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Editor's note: This post has been corrected to show that the $750 billion increase in common equity at CCAR banks since 2009 reflects a rise of more than 150 percent. (October 20, 2017, 2:06 p.m.)
On June 28, the Federal Reserve released the latest results of the Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR), the supervisory program that assesses the capital adequacy and capital planning processes of large, complex banking companies. The Fed did not object to any of the banks’ capital plans, an outcome that was widely heralded as a signal that these banks would be able to increase payouts to their shareholders. And in fact, immediately following the release of the CCAR results, several large banks announced substantial increases in quarterly dividends and record-sized share repurchase programs. In this post, we put these announced increases into recent historical context, showing how banks’ payouts to shareholders have increased since the financial crisis and describing how CCAR has affected the composition of payouts between dividends and share repurchases.
In a previous post, I documented that much of the expansion into nontraditional activities by U.S. banks began well before the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, the legislation that repealed much of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. The historical record actually contains many prior instances of the Glass-Steagall restrictions being circumvented, with nonbank firms allowed to operate as financial conglomerates and engage in activities that go beyond traditional banking. These broad industry dynamics might indicate that the business of banking tends to expand firm boundaries beyond a traditional—“boring”—perimeter.
Since the global financial crisis and Great Recession, many critics have called for regulatory and legislative reforms to restore a system of “boring” banks constrained to traditional banking activities like deposit taking and lending. The narrative underlying this argument holds that the partial repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act enabled banks to expand into nontraditional activities such as securities trading and underwriting, thereby contributing to the financial crisis some ten years later. The implication is that if we could restore the Glass-Steagall Act, banks would become boring once again, and financial stability would be enhanced. The reality, however, may be more complex; an in-depth look “under the hood” of banks’ organizational structure over the past forty years shows that bank holding companies (BHCs) began expanding into those financial activities in the early 1980s and that this expansion was, in fact, nearly complete by 1999.
Katherine Di Lucido, Anna Kovner, and Samantha Zeller
The Fed’s December 2015 decision to raise interest rates after an unprecedented seven-year stasis offers a chance to assess the link between interest rates and bank profitability. A key determinant of a bank’s profitability is its net interest margin (NIM)—the gap between an institution’s interest income and interest expense, typically normalized by the average size of its interest-earning assets. The aggregate NIM for the largest U.S. banks reached historic lows in the fourth quarter of 2015, coinciding with the “low for long” interest rate environment in place since the financial crisis. When interest rates fall, interest income and interest expenses tend to fall as well, but the relative changes—and the impact on NIM—are less clear. In this post, we explore how NIM fell during the low-interest-rate period, finding that banks mitigated some, but not all, of the impact of lower rates by shifting into less costly types of liabilities. Our analysis also gives insight into how NIM may respond to the new rising interest rate environment.
Regulatory reforms since the financial crisis have sought to make the financial system safer and severe financial crises less likely. But by limiting the ability of regulated institutions to increase their balance sheet size, reforms—such as the Dodd-Frank Act in the United States and the Basel Committee's Basel III bank regulations internationally—might reduce the total intermediation capacity of the financial system during normal times. Decreases in intermediation capacity may then lead to decreased liquidity in markets in which the regulated institutions intermediate significant trading activity. While recent commentary by market participants claims that this is indeed the case—a Wall Street Journal article [subscription required] notes that “three-quarters of institutional bond investors say that liquidity provided by bond dealers has declined in the past year...”—empirical studies have struggled to find evidence supporting this narrative. In this post, we summarize the findings of our recent article in the Journal of Monetary Economics that addresses the apparent disconnect between the market-participant commentary and the empirical evidence by focusing on the relationship between bond-level liquidity and financial institutions’ balance sheet constraints.
Quantitative easing (QE)—the Federal Reserve’s effort to provide policy accommodation lowering long-term interest rates at a time when the federal funds rate was near its lower bound—has generated a great deal of research, both about its impact and about the frictions that might limit that impact. For example, this recent study finds that weak competition in local mortgage markets limited the pass-through from QE to mortgage rates for borrowers, and another study suggests that QE expanded banks’ mortgage lending while crowding out their commercial lending. In this post, we look into a different friction—whether banks’ limited risk-taking capacity after the crisis led them to favor refinance mortgages over new mortgage originations.
Catherine Chen, Marco Cipriani, Gabriele La Spada, Philip Mulder, and Neha Shah
On October 14, 2016, amendments to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule 2a-7, which governs money market mutual funds (MMFs), went into effect. The changes are designed to reduce MMFs’ susceptibility to destabilizing runs and contain two principal requirements. First, institutional prime and muni funds—but not retail or government funds—must now compute their net asset values (NAVs) using market-based factors, thereby abandoning the fixed NAV that had been a hallmark of the MMF industry. Second, all prime and muni funds must adopt a system of gates and fees on redemptions, which can be imposed under certain stress scenarios. This post studies the effect of the amendments on the size and composition of the MMF industry and, in particular, whether MMF investors shifted their assets from prime and muni funds toward government funds in anticipation of the tighter regulatory regime.
Debt in China has increased dramatically in recent years, accounting for roughly one-half of all new credit created globally since 2005. The country’s share of total global credit is nearly 25 percent, up from 5 percent ten years ago. By some measures (as documented below), China’s credit boom has reached the point where countries typically encounter financial stress, which could spill over to international markets given the size of the Chinese economy. To better understand the associated risks, it is important to examine the drivers of China’s expansion in credit, the increasing complexity of its financial system, and evidence that its supply of credit may be growing more rapidly than reported. Note, however, that there are several features of China’s financial system that reduce the threat of a financial disruption.
Every quarter, senior loan officers at selected large banks around the United States are asked by Fed economists how their standards for approving business loans changed compared with the quarter before. Of all the questions in the Senior Loan Officer Opinion Survey (SLOOS), responses to that question about standards usually attract the most attention from the financial press and researchers. Relatively ignored by comparison are loan officers’ reports on how they changed interest spreads, collateral requirements, and other terms on loans they are willing to approve. Lenders can clearly expand or contract credit by altering those terms even without changing their standards for approving loans, so we investigate whether the reports on loan terms collected in the SLOOS are also informative.
Andreas Fuster, Eilidh Geddes, Benedict Guttman-Kenney, and Andrew Haughwout
Housing is by far the most important asset for most households, and, not coincidentally, housing debt dwarfs other household liabilities. The relationship between housing debt and housing values figures significantly in financial and macroeconomic stability, as events during the housing bust of 2006-12 clearly demonstrated. This week, Liberty Street Economics presents five posts touching on various aspects of housing, from the changing relationship between mortgage debt and housing equity to the future of homeownership. In today’s post, we provide estimates of housing equity and explore how vulnerable households are to declines in house prices, using methods introduced in our paper “Tracking and Stress Testing U.S. Household Leverage.”
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