Thursday, January 22, 2009

To nationalise or not?

Governments in the US and Europe have lent support to banks but (in most cases) stopped short of nationalising them. The reasons are partly ideological (government ownership is evil) and partly fiscal (it brings a huge amount of liabilities onto the government's balance sheet).

The problem with muddling along without nationalising is that private banks simply won't lend in the present conditions- risk aversion holds them back. Willem Buiter weighs the pros and cons of nationalisation in his blog:

There are two ways of resolving this problem and of incentivising the capital-deficient banks to lend again. The first is to make the capital cheap (gratis, in the limit) and to minimize the onerousness of the rest of the conditionality. This is the road taken in the US. The US Treasury injected capital into Goldman Sachs at less than half the cost to Goldman Sachs of a capital injection by Warren Buffett a few days earlier. AIG got a tough deal from the Fed and the US Treasury at first, but obtained much sweeter terms less than a month later. The latest capital injection into Citi by the US Treasury (preferred stock with a dividend yield of eight percent) is very cheap.

By throwing cheap money with little conditionality at the banks, the Fed and the US Treasury may get bank lending going again. By subsidizing new capital injections, they reward bad porfolio choices by the existing shareholders. By letting the executive leadership and the board stay on, they further increase moral hazard, by rewarding failed managers and boards that have failed in their fiduciary duties. All this strengthens the incentives for future excessive risk taking.

There is a better alternative. The alternative is to inject additional capital into the banks by taking all the banks into full public ownership. With the state as sole owner, the existing top executives and the existing board members can be fired without any golden handshakes. That takes care of one important form of moral hazard. Although publicly owned, the banks would be mandated to operate on ordinary commercial principles. Managers could be incentivised by linking remuneration to multi-year profitability. The incentives for excessive liquidity accumulation and for excessively cautious lending policies that exist for partially nationalised banks and for banks fearing nationalisation would, however, be eliminated.

In addition, full public ownership of the banks would greatly facilitate the creation of a ‘bad bank’ that would hold on its balance sheet all the toxic assets (illiquid assets of highly uncertain value) currently held by the high street banks. The key problem with any bad bank proposal is the price it pays for the toxic assets it acquires from the banks. If all the banks, and the bad bank, are publicly owned, this problem goes away. The toxic assets are simply moved to the balance sheet of the bad bank. They could be valued at anything from zero to their notional value or historic cost (or even higher). It would be a redistribution of wealth from one state-owned entity to another state-owned entity.


Anonymous said...; You saved my day again.

Anonymous said...

Web design
very handy, thanx a lot for this raticle ..... Thisis what I was looikng for.