Sebastian de-Ramon, Bill Francis and Michael Straughan.
There is a debate in the regulatory and academic community about whether competition is good or bad for bank stability, particularly following the financial crisis (see Chapter 6 of the Independent Commission on Banking final report). The debate tends to be seen as a head-to-head argument between two camps: those that see competition as bad for stability (competition-fragility) versus those that see competition as good (competition-stability). In new research, we look at how competition affects the stability of banks in the UK. We find that competition affects less stable firms differently than more stable firms and that focussing on what happens to the average firm may not be sufficient.
UK household debt is high relative to income. But is it “unsustainable”? Some commentators say “it is”; others say “there is no reason to worry”. To investigate, we build a simple model of the economic relationships between household debt, house prices and real interest rates which we believe must hold in the long run. In our model there is no single threshold beyond which debt suddenly becomes unsustainable, but we argue that household debt should be broadly sustainable under any rise in real interest rates of up to about 2 percentage points (pp) from current levels. We also show that falling real interest rates may have contributed around 20-25pp to the rise in the household debt-to-GDP ratio since the 1980s.
Certain policy actions require a high level of precision to be successful. In a recent paper, we find that using margins on derivative trades as a macroprudential tool would require such precision. Such a policy could force derivative users to hold more liquid assets. This would help them to meet larger margin calls and avoid fire-selling their derivatives, which could affect other market participants by moving prices. We find that perfect calibration of such a policy would completely eliminate this fire-sale externality and achieve the best possible outcome, while simple rules are almost as effective. However, calibration errors in any rule could amplify fire-sales and leave the financial system worse off than if there had been no policy at all.
Defaults on sovereign debt – the term commonly used to denote debt issued by national governments and other fiscally autonomous territories – are a recurring feature of public finance. They are more widespread than is often appreciated, since 1960 involving 145 governments, over half the current sovereign universe. Examples include the many governments ensnared in the Latin American and Eastern European debt crises of the 1980s. More recently, there have been big bond defaults by Russia (1998), Argentina (2001), Greece (2012), and Puerto Rico (2015). On a smaller scale, scores of sovereign defaults can occur each year on one or more types of debt. Some, such as Sudan’s, have dragged on for decades and remain unresolved (Chart 1).
A well-insulated house reduces heat loss during cold winter periods and it keeps outdoor heat from entering during hot summer conditions. Hence, effective insulation can reduce the need for households to use cooling and heating systems. While this can lower greenhouse gas emissions by households, it also reduces homeowners’ energy bills, which can free up available income. This can protect households from unexpected decreases in income (e.g. reduced overtime payments) or increases in expenses (e.g. healthcare costs). It could also help homeowners to make their mortgage payments even if such shocks occurred. But does this also imply that mortgages against energy-efficient properties are less credit-risky?
Cross-border bank lending fell dramatically in the aftermath of Lehman Brothers’ failure as funding constraints forced banks to reduce their foreign exposures. While this decline was partly driven by lower demand for international bank credit, it was substantially aggravated by a retrenchment of international banks from cross-border lending. But banks did not cut their cross-border lending in a uniform manner. Instead, they reallocated their foreign portfolios towards countries that were geographically close, in which they had more experience, in which they had close connections with domestic banks or in which they operated a subsidiary. The crisis thus showed that deeper financial integration is associated with more stable cross-border credit when large global banks are hit by a funding shock.
In August 2007 problems were emerging in the US sub-prime mortgage market. Rising numbers of borrowers were getting behind on their repayments, and some investors exposed to the mortgages were warning that they were difficult to value. But projected write-downs were small: less than half a percent of GDP. Just over a year later, Lehman Brothers had failed, the global financial system was on the brink of collapse and the world was plunged into recession. So how did a seemingly small corner of the US mortgage market unleash a global crisis? And what lessons did the turmoil of autumn 2008 reveal about the financial system?
Emanuele Campiglio, Yannis Dafermos, Pierre Monnin, Josh Ryan Collins, Guido Schotten and Misa Tanaka
Climate change poses risks to the financial system. Yet our understanding of these risks is still limited. As we explain in a recent paper published in Nature Climate Change, central banks and financial regulators could contribute to the development of methodologies and modelling tools for assessing climate-related financial risks. If it becomes clear that these risks are substantial, central banks should consider taking them into account in their operations. Both central banks and financial regulators might also consider supporting a low-carbon transition in a more active way so as to contribute to the reduction of these risks.
Often when analysing financial markets, we want to know the statistical distribution of some financial market prices, yields or returns. But the ‘true’ distribution is unknown and unknowable. So we estimate the distribution, based on what we’ve observed in the past. In financial markets, adding one data point can make a huge difference. Sharp moves in Italian bond yields in May 2018 are case in point – in this blog I show how a single day’s trading drastically alters the estimated distribution of returns. This is important to keep in mind when modelling financial market returns, e.g. for risk management purposes or financial stability monitoring.
Every day UK banks and corporates (“participants”) make sizeable payments to each other through CHAPS, the country’s high-value payment system. However, these payments are liquidity-intensive: every payment must be pre-funded, i.e. the payer must have in place the full amount to be paid. This can be costly, so each participant would prefer to first receive some money from another one and then make its own payments by recycling the received amount. However, this still requires that some participants supply intra-day liquidity to the system by making the first payments. But who are these participants? This post shows that it is typically the smaller ones and also those perceived by markets to be riskier that get the ball rolling…
Bank Underground is a blog for Bank of England staff to share views that challenge – or support – prevailing policy orthodoxies. The views expressed here are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Bank of England or its policy committees.