Tuesday, September 02, 2014

What to do with failed banks?

Governments in the US and Europe have set their faces against bailouts of failed banks following the crisis of 2007- the Dodd FranK Act in the US prohibits such bailouts hereafter. Yet, as an article in the FT asks: what alternatives do we have?

A time tested-alternative, the author points out, was to merge a failed bank with a strong bank. Banks are now finding out that this can be costly for one reason or another. The huge fine that BofA has had to cough up has to do with the problems at Merrill Lynch and Country which it acquired in 2008 and these problems happened before the merger. This is going to deter future acquisitions and mergers because the amount of due diligence will take too long and will be too costly.

The other alternative, getting banks to prepare living wills  that will document an orderly winding up of a bank when it fails, is proving unworkable so far- in the US, the regulators have rejected living wills prepared by US and European banks. It's no use asking for banks to have contingent capital- this will be very costly and it may not suffice.

So, governments will have no recourse against bank failure other than bailouts. The only answer, which I have urged repeatedly, is to ensure that the problem is manageable when it happens and that is to limit bank size as a proportion of GDP. No policy maker or regulator is willing to touch this political hot potato.

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