Feds Move to Raise Capital Requirements For Big Banks

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The Wall Street Journal reports that federal regulators want to increase the capital requirements for America’s biggest banks:

Eight big bank-holding companies would have to increase their so-called leverage ratios to 5%, while their FDIC-insured bank subsidiaries would have to increase them to 6%—well above the 3% agreed upon by global regulators

….Reluctant to put a hard cap on bank size, regulators are instead trying to ensure any bank that chooses to remain big will have deep reservoirs of capital to absorb any losses and prevent the need for a taxpayer bailout. Over the next several months, regulators are expected to propose requiring the largest banks to hold significantly more long-term debt and to pay a special surcharge.

In addition, they are considering an added capital levy for heavy reliance on the kinds of volatile, short-term funding that were at the center of 2008 crisis.

As you can imagine, I’m all in favor of this. My only complaint is that the requirements should be even stricter and should apply to even more banks. But it’s better than nothing, and will accomplish two things. First, since it applies only to big banks, it will eliminate some of the funding advantage they have thanks to the widespread belief that they’re safer than small banks because the government will always step in to bail out a big bank that’s in trouble. Second, it will make big banks safer. During a crisis, they’ll be less likely to fail in the first place.

Critics complain that this proposal will tie up money that could otherwise be used for making loans. They also complain that it will raise the interest rates these banks charge. These concerns are overblown, but there’s certainly some truth to them. That’s the whole point, after all. Big banks that are overextended are dangerous to everyone, and higher capital requirements require them to operate a little more conservatively.

And if you’re wondering, “What is capital, anyway?” then join the crowd. There are times when this becomes almost a metaphysical concept, but Matt Yglesias has the nickel explanation here. I think I’d disagree with him about capital not being a “cushion” (part of the role of capital is to act as a backstop against losses, which is a fairly cushion-y sort of thing), but the rest of it is a pretty good primer.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

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Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

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