The Productivity Conundrum

Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s Chief Economist, explores possible reasons for why productivity growth has consistently been underperforming in relation to expectations – the so-called ‘productivity puzzle’. He suggests that there should be more focus on the “long tail” of less efficient and productive firms, and that cross pollination with more innovative firms may assist.  “There is unlikely to be any single measure which puts productivity growth back on track. But measures which support the long tail of companies, currently operating at low levels of productivity, have the potential to do considerable good”. Harnessing digital platforms in this context may be important.

He says the slowdown of productivity growth has clearly been a global phenomenon, not a UK-specific one. From 1950 to 1970, median global productivity growth averaged 1.9% per year. Since 1980, it has averaged 0.3% per year. Whatever is driving the productivity puzzle, it has global rather than local roots. It seems to have started in the 1970’s and it impacts both advanced and emerging markets.

Productivity growth has consistently underperformed relative to expectations, since at least the global financial crisis. This tale of productivity disappointment, in forecasting and in performance, has been extensively debated and analysed over recent years. Some have called it the “productivity puzzle”.

With each year that passes, and as each new turning point in productivity has failed to materialise, this mystery has deepened. This has led some to conjecture that the world may have entered a new epoch of sub-par productivity growth, an era of secular stagnation. The secular stagnation hypothesis is striking in its gloomy implications for future growth in living standards.

It contrasts with a second topical hypothesis. This posits that we may be on the cusp of a Second Machine Age or Fourth Industrial Revolution, an era of secular innovation.4 This might arise from the rise of the robots, artificial intelligence, Big Data, the Internet of Things and the like. Because of its impact on future living standards, the winner of this secular struggle – stagnation versus innovation – carries enormous societal implications.

A second issue, every bit as topical and important, concerns the distribution of gains in living standards. Specifically, there has been mounting concern over a number of years about rising levels of within-country inequality across a number of countries.

What are the causes of this trend? Is it mere mismeasurement? A fall-out from the financial crisis? The result of monetary policy? Slowing Innovation? Or slowing diffusion rates of innovation?

Sectoral shifts in the economy could plausibly account for some of the fall in productivity growth. There has been a secular shift over time away from manufacturing and towards services, with the employment share in manufacturing having fallen from 17% to 7% since 1990. Because productivity growth in manufacturing is higher than in services, this shift could plausibly account for some of the fall in aggregate productivity growth. Even if we correct for this compositional effect, however, the slowdown in UK productivity growth remains.

Tackling the Productivity Puzzle

There has been no shortage of public policy ideas over recent years for boosting productivity growth. Reports by the IMF and OECD have suggested measures ranging from increased infrastructure spending to improved education and training programmes.58 Earlier this year, the UK Government issued a Green Paper setting out various pillars to support productivity.

In generic terms, these policy measures fall into three categories. First, there are measures which support all companies, irrespective of sector, region or characteristic.

Second, there are measures which support technological innovation – the creation and growth of frontier firms.

A third category of policy measure focusses on the fortunes, not of innovative frontier companies, but the long tail of low-productivity non-frontier firms. These companies have tended to be focussed on somewhat less historically. Indeed, their large numbers and disparate characteristics may be one reason why this is the case. Yet given their scale, the returns to modest improvements in these firms could be dramatic.

As a thought experiment, imagine productivity growth in the second, third and fourth quartiles of the distribution of UK firms’ productivity could be boosted to match the productivity of the quartile above. That sounds ambitious but achievable. Arithmetically, that would deliver a boost to aggregate UK productivity of around 13%, taking the UK to within 90-95% of German and French levels of productivity respectively.

One practical way of doing so is by pairing up companies, frontier and non-frontier, to enable the sharing of best practices. This is effectively a mentoring scheme for firms, the like of which is already common among individuals. What would be in it for frontier companies? A more productive supply chain is clearly in their interests. The public sector could also play a useful nudging role in its procurement practices.

A more ambitious idea still, which I have been considering with Philip Bond, is to develop a virtual environment which would enable companies to simulate changes to their business processes and practices. These platforms are already used by many frontier firms to assess the impact of new technologies and processes on their business. These tools can be created, and tailored to companies’ circumstances, at relatively low cost. This makes them a potentially cost-effective way of facilitating diffusion to the long tail.

 

 

 

Bank of England FinTech Accelerator latest proofs of concept

As announced in the Governor’s June Mansion House speech the Bank of England has set up a FinTech Accelerator, working in partnership with new technology firms to help harness FinTech innovations for central banking.

In return, it offers firms the chance to demonstrate their solutions for real issues facing us as policymakers, together with the valuable ‘first client’ reference that comes with it.

The Accelerator is building a network of firms working in this space.

Firms we are currently working with:

  • MindBridge AI: MindBridge’s AI Auditor detects anomalies in financial transactions and reports using data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies. Using a small set of anonymised regulatory data the Bank is using MindBridge’s AI Auditor to explore the benefit of machine learning technology in analysing the quality of regulatory data input.
  • Ripple: Ripple’s solution is built around the open and neutral Interledger Protocol and serves to power interoperable payments across different ledgers and networks. We are conducting a PoC with Ripple to demonstrate the synchronised movement of two different currencies across two different RTGS systems in particular to show how this kind of synchronisation might lower settlement risk and improve the speed and efficiency of cross-border payments.
  • Enforcd: In this proof of concept, we are using an analytic platform designed specifically to assess and draw out trends on regulatory enforcement action using publicly available information.

Firms we have worked with in the past:

  • BMLL:  This machine learning platform provides access to historic full depth limit order book data. The BMLL platform aims to facilitate analysis and anomaly detection. We have agreed to test their alpha version for this Proof of Concept.
  • Threat intelligence: As part of the Bank’s wider information security and threat intelligence work we partnered with two firms – Anomali and ThreatConnect – that provide innovative technologies to collect, correlate, categorise and integrate security threat data. For these projects, we asked them to offer a solution to consolidate threat intelligence into a searchable repository that can optimise information collation, enrichment and sharing in support of a proactive intelligence-led defence strategy.
  • BitSight: In this PoC we used a tool that assesses a firm’s cyber resilience based on publicly available bulk data to assess firms’ cyber resilience. As part of the PoC, we asked BitSight to evaluate the Bank’s own resilience and to assess the benefit of this service as one of the range of information security tools that we use. More detail on this work is provided in the BitSight publication, published 9 November 2016.
  • Privitar: As part of our Proof of Concept, we tested the software on a manufactured dataset to examine the analytical value of the desensitised data to establish if this could allow us to provide wider access to data for researchers within the Bank.
  • PwC: We invested in understanding the technology of Blockchain and distributed ledger, working with PWC. The team built a multi-node scalable distributed ledger environment, which contained several smart contracts to illustrate the applications of the technology. This has enabled us to better comprehend the resiliency benefits and practical limitations of the technology. These are detailed further in the PwC publication, published 17 June 2016.

Areas of Interest

Examples of priority areas for the next cohort are listed below, but we also welcome expressions of interest from firms working in other areas of FinTech.

We are interested in Metadata management tools; and new tools to manage and harvest business rules (including rule languages) that are embedded in systems and data collections. We also have an interest in security tools that protect data at rest and in transit. Further, we are looking for innovative tools for data cleansing, for example for text strings, and anomaly, trend or changing behaviour detection, particularly in transaction reporting data sets.

Our Fintech Accelerator has launched a new community which brings together fintech-related organisations.

The community has three aims:

1. To share developments, trends and insights.
2. To make sure the Bank is engaging with different fintech firms from across the sector.
3. To enable firms with an interest in fintech to network, supporting the development of the sector.

Community members will be invited to meet us two to four times a year to share updates on trends and developments in the sector. We will also hold quarterly networking and knowledge-sharing events, and publish summaries of the topics discussed.

 

Why Trusting Experts Is Dissipating

In her final speech as Deputy Governor for Markets and Banking, before becoming Director of the London School of Economics, Minouche Shafik sets out an agenda for rebuilding the trustworthiness of experts. She says, “getting this right is vital for determining whether our futures are shaped by ignorance and narrow-mindedness, or by knowledge and informed debate”.

Addressing the Oxford Union, Minouche explores the backlash against experts after the financial crisis, Eurozone crisis, Brexit, and election surprises. As well as being seen to have “got it wrong”, the growing influence of social media and online news has made experts just one of many voices in a cacophony. “A person like yourself” is now seen as credible as an academic or technical expert, and far more credible than a CEO or politician.

However, the application of expert knowledge has improved life expectancy, tackled diseases, and reduced poverty. These achievements have led to many decisions being delegated to experts deliberately insulated from the political process, including the creation of independent central banks as a means to maintain low and stable inflation. Minouche stresses, however, the importance of experts being subject to challenge and rigorous processes to differentiate quality and reduce the risk of getting it wrong.

The changing landscape of information, opinion and trust

The digitization of freely available knowledge has been hugely democratizing and empowering. Young people are particularly reliant on social media, with 28% of 18-24 year olds saying it is their main source of news, putting it ahead of television.

But there has been a downside – “people can be overwhelmed with information that is difficult to verify, algorithms create echo chambers of the like-minded who are never challenged; fake news distorts reality; “post-truth” fosters cynicism; anonymity bestows irresponsible power onto individuals who can abuse it; a world in which more clicks means more revenue rewards the most shrill voices and promotes extreme views,” Minouche argues.

All releases are available online at www.bankofengland.co.uk/news 2
We need expertise more than ever. But confidence in experts is at an all-time low. Transparency is not good enough if information is inaccessible and “unassessible”. Instead, we should focus more on increasing trustworthiness.

An agenda for rebuilding trustworthiness

Societies can set standards and empower individuals to assess trustworthiness for themselves. There are many elements to such an agenda:

  • Experts should embrace uncertainty – Minouche argues that “rather than pretending to be certain and risk frequently getting it wrong, being candid about uncertainty will over the long term build the credibility of experts.” Coupled with the need to get their often complex messages across in today’s shortform world, this means “the modern challenge for experts is how to communicate with brevity, but without bravado.”
  • Good practices often found in academia (like declaring conflicts of interest, peer review, and publishing underlying data and funding sources) need to become more widespread to the world of think tanks, websites and the media.
  • Consumers of expertise need better tools to assess quality – Minouche highlights the importance of people being given the tools to “differentiate facts from falsehood”. The e-commerce world has developed an array of tools to help consumers determine quality. We need something similar for the world of ideas. Good examples are the growth of fact-checking, authoritative websites and the FICC Markets Standards Board, which are designed to enhance trustworthiness in areas where trust has been eroded.
  • Listen to the other side – Minouche states that “we can all make an effort to engage with views that are different from our own and resist algorithmic channeling into an echo chamber.”
  • Manage the boundary between technocracy and democracy carefully – Minouche stresses that “technocracy can only ever derive its authority from democracy.” And for that reason there must always be clarity about the boundaries and accountabilities between experts and politicians.
    Minouche concludes, “so what have the experts ever done for us? The application of knowledge and the cumulation of that through education and dissemination through various media and institutions are integral to human progress. So the challenge is not how to manage without experts, but how to ensure that there are mechanisms in place to ensure they are trustworthy.”

Macroprudential – How To Do It Right

Brilliant speech from Alex Brazier UK MPC member on macroprudential “How to: MACROPRU. 5 principles for macroprudential policy“.

He argues that whilst macroprudential policy regimes are the child of the financial crisis and is now part of the framework of economic policy in the UK, if you ask ten economists what precisely macroprudential policy is, you’re likely to get ten different answers. He presents five guiding principles.

There are some highly relevant points here, which I believe the RBA and APRA must take on board. I summarise the main points in his speech, but I recommend reading the whole thing: This is genuinely important! In particular, note the limitation on relying on lifting bank capital alone.

First, macroprudential policy may seem to be about regulating finance and the financial system but its ultimate objective the real economy. In a crisis, the financial system may be impacted by events in the economy – for example credit dries up, lenders are not matched with borrowers. Risks can no longer be shared. Companies and households must protect themselves. And in the limit, payments and transactions can’t take place. Economic activity grinds to a halt. These are the amplifiers that turn downturns into disasters; disasters that in the past have cost around 75% of GDP: £21,000 for every person in this country. So the job of macroprudential policy is to protect the real economy from the financial system, by protecting the financial system from the real economy. It is to ensure the system has the capacity to absorb bad economic news, so it doesn’t unduly amplify it.

Second, the calibration of macroprudential should address scenarios, not try to predict the future but look at “well, what if they do; how bad could it be?” In 2007, he says it was a failure to apply economics to the right question. There was too much reliance on recent historical precedent; on this time being different. And, even more dangerously, they relied on market measures of risk; indicators that often point to risks being at their lowest when risks are actually at their highest.

The re-focussing of economic research since the crisis has supported us in that. It has established, for example, how far: Recessions that follow credit booms are typically deeper and longer-lasting than others; Over-indebted borrowers contract aggregate demand as they deleverage; While they have high levels of debt, households are vulnerable to the unexpected. They cut back spending more sharply as incomes and house prices fall, amplifying any downturn; Distressed sales of homes drive house prices down; Reliance on foreign capital inflows can expose the economy to global risks; And credit booms overseas can translate to crises at home.

When all appears bright – as real estate prices rise, credit flows, foreign capital inflows increase, and the last thing on people’s minds is a downturn – our stress scenarios get tougher.

Third, feedback loops within the system mean that the entities in the system can be individually resilient, but still collectively overwhelmed by the stress scenario.

These are the feedback loops that helped to turn around $300 bn of subprime mortgage-related losses into well over $2.5 trillion of potential write-downs in the global banking sector within a year. Loops created by firesales of assets into illiquid markets, driving down market prices, forcing others to mark down the value of their holdings. This type of loop will be most aggressive when the fire-seller is funded through short-term debt. As asset prices fall, there is the threat of needing to repay that debt. But even financial companies that are completely safe in their own right, with little leverage, and making no promise that investors will get their money back, can contribute to these loops.

The rapid growth of open-ended investment funds, offering the opportunity to invest in less liquid securities but still to redeem the investment at short notice, has been a sea change in the financial system since the crisis. Assets under management in these funds now account for about 13% of global financial assets. It raises a question about whether end investors, under an ‘illusion of liquidity’ created by the offer of short-notice redemption, are holding more relatively illiquid assets. That matters. This investor behaviour en masse has the potential to create a feedback loop, with falling prices prompting redemptions, driving asset sales and further falls in prices.

And in a few cases, that loop can be reinforced by advantages to redeeming your investment first. Macroprudential policy must move – and is moving – beyond the core banking system.

Fourth, prevention is better than cure.

Having calibrated the economic stress and applied it to the system, it’s a question of building the necessary resilience into it. The results have been transformative. A system that could absorb losses of only 4% of (risk weighted) assets before the crisis now has equity of 13.5% and is on track to have overall loss absorbing capacity of around 28%. Our stress tests show that it could absorb a synchronised recession as deep as the financial crisis.

And if signals emerge that what could happen to the economy is getting worse, or the feedback loops in the system that would be set in motion are strengthening, we will go further.

But bank capital is not always the best tool to use to strengthen the system and is almost certainly not best used in isolation.

We have applied that principle in the mortgage market. Alongside capitalising banks to withstand a deep downturn in the housing market, we have put guards in place against looser lending standards: A limit on mortgage lending at high loan-to-income ratios; And a requirement to test that borrowers can still afford their loan repayments if interest rates rise.

These measures guard against lending standards that make the economy more risky; that make what could happen even worse. Debt overhangs – induced by looser lending standards – drag the economy down when corrected. And before they are, high levels of debt make consumer spending more susceptible to the unexpected. So they guard against lenders being exposed to both the direct risk of riskier individual loans, and the indirect risk of a more fragile economy. This multiplicity of effects means there is uncertainty about precisely how much bank capital would be needed to truly ensure bank resilience as underwriting standards loosen.

A diversified policy is also more comprehensive. It guards against regulatory arbitrage; of lending moving to foreign banks or non-bank parts of the financial system. And by reducing the risk of debt overhangs and high levels of debt, it makes the economy more stable too.

Fifth, It is that fortune favours the bold.

The Financial Policy Committee needs to match its judgements that what could happen has got worse with action to make the system more resilient. Why will that take boldness? Our actions will stop the financial system doing something it might otherwise have chosen to do in its own private interest – there will be opposition. The need to build resilience will often arise when private agents believe the risks are at their lowest. And if we are successful in ensuring the system is resilient, there will be no way of showing the benefits of our actions. We will appear to have been tilting at windmills.

As the memory of the financial crisis fades in the public conscience, making the case for our actions will get harder. Fortunately, we are bolstered by a statutory duty to act and powers to act with. And whether on building bank capital or establishing guards against looser lending standards, we have been willing to act. Just as building resilience takes guts, so too does allowing the strength we’ve put into the system to be drawn on when ‘what could happen’ threatens to become reality. Macroprudential policy must be fully countercyclical; not only tightening as risks build, but also loosening as downturn threatens. Without the confidence that we will do that, expectations of economic downturn will prompt the financial system to become risk averse; to hoard capital; to de-risk; to rein in. To create the very amplifying effects on the real economy we are trying to avoid.

A truly countercyclical approach means banks, for example, know their capital buffers can be depleted as they take impairments; Households can be confident that our rules won’t choke off the refinancing of their mortgage. And insurance companies know their solvency won’t be judged at prices in highly illiquid markets. We must be just as bold in loosening requirements when the economy turns down as we are in tightening them in the upswings. Boldness in the upswing to strengthen the system creates the space to be bold in the downturn and allow that strength to be tested and drawn on. Macroprudential fortune favours the bold.

 

Latest UK Inflation Expectations Stronger

The Bank of England released their latest economic and inflation update. They are now expecting a stronger inflation rate in the short term, higher than their immediate post-Brexit-vote projections.  GDP looks pretty good too.

UK economic activity remained resilient in the second half of 2016. Growth is likely to slow over 2017 as households adjust their spending to lower real income growth resulting in large part from the 18% fall in sterling since late 2015. That fall in sterling will raise CPI inflation, which is likely to return to around the 2% target by February and then rise above it over the following months.

Conditioned on a market path for Bank Rate that rises to just under 0.75% by early 2020, the MPC projects CPI inflation to fall back gradually from the middle of 2018. Continued pass-through of higher import prices means, however, that inflation is projected to remain somewhat above the 2% target at the end of the Committee’s three-year forecast period.

The UK economy has remained resilient, with activity growing at close to its past average rate in 2016. Growth has been stronger than envisaged in the immediate aftermath of the vote to leave the European Union when survey evidence pointed to a sharp slowdown in activity. That partly reflects robust growth in consumer spending, with few signs that households are cutting back expenditure ahead of a squeeze in their real incomes. Official data for investment have been considerably weaker, although above recent expectations. Reinforcing the domestic news, there are signs of increasing momentum in the global economy with a stronger medium‑term outlook in several economies, supported by fiscal policy (Key Judgement 1). That has been reflected in global asset prices, with longer‑term interest rates and equity prices rising.

Domestic demand growth is still expected to slow over the course of this year as higher prices for imported goods and services begin to weigh on households’ spending power (Key Judgement 2). That pulls down four-quarter GDP growth, which settles at around 1¾% from the end of 2017 (Chart 5.1). That slowdown comes a little later than previously assumed. Moreover, the Government’s Autumn Statement represented a fiscal stimulus, relative to previously announced plans, the outlook for global growth is stronger, and credit conditions and equity prices are more supportive. Taking all the news together, the MPC now judges that the growth outlook is stronger than thought in November. Overall, in the central projection that leaves the level of GDP around 1% higher in three years’ time than projected in November. Relative to expectations in the May 2016 Report, just before the EU referendum, however, the level of GDP is still around 1½ lower in the medium term despite the significant monetary, macroprudential and fiscal support since then.

The Bank of England On Fintech

Mark Carney,  Governor of the Bank of England, spoke on ‘The Promise of Fintech.” Specifically, he looked across the banking value chain, and highlighted how digital transformation may be applied across it, as well as the risks which may emerge is so doing and how regulators need to respond.

To its advocates, this wave of innovation promises a FinTech revolution that will democratise financial services.

  • Consumers will get more choice, better-targeted services and keener pricing.
  • Small and medium sized businesses will get access to new credit.
  • Banks will become more productive, with lower transaction costs, greater capital efficiency and stronger operational resilience.
  • The financial system itself will become more resilient with greater diversity, redundancy and depth.
  • And most fundamentally, financial services will be more inclusive; with people better connected, more informed and increasingly empowered.

With hundreds of millions now entering the digital financial system every year, could higher economic growth and a quantum leap in social equity be on the horizon? Or will the range of new financial technologies primarily make existing institutions and markets more efficient and effective? No small prize but hardly a transformation.

FinTech’s true promise springs from its potential to unbundle banking into its core functions of: settling payments, performing maturity transformation, sharing risk and allocating capital. This possibility is being driven by new entrants – payment service providers, aggregators and robo advisors, peer-to-peer lenders, and innovative trading platforms. And it is being influenced by incumbents who are adopting new technologies in an effort to reinforce the economies of scale and scope of their business models.

In this process, systemic risks will evolve. Changes to customer loyalties could influence the stability of bank funding. New underwriting models could impact credit quality and even macroeconomic dynamics. New investing and risk management paradigms could affect market functioning. A host of applications and new infrastructure could reduce costs, probably improve capital efficiency and possibly create new critical economic functions.

The challenge for policymakers is to ensure that FinTech develops in a way that maximises the opportunities and minimises the risks for society. After all, the history of financial innovation is littered with examples that led to early booms, growing unintended consequences, and eventual busts.

Conduct regulators are in the lead in addressing regulatory issues posed by payment services innovations. This is both because, at least in advanced economies, FinTech payment service providers have not chosen to undertake banking activities and individual providers have not yet reached the scale that might be considered systemic.

Looking ahead, it is possible that virtual currencies and FinTech-based providers, particularly where they gain direct membership to central bank payment systems, could begin to displace traditional bank-based payment services and systems. Such diversification could be positive for stability; after all the existing tiered and highly concentrated system has created single point of failure risks. At the same time, regulators would need to monitor such changes for any new concentrations.

In this regard, with a view to such future proofing, the Digital Economy Bill in the UK proposes to extend the definition of a payment system beyond those that are inter-bank, to include any that become systemically important. If these are so designated by HMT, they would be supervised by the Bank. This would be akin to the recent recognition by HMT of Visa Europe and Link.

Changes to payments and customer relationships may have more fundamental implications for financial stability.

Specifically, while FinTech may make conventional banking more contestable, improving efficiency and customer choice, the opening up of the customer interface and payment services business, could, in time, signal the end of universal banking as we know it. If today’s universal banks lose the loyalty I saw on the Canadian prairie and instead have less stable funding and weaker, more arms-length client relationships, the volatility of their deposits and liquidity risk could increase. In addition, with weaker customer ties, cross-selling (my old preserve as a teller) could be less prevalent, hitting profitability. The system as a whole wouldn’t necessarily be riskier, but prudential standards and resolution regimes for banks may need to be adjusted.

The diversity in funding brought by market-based finance, as an alternative to retail banking, means that peer-to-peer lending has potential to provide some consumers and small businesses with affordable credit, when retail banks cannot. At the same time, this implies that borrowers in some segments may be placing increased reliance on this source of funding. How stable this funding will prove through-the-cycle is not yet clear, as the sector’s underwriting standards, and lenders’ tolerance to losses, have not been tested by a downturn.

Due to its small scale and business models, the P2P lending sector does not, for now, appear to pose material systemic risks. That said, as a general rule, it always pays to monitor closely fast-growing sources of credit for slippages in underwriting standards and the promotion of excessive borrowing. Moreover, it is not clear the extent to which P2P lending can grow without business models evolving in ways that introduce conventional risks, including maturity transformation, leverage and liquidity mismatch, or through the use of originate and distribute models such as those seen in securitisation in the 2000s. Were these changes to occur, regulators would be expected to address such emerging vulnerabilities.

In wholesale banking and markets, robo-advice and risk management algorithms may lead to excess volatility or increase pro-cyclicality as a result of herding, particularly if the underlying algorithms are overly sensitive to price movements or highly correlated. Similarly, although algorithmic traders have become a more important source of market liquidity in many important financial markets, they tend to be more active during periods of low volatility giving an illusion of plentiful liquidity that may subsequently be withdrawn during periods of market disruption when it is needed most.

FinTech innovations, such as distributed ledgers, are being trialled for use within, or as a substitute to, existing wholesale payment, clearing and settlement infrastructure, will need to meet the highest standards of resilience, reliability, privacy and scalability.

For all financial firms, the advent of FinTech materially changes operational and cyber risks. Regulators need to be alert to new single point of failure risks such as if banks come to rely on common hosts of online banking or providers of cloud computing services.

In recent years, the cyber threat to the system has grown as financial institutions have become more reliant on interconnected IT systems. As the FinTech future envisages the sharing of data across a wider set of parties, coupled with greater speed and automaticity in executing transactions, the challenges around protecting data and the integrity of the system are likely to increase. One sign of this is a growing preoccupation in the insurance industry with how best to underwrite such risks.

Recognising the vital importance of learning from international experience, in late 2016 the G20 called upon the FSB to stock-take existing cyber security regulation, as a basis for developing best practices in the medium-term.

While only private sector ingenuity will make these gains possible, authorities have essential, supporting roles in reinforcing them and managing the associated risks to financial stability. To help realise FinTech’s promise, we should refresh our supervisory approaches in a few ways.

First, regulatory sandboxes can allow businesses to test innovative products, services, business models and delivery mechanisms in a live environment and with proportionate regulatory requirements. This supports innovation and learning by developers and regulators. The FCA was an early mover launching Project Innovate in 2014.21 The G20 might consider the extent to which such approaches should be adopted more widely.

Second, existing authorisation processes can also be adapted to ensure they do not unnecessarily block new business models and approaches. This is why in the UK, the PRA and FCA now work closely with all firms seeking new authorisation as banks.

Third, the Bank of England is expanding access to central bank money to non-bank payments service providers (“PSPs”). Allowing access to the Bank’s Real Time Gross Settlement System allows PSPs to compete directly with banks, and so supports innovation, competition and financial stability.

Fourth, a number of authorities, including the Bank of England with its FinTech accelerator, are developing Proofs of Concepts with new enabling technologies from machine learning to distributed ledgers. And, to explore what could be genuinely new under the sun, we are researching the policy and technical issues posed by Central Bank Digital Currencies. On some levels this is appealing; people would have direct access to the ultimate risk-free asset. In the extreme, however, it could fundamentally reshape banking including by sharply increasing liquidity risk for traditional banks

This last point underscores that, in order for FinTech’s potential to be realised, authorities must manage its impact on financial stability. On the positive side, FinTech could reduce systemic risks by delivering a more diverse and resilient system where incumbents and new entrants compete along the value chain. At the same time, some innovations could generate systemic risks through increased interconnectedness and complexity, greater herding and liquidity risks, more intense operational risk and opportunities for regulatory arbitrage.

As those risks emerge, authorities can be expected to pursue a more intense focus on the regulatory perimeter, more dynamic settings of prudential requirements, a broader commitment to resolution regimes, and a more disciplined management of operational and cyber risks. And we will be alert to potential impacts on the existing core of the system, including through business model analysis and market impact assessments.
By enabling technologies and managing risks, we can help create a new financial system for a new age… under the same sun.

 

 

Analysis of Mortgage Risk Under Basel

The Bank of England just published a staff working paper “Specialisation in mortgage risk under Basel II“.  Lenders using the less sophisticated risk models (generally smaller banks) are found to have a higher concentration of higher-risk mortgages than those using the advanced models.

They looked at the two models which were introduced under Basel II, lenders’ internal models (IRB) and the less risk-sensitive standardised approach (SA) by using a dataset covering 7 million UK mortgages from 2005-15. The switch to Basel II gave lenders using IRB models a comparative advantage in capital requirements (compared to lenders using the SA approach), particularly at low loan-to-value (LTV) ratios, and this was reflected in prices and quantities. They concluded:

First, mortgage risk is concentrated in lenders using the SA approach, which is typically used by smaller lenders, suggesting a potential higher failure rate than among IRB banks.

Second, macroprudential tools may affect the strength of the specialisation mechanism. This should be accounted for in calibrating such tools.

Third, they validate the view from competition authorities who have identified the cost of adopting IRB as a potential barrier to entry and expansion. IRB provides a competitive advantage in low LTV ratio mortgages.

Finally, the effect, is not specific to the mortgage market and this needs  further research.

IRB risk weights increase with the LTV ratio, the main indicator for credit risk used by UK mortgage lenders. In contrast, SA risk weights are fixed at 35% for LTV ratios up to 80%, and are then 75% on incremental balances above the 80%

LTV threshold. IRB risk weights tend to be lower than SA risk weights across most LTV ratios, but the gap is larger for lower LTV ratios. In 2015, the gap between the average IRB risk weight and the SA risk weight was about 30 percentage points for LTV ratios below 50%, compared to less than 15 percentage points for LTV ratios above 80%. The scale of variation in risk weights between IRB lenders is smaller than the gap between the IRB average and SA risk weights, at least at lower LTV ratios.

IRB lenders gain a comparative advantage in capital requirements compared to SA lenders, particularly at low loan-to-value (LTV) ratios. This comparative advantage is reflected in prices and quantities.

We expect all lenders to price lower for lower LTV mortgages. But under Basel II versus I, IRB lenders did so by 31 basis points (bp) more, and increased the relative share of low-LTV lending in their portfolios by 11 percentage points (pp) more, than SA lenders. Such specialisation leads to systemic concentration of high risk (high LTV) mortgages in lenders who tend to have less sophisticated risk management.

With an average 30 percentage point gap between IRB and SA risk weights for LTV ratios below 50%, this corresponds to an economically significant price advantage of 30bp. From the perspective of a typical borrower at this LTV level, with a 50% LTV mortgage against a $200,000 property, repayable over a remaining 15 year term, 30bp translates to around $170 per year or 0.7% of median household disposable income. From the lender’s perspective, a 30bp disadvantage translates to several places in `best buy’ tables, and thus likely material loss of market share.

If instead of risk weights we consider directly the variation in capital requirements, which is driven by both risk weights and lender-specific capital ratio requirements, a 1pp reduction in capital requirements causes a 6bp decrease in interest rates. These latter results can also be interpreted as `pass-through’ rates from lender-specific changes in risk weights or capital requirements to prices, subject to limits on external validity due to the Lucas critique.

Finally, we find that the pass-through from capital requirements to prices is significant only when lenders have low capital buffers (the surplus of capital resources over all regulatory requirements). Lenders with a buffer below 6pp of risk-weighted assets increase prices by 1.7bp basis point for a 1pp increase in risk weights.

Note: Staff Working Papers describe research in progress by the author(s) and are published to elicit comments and to further debate. Any views expressed are solely those of the author(s) and so cannot be taken to represent those of the Bank of England or to state Bank of England policy. This paper should therefore not be reported as representing the views of the Bank of England or members of the Monetary Policy Committee, Financial Policy Committee or Prudential Regulation Authority Board.

Bank of England Admits Economic Forecasting Errors

From TheDailyBell.

Chief economist of Bank of England admits errors in Brexit forecasting … Andrew Haldane says his profession must adapt to regain the trust of the public, claiming narrow models ignored ‘irrational behaviour.’  The Bank of England’s chief economist has admitted his profession is in crisis having failed to foresee the 2008 financial crash and having misjudged the impact of the Brexit vote. -Guardian

The top economist at England’s chief central bank has said economists are often wrong. He called critisisms about lack of accuracy in forecasting a “fair cop” and said the industry would have to do a better job.

Andrew Haldane, said it was “a fair cop” referring to a series of forecasting errors before and after the financial crash which had brought the profession’s reputation into question.

Blaming the failure of economic models to cope with “irrational behaviour” in the modern era, the economist said the profession needed to adapt to regain the trust of the public and politicians.

Before Brexit, the actual head of the English central bank, Mark Carney, said that agreeing to Brexit would cause grave economic problems, So far that hasn’t happened yet. Then there was Lehman Brothers, which was supposed to have little impact on England. Instead it had a lot.

Haldane was speaking at the Institute for Government in central London. Despite his negative message, he was upbeat. He believed that economic forecasting  could improve a good deal.

Nonetheless, Haldane is bothered by criticisms and is worried forecasts will not be taken seriously if they continus to be wrong,

Former Tory ministers, including the former foreign secretary William Hague and the justice secretary Michael Gove, last year attacked the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, for predicting a dramatic slowdown in growth if the country voted to leave the EU.

The statement regarding Brexit’s bad effects was even taken as hoax by such individuals as Treasury’s Boris Johnson. Boris was pro Brexit. He said the chief central banker was criticizing Brexit just to make it sound bad.

Prime Minister Theresa May, criticised the bank as well. The bank should not have cut rates and boosted stimulus after the vote. It later turned out the economy was OK without the stimulus.

Haldane admitted the bank did not project such economic strength. But he also believed the timing was off, not the underlying forecast.

“I think, near-term, the data, the evidence we’ve been accumulating since the referendum, has surprised to the upside. [There’s been] greater resilience, in particular among consumers and among the housing market, than we had expected. Has that led us to fundamentally change our view on the fortunes of the economy looking forward over the next several years? Not really.”

And he is said to have added: “This is more a question, I think, of timing than of a fundamental reassessment of the fortunes of the economy. So back in November we published a forecast for inflation which was the highest we’ve ever published. And the forecast for growth in the UK economy, that was the lowest we have ever published.  We are still expecting this rather difficult balancing act for monetary policy with a slowing, not a huge slowing, but nonetheless a material slowing, during the course of next year as the effects of higher prices in the shops begin to chew away a little at the spending power of consumers and cause them to rein back a little in their spending.”

He even blamed British citizens for a lack of numeracy. So we can see that Haldane may want to cast the net of blame a good deal wider than just central bank affililiated economists.

In truth when it comes to economics, especially as it pertains to central banks, Haldane is mostly if not entirely wrong. The Bank of England is basically a government monopoly. Economists affiliated with it will certainly take positions agreeing with it.

The Bank of England was pro EU and thus apt to foresee some sort of calamitous event if Brexit passed. You won’t get a full range of predictions until the bank ceases to be a monopoly and economists don’t feel the need to answer in a certain way.

Conclusion: Until then, Haldane can say whatever he wants but important economists will continue to make forcasts that favor the English central bank for the sake of their jobs and promotions. As central bank outlooks continue to worsen, forecasts among many senior economists will grow even more inaccurate as a result.

UK Holds Bank Rate At 0.25%

At its meeting ending on 14 December 2016 the Committee voted unanimously to maintain Bank Rate at 0.25%. In their statement they refer to rising long term rates reflecting looser fiscal settings in the USA, and elevated risks from China, the euro zone and elsewhere.

The Committee voted unanimously to continue with the programme of sterling non-financial investment-grade corporate bond purchases totalling up to £10 billion, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves. The Committee also voted unanimously to continue with the programme of £60 billion of UK government bond purchases to take the total stock of these purchases to £435 billion, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves.

The Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) sets monetary policy to meet the 2% inflation target, and in a way that helps to sustain growth and employment

In the November Inflation Report, the Committee set out its projections for output, unemployment and inflation, conditioned on average market yields.  Output was expected to grow at a moderate pace in the near term, but slow from the beginning of next year.  In part that reflected the likelihood that household real income growth would slow and hence weaken household spending.  It also reflected uncertainty over future trading arrangements, and the risk that UK-based firms’ access to EU markets could be materially reduced, which could restrain business activity and supply growth over a protracted period.  The unemployment rate was projected to rise to around 5½% by the middle of 2018 and to stay at around that level throughout 2019.  Largely as a result of the depreciation of sterling, CPI inflation was expected to rise to around 2¾% in 2018, before falling back gradually over 2019 to reach 2½% in three years’ time.  Inflation was judged likely to return to close to the target over the following year.

Since November, long-term interest rates have risen internationally, including in the United Kingdom.  In part, this reflects expectations of looser fiscal policy in the United States which, if it materialises, will help to underpin the slightly greater momentum in the global economy evident in a range of data since the summer.  At the same time, however, the global outlook has become more fragile, with risks in China, the euro area and some emerging markets, and an increase in policy uncertainty.

Domestically, data released since the Committee’s previous meeting continue to indicate that activity is growing at a moderate pace, supported by solid consumption growth.  Forward-looking components of business surveys are weaker than those regarding current output, however, suggesting that some slowing in activity is in prospect during 2017.  The timing and extent of this slowing will depend crucially on the evolution of wages and how resilient household spending is to the pressure on real incomes from higher inflation.

Twelve-month CPI inflation stood at 1.2% in November, up from 0.9% in October and 1.0% in September.  Looking forward, the MPC expects inflation to rise to the 2% target within six months.  Since the Committee’s previous meeting, sterling’s trade-weighted exchange rate has appreciated by over 6%, while dollar oil prices have risen by 14%.  All else equal, this would result in a slightly lower path for inflation than envisaged in the November Inflation Report, though it is still likely to overshoot the target later in 2017 and through 2018.

Banks like RBS still look risky, but getting too tough could cause greater problems

From The Conversation.

Even in less politically volatile times, the news that the UK’s biggest bank, RBS, failed the Bank of England’s toughest everstress tests” would have dampened financial spirits. The bank must now raise an extra £2 billion to protect itself from future downturns. This may be made easier because RBS is 73% publicly owned, but that’s an unwelcome legacy of its exceptionally poor condition after the crash of 2007-08.

Meanwhile, the Bank of England (BoE) singled out two other banks – Barclays and Standard Chartered – for having “some capital inadequacies”. So why haven’t eight years of economic recovery cured the banks’ woes?

Banks remain solvent as long as their assets, the money they’ve lent to borrowers or invested, exceed their liabilities, the money they’ve borrowed from depositors or other lenders. If the economy worsens, a bank’s assets can fall because their investments lose value and “non-performing” loans have to be written off.

For this reason, the core “equity” capital that banks have raised from shareholders is regarded as a safety margin between assets and liabilities; unlike loans, it never has to be repaid. For building societies, accumulated reserves take the place of shareholders’ equity in providing this buffer.

Stressful times

Stress tests calculate the fall in a bank’s asset values under various adverse economic scenarios. If a shock looks big enough to wipe out the “Tier 1 capital” safety margin, the bank is asked to raise more capital and/or boost the value of assets or make them better hedged against losing value. The BoE and European Central Bank are among the institutions that have regularly conducted these tests since banks were caught with their capital ratios down in 2008.

Downturn became crisis in 2007-08 because, in the unusually long and placid upturn beforehand, banks ran their core capital to dangerously low levels. Regulators found Tier 1 capital in some cases to be worth just 1-2% of assets, once they removed permitted adjustments that exaggerated the capital and understated the risks to asset value.

The Bank of International Settlements (BIS), the central bank for central banks, duly imposed stricter requirements. These included core capital equal to at least 8% of what are known as risk-weighted assets – a system that sets lower capital requirements for assets considered less risky. Acknowledging that this system had itself contributed to risk being underestimated, the BIS also recommended a minimum “leverage ratio” of capital to total assets. (The BoE has continued to argue over the terms of this, fearing it could erode the cushion of reserves it’s supposed to promote.)

Alarm bells?

RBS failed the latest test, having passed in previous years, because the terms have been toughened. That’s a recognition that simultaneous setbacks could hit the world’s major economies before the BIS reforms are fully in place in 2019. If loans to businesses, individuals and governments in multiple countries all started going bad, banks’ assets fall much further than if it’s just one sector in one country. Countries’ problems became contagious in 2008 when household and corporate assets, especially property, plunged on both sides of the Atlantic.

Policy measures taken to calm the last crisis might have raised the risks of another. Low interest rates and “quantitative easing” have encouraged more household and commercial debt, driving up property and financial asset prices. China, whose property bubble looks particularly pronounced, is among the greatest worries. Governments have also exacerbated their debts by spending to try to stop national output and price levels falling, leaving them ill-equipped to rescue collapsing banks again.

American economist, Irving Fisher.

These worries are deepened by the possibility that banks’ capital and reserves are still too low to withstand shocks. Some experts believe they need to rise by a factor of ten or more in relation to assets for the system to be totally safe. That view, pioneered by the American economist Irving Fisher, who identified the dangers of “debt deflation” in the 1930s, now has a range of powerful advocates including distinguished commentator Martin Wolf.

Wolf was a member of the UK’s Independent Commission on Banking, which in 2011 accepted the BIS’s recommendation of raising core capital to 8% of risk-weighted assets. More recently he argued it should be 100%. Where the current system reflects the fact that banks create money when they lend it, this “full reserve banking” would mean they could only lend what they had raised from the markets.

Regulatory dilemmas

Critics counter that such a radical move could bring the stability of the graveyard. It would give governments (via their central banks) complete control over their economies’ supply of money. Whereas banks currently generate most of the money supply by lending, they would be reduced to intermediaries channelling savings into investment.

For economic liberals, this would give the state an unacceptable monopoly over money – unless it returned to a gold standard that tied its currency to precious metals, which would effectively put a ceiling on how much money it could create. Others fear any substantial move away from the present “fractional reserve” system would cause a huge downturn while banks run down their lending and boost their capital.

Even then, central banks might be no better than now at phasing credit growth with economic growth to keep prices and production stable. And a gold standard might be inherently deflationary, unless breakthroughs in mining (or alchemy) kept precious metal stocks expanding in step with national output.


From out of the shadows … Inhabitant

But above all, private enterprise would always innovate to break this public monopoly. This is already visible in the rise of “shadow banking” – loans by institutions like hedge funds and private equity funds that escape bank regulation because they technically aren’t banks. Official statistics, which may understate the true situation, show shadow banking assets rising steadily to 12% of the total since regulation began tightening, mostly in rich economies where banking rules are tightest.

If once aberrant lenders like RBS are forced to mend their ways too radically, the next boom might just be powered from the shadows, causing new bubbles to burst in an even darker place. So central banks will stick to their present plan for gradual increases in capital, hoping any coming slowdown in growth won’t topple the banks that proved unstressed by their latest test.

Author: Alan Shipman, Lecturer in Economics, The Open University