Bank Capital and Stress Tests: The Foundation of a Thriving Economy

We submitted this statement to the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit of the Committee on Financial Services of the U.S. House of Representatives for its hearing on July 17, 2018.

We appreciate the opportunity to submit the following statement on the occasion of the hearing entitled “Examining Capital Regimes for Financial Institutions.” We welcome the Subcommittee’s further examination of the existing regulatory approach for prudentially regulated financial institutions.

We are academic experts in financial regulation with extensive knowledge of the financial industry. Our experience includes working with private sector financial institutions, government agencies and international organizations. In our view, a strong and resilient financial system is an essential foundation of a thriving economy. The welfare of every modern society depends on it. The bedrock of this foundation is that banks’ capital buffers are sufficient to withstand significant stress without recourse to public funds. Furthermore, it is our considered view that the benefits of raising U.S. capital requirements from their current modest levels clearly outweigh the costs.

To explain this conclusion, we start with a definition of bank capital, including a discussion of its importance as a mechanism for self-insurance. We then turn to capital regulation and a discussion of stress testing….

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GDP-linked Bonds: A Primer

Gross government debt in advanced economies has surpassed 105% of GDP, up from less than 75% a decade ago. Some countries with especially large debts—including Greece (177%), Italy (133%) and Portugal (129%)—are viewed not only as a risk to the countries themselves, but to others as well. As a result, policymakers and economists have been looking for ways to make it easier to manage these heavier debt burdens.

One prominent suggestion is that countries should issue GDP-linked bonds that tie the size of debt payments to their economy's well-being. We find this idea attractive, and see the expanding discussion of the viability of GDP-linked bonds both warranted and useful (see here and here). However, the practical issues associated with GDP data revision remain a formidable obstacle to the broad issuance and acceptance of these instruments....

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Is International Diversification Dead?

At least since Harry Markowitz’s work in the 1950s, diversification has been viewed as the key to an efficient portfolio that minimizes risk for a given expected rate of return. When James Tobin received his Nobel Prize in 1981 – in part for his work on the subject – he summarized portfolio selection theory in the classic fashion: “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”

Over the years, academicians and market professionals extended this fundamental principle to the global asset universe, highlighting the benefits of going beyond simply holding a broad group of domestic instruments to the idea of international diversification. In the case of equity portfolios, they also observed that people typically hold a smaller share of foreign stocks than simple portfolio selection models prescribe. This gap between actual and model-based optimal allocations of equity portfolios has become known in finance as the equity home bias puzzle.

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Making driving safe

The home page for the Google Self-Driving Car Project contains the following:

Imagine if everyone could get around easily and safely, regardless of their ability to drive. […] Aging or visually impaired loved ones wouldn't have to give up their independence. Time spent commuting could be time spent doing what you want to do. Deaths from traffic accidents—over 1.2 million worldwide every year—could be reduced dramatically, especially since 94% of accidents in the U.S. involve human error.

In some walks of life, we can reduce risks by changing human behavior. In the case of automobiles, we train and license people to make them drive more safely. We also fine and incarcerate them when they don't...

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China's stock market boom and bust

Ask a well-educated person which country boasts the largest equity market and you’ll usually get the right answer: the United States. Ask which country has the second largest market and you’re likely to get a range of answers: Japan? Britain? Germany?

The answer is China. In terms of annual trading volume, China's equity market has been #2 since 2009. Measured by total market capitalization, it has been #2 for seven of the past nine years....

Why should this matter now? First, because it highlights the extraordinary spread of market-based finance in a country led for more than 65 years by its communist party.... Second, because the growth in Chinese equity markets comes with sizable risks. Recent experience drives home this point....

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Financial Innovation and Risk Management

In 2013, Robert Shiller shared the Nobel Prize for Economics with Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen for their research on asset pricing. While Shiller is known as a critic of the efficient markets hypothesis and as a proponent of behavioral finance, less appreciated is his work on advancing financial technology to help societies manage fundamental economic risks.

At a time when the recent crisis has given financial innovation a bad name, Shiller’s contrarian message is that well-designed financial instruments and markets are an enormous boon to social welfare. We agree.

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Investing in College

Most Americans want a college education, but it is expensive. On average, a four-year school costs about $25,000 per year, or $100,000 for a degree. That’s roughly half the median house price – a substantial investment. If you have to borrow to finance a college education – just like you borrow to own a house – is it really worth it?

The answer is yes for most people. But the outcome is not free of risk, especially for those students who borrow heavily relative to their future income prospects....

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In Search of Better Credit Assessments

July 21, 2014 was the fourth birthday of the Dodd–Frank Act (DFA). It is maturing faster than a human, but slower than a dog. Of the nearly 400 rules that DFA requires regulators to write, just over half have been completed. At the end of August, the SEC finished another one – regarding credit rating agencies (CRAs). The result makes us wonder what took so long...

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Do U.S. Households Benefit from the Great Moderation?

Something odd has happened to the U.S. economy over the past 30 years. Aggregate income (measured by real GDP) has become more stable (even including the 2007-2009 Great Recession). But, at the household level, the volatility of income has gone up. Put differently, families face greater income risk than in the past despite generally fewer or smaller economy-wide wobbles. What should we make of this?

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