Archive for January, 2010

More on splitting up the banks

Myners was quoted in the Telegraph on 23rd January 2010 as saying “The argument is that hedge funds, private equity and proprietary trading are a source of risk – that is not our general view. In the UK, the three activities were not responsible for RBS, HBOS or Northern Rock, who, on the whole, failed in the rather classic way of making bad loans.”

This is either stupid or disingenuous. Banks made bad loans because an investment bank would then, for a large commission, underwrite (using their prop desks) the repackaging of these loans to others – hedge funds, other banks etc.. Banks therefore could make any loan and flip it keeping the fee and moving on to the next borrower.

How hedge funds and prop trading didn’t contribute to this I do not know.

I can certainly excuse Private Equity from the equation – these guys are mostly borrowers and are in any case unrelated to the banks.

One very interesting and tricky issue is how can splitting up the banks by itself offer a solution to the securitisation of these loans? The answer, and Myners is right here perhaps (although he hasn’t given this as the reason), it doesn’t. Stopping banks from making mad loans and flipping them is best curbed by either capital requirements or outlawing the activity by forcing banks to hold a significant portion of all loans that they make.

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Another ruse from Obama

Obama is a big disappointment. Never has someone offered such hope and disappointed more. As a master of politics he is becoming rather transparent. Two examples, first a call for a world without nuclear weapons for which he won the Nobel peace Prize (while continuing two wars perpetrated by the Bush regime). Second a call for a total freeze on all settlement growth in Palestinian occupied territories including what is termed as “natural growth”. Both these statements were clearly ridiculous.

Most recently we have “break up the banks!” It won’t happen. If I had the cash I would be long in banking shares and would have been for at least 6 months. Politicians don’t depend upon people’s votes but on the support of business and in particular the bankers. What is wonderful about this statement is that the breaking up the banks if not easy – there is a huge grey area between taking deposits and simple lending and the more exotic activities such as securitisation. This gives Obama a lot of room to negotiate with the inevitable opposition yet still come out with a win or at least what can, in time for the next election be termed one.

In my view banks that take deposits should not be able to carry out any activities apart from lending to individuals and businesses. I would exclude proprietary trading of course and any equity investments. In addition I would exclude any commission-based activities such as underwriting, broking and M&A. The later are best practiced by independent operations with no conflict of interest as it most often described (what I would describe as “unfair advantage or even insider trading”).

Who is going to support that? The people yes but politicians….? You just be joking. Viva la revolucion!

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