In an April 12 article, the Financial Times endorsed the new U.S. banking leverage capital rules. According to its editorial, “Banks Should Be Made More Solid,” the tougher capital requirements imposed by a simple leverage ratio go a long way to lessen risk. The Times' endorsement of this approach provides a valuable perspective as NCUA proposes to impose a risk-based formula on credit unions — an approach the banking system has found to be wanting.
The Times editorial follows the unanimous adoption by the OCC, the Fed, and the FDIC of a simple leverage ratio of 6% for banks and 5% for bank-holding companies. Banks and shareholders have had time to brace for the rule, which was originally proposed in July 2013, and the fact it is not scheduled to take effect until the start of 2018 gives institutions four years to adapt and raise capital.
Restoring Traditions With No Sound Opposing Argument
According to the editorial, the new capital proposals would restore traditions and "put the U.S. ahead of the Basel III requirement of a 3% leverage ratio." The editorial continues, “Uncomfortable as it is for the banks involved ... there is no sound argument against the idea.”
The editorial's brief summary of banking capital regulation notes that leverage ratios fell out of fashion after 1988 when the first Basel agreement was made. This agreement allowed banks to hold less capital against less risky assets such as mortgage loans and government sovereign debt. However, banks found ways to arbitrage the rules and expand their balance sheets.
The Times editorial concludes that the revival of the basic leverage ratio is overdue. “Finance has become too complex for society’s good and this is a useful counterbalance.”
Leverage Ratio More Conservative And Credible
Banking industry regulators have stated that using a tangible equity capital and total assets is a more conservative and more credible method for assessing capital adequacy. For credit unions, which start with no capital, their 100-year history suggests their simple reserving formula and a 7% well-capitalized ratio is a more effective method for measuring capital adequacy.
In contrast, using the banking industry’s quarter-century experience with the risk-based approach, NCUA’s proposal appears to provide no benefit to either credit unions or their members.