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Nouriel Roubini and his suggestions for handling the global financial crisis


Many of your might have started following the news in US and European countries keenly after the sub-prime mortgage crisis evolved into a credit crunch and later into a global financial crisis.

For those who didn’t know Nouriel Roubini, I strongly recommend that you read up about him and what has shot him to fame during these troubled times. He is amongst the few economists who had foreseen this crisis in the making, a couple of year ago.

Dr. Roubini writes at RGE Monitor.  I would like to share excerpt from two of his recent articles which were also published in WSJ and FT.

Here are some interesting excerpts from article 1

First, while Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s public-private investment program (PPIP) to purchase financial firms’ assets is not particularly popular, we hope the government doesn’t give up on it. True, the program offers cheap financing and free leverage to institutional investors, which will lead to the investors overpaying for the assets. But it does promote price discovery and remove the assets from the bank’s balance sheets — necessary conditions to move forward.

And to minimize the cost to taxpayers, banks must not be allowed to cherry-pick which legacy assets to sell. All the risky loans and securities banks were never meant to hold should be on the block. With enough investors participating in the PPIP program, the prices of the assets should be competitive, and there should be no issue of fairness raised by the banks.

Second, the government should stop providing capital, loan guarantees and financing with no strings attached. Banks should understand this. When providing loans to troubled companies, they place numerous restrictions, called covenants, on what these firms can do. These covenants generally restrict the use of assets, risk-taking behavior, and future indebtedness. It would be much better if the government focused on this rather than on its headline obsession with bonuses.

For example, consider the fact that the government, while providing aid to banks, did not restrict their dividend payments. A recent academic study by Viral Acharya, Irvind Gujral and Hyun Song Shin (www.voxeu.org) notes that banks only marginally reduced dividends in the first 15 months of the crisis, paying out a staggering $400 billion in 2007 and 2008. While many banks have been reducing their dividends more recently, bank bailout money had been literally going in one door and out the other.

Consider also, the recent risk-taking by banks. The media has recently reported that Citigroup and Bank of America were buying up some of the AAA-tranches of nonprime mortgage-backed securities. Didn’t the government provide insurance on portfolios of $300 billion and $118 billion on the very same stuff for Citi and BofA this past year? These securities are at the heart of the financial crisis and the core of the PPIP. If true, this is egregious behavior — and it’s incredible that there are no restrictions against it.

Third, stress tests aside, it is highly likely that some of these large banks will be insolvent, given the various estimates of aggregate losses. The government has got to come up with a plan to deal with these institutions that does not involve a bottomless pit of taxpayer money. This means it will have the unenviable tasks of managing the systemic risk resulting from the failure of these institutions and then managing it in receivership. But it will also mean transferring risk from taxpayers to creditors. This is fair: Metaphorically speaking, these are the guys who served alcohol to the banks just before they took off down the highway.

Another set of excerpts from article 2 (on FT)

“Schumpeter’s biggest fear was that creative destruction would lead capitalism to collapse from within, because society would not be able to handle the chaos. He was right to be afraid. The response of governments worldwide to the financial crisis has been to give the structure of private profit-taking an ever-growing scaffolding of socialized risk. Trillions of dollars have been thrown at the system, just so that we can avoid the natural process of creative destruction that would take down these institutions’ creditors. Why shouldn’t the creditors bear the losses?”

“Suppose the systemic risk problem is solved. The other argument against allowing banks to fail is that after a big loss by creditors, no one would be willing to lend to banks – which would devastate credit markets. However, the creative-destructive, Schumpeterian, nature of capitalism would solve this problem. Once unsecured debt holders of insolvent banks lose, market discipline would return to the whole sector.”



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