionals might be, I can see no reason whatever for intervening to limit the rewards their expertise earns for them. Arguments about “justice”, “fairness” and “ethics” are irrelevant, especially when they rely on judgements about lifestyles.

Fairness is no criterion for determining pay scales, unless we are also willing to limit the earnings of rock stars, footballers, best-selling novelists.....that is the way to the madhouse (and the collective farm).  The market sets a high price on rare skills, and in a competitive world, any attempt by a single country to restrict that price will result in it losing those skills and the business that goes with them.

Watch banks for clues on Greece

– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

As odd as it sounds, concerns about the effects of a euro zone sovereign crisis on Europe’s still poorly capitalized banks may prove to be the tipping point that leads to a swifter bailout of Greece.

While discussion of contagion may seem very 2008, the problems with Greece, which faces a huge fiscal deficit, are becoming tougher for euro zone authorities to leave uninsured.

Big banks aren’t bad banks

— Mark T. Williams, a former Federal Reserve Bank examiner who teaches finance at Boston University School of Management, is the author of the soon to be published “Uncontrolled Risk” about the fall of Lehman Brothers. The views expressed are his own. –

Too big to fail has become nothing more than a political sound bite and the title of a best-selling book. Unfortunately, in the process big banks have gotten a bad rap. The proposed Obama administration plan to limit bank size is just another example of big-bank bashing by high-level politicians.

Policy that simply focuses on downsizing big banks overlooks an important point. The problem is not that banks are too big; it is that banks are taking excessive risk. This includes big and small banks. Since 2008, more than 170 banks have failed, including big banks such as Lehman Brothers, Wachovia, and IndyMac. But most on this list – such as Citizens State Bank, Republic Federal Bank, and First State Bank — are smallish. They didn’t make big headlines. No books were written about them or movies made.

from The Great Debate UK:

Glass-Steagall Lite, brewed by Volcker, served by Obama

Laurence Copeland

- Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School and a co-author of “Verdict on the Crash” published by the Institute of Economic Affairs. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Let me say at the outset that I am far from enthusiastic about either of President Barack Obama’s major policy initiatives: healthcare reform and the banking reform plan announced on Thursday.

But both cases are truly momentous, because both are tests of whether America is an imperfect democracy (like all the others) where government by the people eventually works, more or less, or a totally dysfunctional oligarchy.

Banks’ exposure to the Obama Plan

President Barack Obama’s proposals to ban banks from proprietary trading unrelated to serving their customers will have a very uneven impact on the sector.

There is no easy way to identify how much money the major banks make from proprietary trading rather than market-making, brokerage and hedging services on behalf of their customers. The banks do not break out their activities in this way, and the regulators do not collect standardised data.

But it is possible to identify which banks depend most heavily on trading rather than investment or commercial banking activities, and which are therefore potentially most exposed to a tightening of the regulations to prevent proprietary trading unrelated to serving their customers.

Obama bank plan is good policy, good politics

– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –

President Barack Obama’s proposed curbs on bank size and proprietary risk-taking will be criticised for being vague, hard to implement, and focusing on issues that were only part of the cause of the recent crisis.

But the president should ignore self-interested counsels of perfection from the industry that aim to preserve the status quo. The plan is good politics, and good policy.
On the political front, the plan is a belated attempt to reposition the administration and congressional Democrats. It aims to channel the popular revolt that washed away Democrats in New Jersey and Virginia last autumn and now in Massachusetts.

Fed’s wondrous printing press profits

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– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are is own. –

Now finally we see what it takes to be a profitable bank with no capital worries and secure funding: own a printing press.

Sadly, since it is the Federal Reserve showing record $46 billion profits last year we have to conclude that, though it is a fool-proof plan, it’s not really scalable.

In praise of smaller banks, less volatility

– James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

If we want a world with safer banks, we need to be prepared for the consequences; lower growth over a painful medium term but the promise of making it up over the long run as we suffer less devastating financial blowups.

A banking system forced to operate with more capital and a higher proportion of safe, liquid assets is one that will shrink and charge more for credit, potentially retarding growth as we transition to a different mix of financing.

Easier jawboning banks than leery borrowers

(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

Jawbone all you like, but we are in a private sector de-leveraging, and bank lending and demand will remain weak, making interest rates unlikely to rise any time soon.

Monday’s two big economic news events dovetailed neatly, if not entirely happily; Citigroup  announced plans to repay $20 billion to the government and President Obama called banks together to inform them of their obligation to support the recovery.

“My main message in today’s meeting was very simple: America’s banks received extraordinary assistance from American taxpayers to rebuild their industry,” Obama said after the meeting. “Now that they’re back on their feet, we expect an extraordinary commitment from them to help rebuild our economy.”

UK bonus tax both cynical and justified

(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

A cynical election maneuver it may well be, but Britain’s plan to impose a punitive tax on bonus payments is also reasonably well crafted and in broad terms justified.

Facing a monumental budget deficit and an election in months, British Chancellor Alistair Darling announced a plan to slap a 50 percent payroll tax, payable by banks, on their bonus payments in excess of 25,000 pounds to a given employee.

Banks can pay what they like to whom they like, but every pound a banker gets above the threshold means an additional 50 pence for the public purse. The tax will only raise about 550 million pounds, compared to a public sector borrowing requirement of 178 billion, and will expire in April, leaving delayed bonuses subject to a new higher 50 percent personal tax rate previously announced.

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