Gary Shilling describes how US regulators are getting tough with big banks:
Like unscrambling an egg, it’s hard to envision how big banks with many, many activities could be split up. But, of course, one of the arguments for doing so is they’re too big and too complicated for one CEO to manage. Still, there is the example of the U.K., which plans to separate deposit-taking business from riskier investment banking activities – in effect, recreating Glass-Steagall.
In any event, among others, Phil Purcell believes that “from a shareholder point of view, it’s crystal clear these enterprises are worth more broken up than they are together.” This argument is supported by the reality that Citigroup, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley stocks are all selling below their book value Chart 5. In contrast, most regional banks sell well above book value.
Not surprising, current leaders of major banks have pushed back against proposals to break them up. They maintain that at smaller sizes, they would not be able to provide needed financial services. Also, they state, that would put them at a competitive disadvantage to foreign banks that would move onto their turf.
The basic reality, however, is that the CEOs of big banks don’t want to manage commercial spread lenders that take deposits and make loans and also engage in other traditional banking activities like asset management. They want to run growth companies that use leverage as their route to success. Hence, their zeal for off-balance sheet vehicles, proprietary trading, derivative origination and trading, etc. That’s where the big 20% to 30% returns lie – compared to 10% to 15% for spread lending – but so too do the big risks.
….the vast majority of banks, big and small, have restored their capital….Nevertheless, the FDIC and Federal Reserve are planning a new “leverage ratio” schedule that would require the eight largest “Systemically Important Banks” to maintain loss-absorbing capital equal to at least 5% of their assets and their FDIC-insured bank subdivisions would have to keep a minimum leverage ratio of 6%. This compares with 3% under the international Basel III schedule. Six of these eight largest banks would need to tie up more capital. Also, regulators may impose additional capital requirements for these “Systemically Important Banks” and more for banks involved in volatile markets for short-term borrowing and lending. The Fed also wants the stricter capital requirements to be met by 2017, two years earlier than the international agreement deadline….
CEO remuneration is largely driven by bank size rather than profitability, so you can expect strong resistance to any move to break up too-big-to-fail banks. Restricting bank involvement in riskier enterprises — as with UK plans to separate deposit-taking business from riskier investment banking activities — may be an easier path to protect taxpayers. Especially when coupled with increased capital requirements to reduce leverage.