Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blaming the Central Bank

Now, I've already said I'm favorably disposed to laying a lot of blame for the financial crisis at the feet of the Federal Reserve. In America. Here the Central Bank is getting some criticism and, well, I might be willing to cut them more slack.

One of the problems that the Central Bank has is that it has no control over the currency or interest rates. We should have had much higher interest rates for a number of years, but due to the fact we foolishly joined the euro our central bank has been powerless to make the adjustments necessary. That meant we were able to borrow at rates far too low for an economy growing so rapidly.

And, on top of that, the exchange rate with the dollar for so long favored us too. The weak economies at the center of Europe meant we had a weak currency to go along with our low interest rates. Low interest rates a weak currency and a rapidly growing economy were always going to create a bubble. All that extra wealth had to go somewhere and, given Irish people's love of property, that's where the money went. Land speculation, buying houses to rent, investing in overseas property.

Now, back to the Central Bank. Should they have known we were heading towards a disaster? I think so, but I'm not sure. When you read the statement of Governor John Hurley delivered on July 10 it's hard not to conclude that something was wrong with the Central Bank's monitoring.
Accordingly, the banking sector here has not experienced the write-down of assets that has required some of their international peers to raise additional capital, thus Irish banks are well capitalised with good asset quality. In line with the results of previous exercises, the preliminary results of our latest macroeconomic stress tests on the banking sector, which are designed to test the financial position of banks in the face of a serious economic downturn suggest that the banking sector’s shock absorption capacity remains strong. This strength is an essential prerequisite for the more challenging times that have arisen.
"Good asset quality". I'd love to know how they arrived at that conclusion. Maybe they're right, but seeing as the state is now insuring the banks, why not publish the details on that assessment? Let all of us judge whether we agree with the regulators on the "quality" of the banks' assets.

Former Central Bank Chief Economist Michael Casey isn't quite ready to throw is ex-employers under the bus. Yet.
If, however, it turns out that none of the Irish banks needs to be recapitalised, then the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator may, in retrospect, be seen to have done a reasonable job.

In that eventuality it will probably be accepted that the main problem affecting Irish banks was the lack of liquidity and the seizing-up of the global inter-bank market - problems which the present State guarantee are designed to address.
It's a reasonable column. He does a good job of presenting the "what if is a capital and not liquidity problem after all" scenario too. Then he provides us (me at any rate) with this nugget.
Close relationships between regulators and banks - difficult to avoid in a small country - will have to be ended. It is not being suggested here that the Irish system suffers from "regulatory capture", but the long-standing practice of former governors and senior regulators joining the boards of banks on their retirement should be stopped. The ordinary taxpayers of this country have been placed on the hazard for an unprecedented amount of money. They deserve no less than that those already on the boards of institutions which they once regulated, should stand down, if only for symbolic reasons.
I shouldn't be surprised by this. You come across this sort of thing all the time here. It's a small country. Still, I can only say 'Amen' to that last sentiment. It's time all you ex-Central Bank big shots stand down from the banks' boards of directors.