Wednesday, April 22, 2009

El-Erian (PIMCO) on Bank Stress Tests

From the FT:

To maximise the prospects for a good outcome, or at least minimize the risk of damage, it would be prudent for US policymakers to take seriously the following five factors:

First, transparency is key. Whether the government likes it or not, hundreds of analysts around the world will reverse engineer the stress tests. The government would be well advised to assist the process through clarity. Obfuscation would result in damaging market noise and further derail the real economy. At the minimum, policymakers need to provide credible details on the methodology, the underlying assumptions and scenario analyses.

Second, the results of the stress tests must be part of a comprehensive, forward-looking package to resolve problems at banks. Out-performing banks should be provided with exit mechanisms from the exceptional government support that they have been receiving and, presumably, no longer need. At the other end, there must be clarity as to how capital-deficient banks that no longer have access to private capital will be handled.

Third, the banks’ recovery and rehabilitation efforts must be co-ordinated closely with other efforts to put the banking system back on a viable road. In particular, they need to work together with the implementation of initiatives aimed at lowering funding costs (such as federally-guaranteed borrowings and Federal Reserve facilities), and facilitating the removal of the overhang of toxic assets. This will require a level of co-operation among US agencies that, historically, has not come easily or effectively.

Fourth, the government should arrest and counter the recent erosion in key parameters of the market system. Specifically, it must work hard to resist the temptation to override contracts, to undermine the sanctity of the capital structure and to treat differently stakeholders with similar legal rights. Indeed, seemingly attractive and politically expedient financial engineering, such as that used in the third Citigroup bail-out, risks undermining long-standing principles that have served the US well for years.

Finally, the US must never lose sight of the international dimensions of its policies. Its response must be consistent with efforts to upgrade a deeply challenged infrastructure for cross-border harmonisation of regulation and bank capital. The aim is to ensure a degree of global consistency that clarifies accountability and responsibility.

These are stringent requirements. Yet there is really no alternative. The US is already embarked on a journey to a “new normal” that includes reduced private credit intermediation and lower capacity for sustained, non-inflationary growth. Adherence to these five principles would help to ensure that the damage caused by past market failures is not compounded further by stress-test policy failures.