dimanche, octobre 19, 2008

Crise financière: réglementation ou déréglementation?

La crise financière suscite un vif débat sur ses causes, ainsi que sur les (voire "la") solutions. Dans le Wall Street Journal du 18 octobre, deux commentaires visaient à contrer l'argument selon lequel c'était la déréglementation du secteur financier qui était "la" cause:
D'abord, dans Another 'Deregulation' Myth, on insiste sur l'impact des réformes réglementaires effectuées par la Securities and Exchange Commission en matière de normes de solvabilité:
the press corps has now fingered a 2004 change in SEC net capital rules. In fact, then-SEC Chairman William Donaldson's reform was anything but deregulation. A regulatory failure, yes, and a cautionary tale for those who think new regulation will solve everything.

The 2004 change won unanimous approval from SEC commissioners and Democrat Annette Nazareth, who ran the market regulation division at the time. Rather than deregulation, it was a breathtaking regulatory leap for an agency that had traditionally focused on protecting individual investors. Under the new program, the SEC would not simply monitor broker-dealers to ensure that client accounts were safe. The commission staff would collect new data from the parent companies of brokerages and require new monthly and quarterly reports. Firms were supposed to provide detailed explanations of internal risk models.
Was Basel II a libertarian plot cooked up at the Cato Institute? Not quite. It was the product of years of effort by the world's major central banks, intended to avoid crises such as the U.S. savings and loan disaster. Basel embraced the theory that a common set of global banking standards and more intensive study of the risks of particular assets would yield both more efficient use of capital and a more stable financial system.

We now know it did not create stable investment banks, but the SEC could be forgiven for thinking that if it was good enough for the world's central bankers, it was good enough for the commission.
De manière plus spécifique, dans Most Pundits Are Wrong About the Bubble, on souligne l'absence de liens entre la soit disante déréglementation et la création des produits financiers structurés, en insistant également sur les impacts inattendus de la réglementation:
As for the evils of deregulation, exactly which measures are they referring to? Financial deregulation for the past three decades consisted of the removal of deposit interest-rate ceilings, the relaxation of branching powers, and allowing commercial banks to enter underwriting and insurance and other financial activities.
Even more to the point, subprime lending, securitization and dealing in swaps were all activities that banks and other financial institutions have had the ability to engage in all along. There is no connection between any of these and deregulation. On the contrary, it was the ever-growing Basel Committee rules for measuring bank risk and allocating capital to absorb that risk (just try reading the Basel standards if you don't believe me) that failed miserably. The Basel rules outsourced the measurement of risk to ratings agencies or to the modelers within the banks themselves. Incentives were not properly aligned, as those that measured risk profited from underestimating it and earned large fees for doing so.
L'article reconnaît toutefois (avec raison) que la crise est le produit de défaillances publiques et privées:
The current financial crisis, like many in the past, had its roots in several areas: loose monetary policy (from 2002-2005, the real fed-funds rate was persistently negative to a degree not seen since the mid-1970s); government subsidies for leverage in real estate (the list is a long one, but the government's role in Fannie and Freddie tops it); and many other errors by the public and private sector, including longstanding flaws in prudential regulation (see aforementioned Basel rules).

As we try to devise solutions to the regulatory problems, there is plenty of room for improvement and lots of sensible ideas about how to proceed -- all of which have been around for a long time. The single most important reform that is needed is the restoration of discipline in the measurement of risk within the banking system.

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