Prof. Jayanth R. Varma's Financial Markets Blog

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Prof. Jayanth R. Varma's Financial Markets Blog, A Blog on Financial Markets and Their Regulation

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Mon, 23 Sep 2019

Real Estate and Infrastructure Resolution in India

Prof. Sebastian Morris and I have written a working paper on Real Estate and Infrastructure Resolution in India. We argue that real estate and infrastructure is at the centre of a vicious doom loop sketched in the figure below.

Problems in real estate and infrastructure debilitates the financial sector through rising non-performing assets. A dysfunctional financial sector further weakens the economy through credit tightening. A weak economy devastates Real Estate and Infrastructure through the demand channel.
Problems in real estate and infrastructure debilitates the financial sector through rising non- performing assets. A dysfunctional financial sector further weakens the economy through credit tightening. A weak economy devastates Real Estate and Infrastructure through the demand channel.

This vicious circle needs to be broken decisively, but merely bailing out the failing/ failed developers would only further crony capitalism. Our proposal uses the financial markets for price discovery and resource mobilization, and is based on the sovereign covering the left tail risk in infrastructure and real estate. The mechanism has the potential to revive these assets with the government earning a handsome return, while being fair to all stakeholders.

Our rationale for the sovereign to absorb the tail risks posed by the doom loop are:

This creates an opportunity for the sovereign to charge a fair insurance premium for providing tail risk cover, and thereby make a profit from the whole transaction in the long run. Our mechanism involves a second loss cover structure similar to the Maiden Lane transactions in the United States in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis.

We propose to use financial markets to discover fair prices of diversified pools of real estate assets. Diversified pools overcome problems of asymmetric information, and enable the use of standard valuation models like hedonic regression. More details are in the working paper.

Posted at 21:36 on Mon, 23 Sep 2019     View/Post Comments (0)     permanent link

Sat, 21 Sep 2019

Abstraction bias or bias bias?

Last month, Steven L. Schwarcz put out a paper, Regulating Financial Guarantors: Abstraction Bias As a Cause of Excessive Risk-taking, arguing that financial guarantors suffer from abstraction bias:

Financial guarantors commit to pay out capital only if certain future contingencies occur, in contrast to banks and other financial firms that pay out capital—for example, by making a loan—at the outset of a project. As a result, financial guarantors are subject to a previously unrecognized cognitive bias, which the author calls “abstraction bias,” that causes them to underestimate the risk on their guarantees.

Reading this paper reminded me of Gigerenzer’s paper (The Bias Bias in Behavioral Economics, Review of Behavioral Economics, 2018, 5: 303–336) arguing that:

[behavioral economics] is tainted by a “bias bias,” the tendency to spot biases even when there are none.

Let us look at the examples that Schwarcz presents of “abstraction bias”:

I got the feeling that Schwarcz picks up examples where there is significant tail risk that takes the form of a contingent liability. It is the tail risk that makes assessment and valuation difficult, but the author seems to think that it is all about abstraction instead.

Posted at 15:39 on Sat, 21 Sep 2019     View/Post Comments (0)     permanent link

Sun, 15 Sep 2019

Legal theory of finance redux

Six years ago, I blogged about Katharina Pistor’s Legal Theory of Finance, and observed that there seemed to be nothing novel about her claim that powerful institutions at the centre of the financial system tend to be bailed out while the small fry are allowed to die. But if one takes the politics out of the theory, the idea of the elasticity of law is an interesting insight. Pistor wrote:

Contracts are designed to create credible commitments that are enforceable as written. Yet, closer inspection of contractual relations, laws and regulations in finance suggests that law is … is elastic. The elasticity of law can be defined as the probability that ex ante legal commitments will be relaxed or suspended in the future

I was reminded of this when I read Emily Strauss’ paper Crisis Construction in Contract Boilerplate which describes how during the Global Financial Crisis, judges in the US interpreted a boilerplate contractual clause to reach a result clearly at odds with its plain language. She writes:

In the aftermath of the financial crisis, trustees holding residential mortgage backed securities sued securities sponsors en masse on contracts warranting the quality of the mortgages sold to the trusts. These contracts almost universally contained provisions requiring sponsors to repurchase individual noncompliant loans on an individual basis. Nevertheless, court after court permitted trustees to prove their cases by sampling rather than forcing them to proceed on a loan by loan basis.

While the reasoning of these decisions is frequently dubious, they gave trustees the leverage to salvage millions – even billions – of dollars in settlements from the sponsors who had sold the shoddy loans, reassuring investors that sponsors would be forced to stand behind their contracts. However, as the crisis ebbed, courts retrenched, and more recent decisions adhere to the plain language requiring loan-by-loan repurchase. I argue that the rise and fall of decisions permitting sampling reflect a largely unexpressed judgment that in times of severe economic crisis, courts may produce decisions to help stabilize the economy.

This phenomenon is in many ways quite the opposite of Pistor’s theory. The dubious decisions referred to above went against some of the largest banks in the world while benefiting a large and disparate group of investors. While Strauss describes this as an attempt to stabilize the economy, it appears to me to be more of fairness and pragmatism trumping the express terms of the contract. But, at a deeper level, Pistor is right: the law can be very elastic in a crisis.

Posted at 19:05 on Sun, 15 Sep 2019     View/Post Comments (0)     permanent link

Fri, 06 Sep 2019

Reserve Bank of India’s flip-flops on floating rate benchmarks

Earlier this week, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) issued a circular asking banks to shift from internal to external benchmarks for pricing their floating rate loans. This is the latest in a series of flip-flops by the regulator on this issue over the last two decades:

These flip-flops reflect the failure of the central bank on two dimensions:

In the next few years, India needs to work on creating both a better banking system and better financial markets. One of the pre-requisites for this is that regulators should step back from excessive micro-management. For example, the RBI Master Directions require the interest rate under external benchmark to be reset at least once in three months while elementary finance theory tells us that if the floating rate benchmark is a 6-Months Treasury Bill yield, it should reset only once in six months. Either banks will refrain from using the six month benchmark (eroding liquidity in that benchmark) or they will end up with a highly exotic and hard to value floating rate loan resetting every three months to a six month rate. Neither is a good outcome.

Posted at 16:35 on Fri, 06 Sep 2019     View/Post Comments (0)     permanent link