Friday, October 03, 2008

Parsing the crisis

T.T.Rammohan squeals in Business Standard

On risk management and quality of leveraged assets

“The top investment banks have vanished as a class [not] because they were highly leveraged: In financial institutions, leverage or the ratio of debt to total assets, can be misleading as a measure of financial risk. The management of asset risks is equally important. A financial institution can be highly leveraged but if its assets are of high quality or are highly diversified, the institution is not exposed to high risk….

Investment banks may have had a leverage of more than 20:1 but some high-profile banks in Europe today have even higher leverage. What counts is leverage after adjusting for the risks of various assets. The European banks in question would not be allowed to operate if their leverage was not in conformity with regulatory norms. ….The trouble with the investment banks was not so much leverage as poor asset quality and heavy dependence on short-term funds.”

On short selling

“Short-sellers were right on Lehman, so short-selling should not be banned: Yes, short-sellers were right in sensing that Lehman had more problems than it had disclosed. But, in times of crises, it makes sense to ban short-selling because a fall in share prices sets off a vicious spiral that pushes an institution quickly into bankruptcy. A fall in the value of equity causes leverage to rise, which causes the debt rating to fall. This, in turn, prompts demands for higher collateral, which forces distress sale of assets, which erodes equity value. Before you could say ‘Hank Paulson’, the firm is gone. In financial crises, as in times of war, the normal rules of information must stand suspended and this applies to price discovery [enabled] by short-sellers.”

Splendid. Wonder how well K.V.Kamath’s defense goes down with people!

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