Monday, 16 March 2009

Good bad/bad bank

Willem Buiter has a discussion of how good bank/bad bank separations might work in detail: the mechanics come from Robert Hall and Susan Woodward. I will simplify the argument a little, and discuss the issues.

Consider a bank with:
AssetsLiabilities
Good loans1000Deposits 1200
Bad loans 500Bonds Issued 600
Other assets 380Shareholder's funds80


(Let's ignore the off B/S stuff for this post and assume that all of the other assets are good.)

The proposal puts the deposits and good assets in the good bank, and calls the difference between assets and liabilities 'capital'. Thus we have for the good bank:
AssetsLiabilities
Good loans 1000Deposits 1200
Other assets 380Shareholder's funds180

Notice that the good bank is well capitalised under this proposal.

The bad bank owns all of the equity in the good bank. For it we have:
AssetsLiabilities
Bad loans 500Bonds Issued 600
Equity in good bank180Shareholder's funds80

It is fairly likely that the equity holders in the bad bank will be wiped out over time, which is right and proper. If the good bank makes money and declares a dividend, the bad bank will receive that income as it stands. Meanwhile the debt holders of the bad bank now have a claim on a rather worse quality institution, at least at first sight. This is a proposal with rather little moral hazard.

The issue comes when we consider the bad bank's position. It is not capitally adequate, not least because material holdings in credit institutions (i.e. its shareholding in the good bank) is a deduction from equity. One might argue that it does not need a banking license as it is now in run off, but still, it is so leveraged that its management will have to sell some of the equity in the good bank. Does a forced seller of bank equity (albeit good bank equity) really help financial stability?

Also notice that the bad bank would consolidate the good bank from an accounting perspective. Again, to get deconsolidation it would have to sell at least 50% of the good bank's equity.

The proposal in short makes sense from a moral hazard perspective, and transfers the taxpayer's deposit guarantee to a well capitalised institution. But it does force the bad bank to sell its position in the good bank almost at once, and that is a rather worrying side effect.

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