Government financial policy and credit availability

Article Highlights

  • Government policies encouraged the housing bubble. The same policies are in place today along with new programs to stimulate mortgage borrowing

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  • Regulatory systemic risk powers create enormous regulatory uncertainty for many private sector financial firms

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  • Mandatory stress test for large banks gives the Fed unchecked power to exercise regulatory discretion over bank operations and shareholder property rights

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  • Mutual fund investor demand for high-yield corporate loans is being driven by the Federal Reserve’s zero-rate monetary policy

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Chairman Campbell, Ranking Member Clay, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, thank you for convening today’s hearing, “Federal Reserve Oversight: Examining the Central Bank’s Role in Credit Allocation,” and thank you for inviting me to testify.

My name is Paul Kupiec and I am a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, but this testimony represents my personal views. My research is focused on banking and financial stability. I have years of experience working on banking and financial policy as a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Board, as a Deputy Director at the IMF and most recently as Director of the FDIC Center of Financial Research. I recently completed a three-year term as chairman of the Research Task Force of the Basel Committee on Bank Supervision. It is an honor for me to be able to testify before the subcommittee today.

History is replete with examples where governments direct private sector credit. Without checks and balances, governments often use their powers to direct private institutions into making nonviable loans in order to achieve favored political goals. Such policies often benefit targeted constituencies and appear to be costless in the short run. Eventually, however, they end up costing taxpayers dearly, as loans made to satisfy political goals rarely make economic sense without an explicit government subsidy somewhere in their life cycle. There are many historical instances, including in the U.S., where government directed lending policies not only sowed but fertilized seeds that grew into a financial crisis.

After briefly reviewing the link between government housing policy and the recent financial crisis, I consider a number of important post-crisis bank regulatory reforms and gauge their impact on the availability of consumer and business credit.  For better or worse, bank regulatory policies shape bank behavior. They shape the environment in which the Federal Reserve conducts monetary policy, and they can have important impacts on economic growth and financial stability.  Overly restrictive bank regulatory policies can discourage banks from lending, making monetary stimulus less effective and slowing the recovery from the Great Recession. Unbalanced bank regulatory policies can lead to a distorted allocation of bank credit, discouraging some types of bank lending while encouraging the oversupply of others.

I review the impact new bank regulations including developments related to financial regulators’ use of their new systemic risk powers. In addition to new tools to discharge their new safety and soundness mission, the Dodd-Frank Act (DFA) gave regulators the responsibility of controlling “systemic risk” in the financial sector without ever defining systemic risk. This ambiguity has enabled bank regulators to use poorly supported systemic risk arguments to expand the regulatory jurisdiction of the Federal Reserve to an increasing number of large non-bank financial institutions. 
The key points of my testimony are:


•    Government policies encouraged the housing bubble that triggered a financial crisis. The same policies are in place today along with new programs to stimulate mortgage borrowing.
•    CFPB regulations surrounding mortgage origination are likely to reduce consumer access to mortgage credit without benefiting financial stability or consumer protection.
•    Small banks have been negatively impacted by the new mortgage origination rules, and many have decided to stop making mortgages.
•    New approaches for enforcing fair lending laws create a new entitlement: bank credit for high-risk borrowers with protected characteristics. This fair lending enforcement standard will raise the costs and reduce credit availability for well-qualified non-protected borrowers.
•    Volcker rule restrictions on collateralized loan obligations will impose significant costs on banks with no measurable gain in bank safety or soundness. The rule should be amended without delay to allow banks to retain their legacy CLOs.
•    The Dodd-Frank mandatory stress test for large banks and bank holding companies gives the Federal Reserve unchecked power to exercise regulatory discretion over bank operations and shareholder property rights.  The Federal Reserve can fail a bank in the stress test without any legal requirement to provide objective evidence that the bank is at risk.
•    Bank regulators are stopping banks from making high-yield syndicated corporate loans arguing that these loans are fueling a bubble in high-yield mutual funds.  If there is a bubble, this is the wrong policy as reducing the supply of loans will only make the bubble worse.
•    Mutual fund investor demand for high-yield corporate loans is being driven by the Federal Reserve’s zero-rate monetary policy.
•    The Dodd-Frank Act granted financial regulators broad new powers and the responsibility to prevent “systemic risk” without providing a clear definition of “systemic risk.” This ambiguity gives financial regulators wide latitude to exercise their judgment to define firms, products, specific financial deals, and market practices that create systemic risk and require additional regulation and expand their own jurisdictions.
•    Regulatory systemic risk powers create enormous regulatory uncertainty for many private sector financial firms, including many that do not benefit from deposit insurance or any other implicit government safety net guarantees.

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About the Author

 

Paul H.
Kupiec

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