US Banks Are World’s Largest (according to Internationally-Accepted Accounting Methods)
We have extensively documented that failing to break up the big banks is destroying America because:
- The size of the big banks is – literally – destroying the rule of law
- They aren’t interested in making loans to Main Street, and their control over the banking system prevents smaller banks from making such loans
- The failure to break up the big banks is dooming us to economic downturn
In the face of such overwhelming criticism, apologists for America’s largest banks say that they are smaller than their European and Asian competitors … and that they have to be big to compete.
Current Vice Chair and director of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – and former 20-year President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City – Thomas Hoenig destroyed that argument earlier this month.
Specifically, Bloomberg reports:
Warning: Banks in the U.S. are bigger than they appear.
That label, like a similar one on automobile side-view mirrors, might be required of the four largest U.S. lenders if Thomas Hoenig, vice chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., has his way. Applying stricter accounting standards for derivatives and off-balance-sheet assets would make the banks twice as big as they say they are — or about the size of the U.S. economy — according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“Derivatives, like loans, carry risk,” Hoenig said in an interview. “To recognize those bets on the balance sheet would give a better picture of the risk exposures that are there.”
U.S. accounting rules allow banks to record a smaller portion of their derivatives than European peers and keep most mortgage-linked bonds off their books.
Using international standards for derivatives and consolidating mortgage securitizations, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. would double in assets, while Citigroup Inc. (C) would jump 60 percent, third- quarter data show. JPMorgan would swell to $4.5 trillion from $2.3 trillion, leapfrogging London-based HSBC Holdings Plc and Deutsche Bank AG, each with about $2.7 trillion.
JPMorgan, Bank of America and Citigroup would become the world’s three largest banks and Wells Fargo the sixth-biggest. Their combined assets of $14.7 trillion would equal 93 percent of U.S. gross domestic product last year, the data show.
U.S. accounting rules for netting derivatives allow banks to erase about $4 trillion in assets, the data show. The lenders also can remove from their books most mortgages they package into securities, trimming an additional $3 trillion.
Off-balance-sheet assets and derivatives were at the root of the 2008 financial crisis. Mortgage securitizations kept off the books came back to haunt banks forced to repurchase home loans sold to special investment vehicles.
The U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board and the International Accounting Standards Board pledged a decade ago to converge the two bookkeeping systems. After six years of meetings, they remain divided. Proposed rules for how much money banks need to set aside for loan losses may make European and U.S. lenders even less comparable.
“Having no uniform standard is challenging for issuers and users,” said John Hitchins, head of U.K. banking and capital markets at PricewaterhouseCoopers in London. “Analysts and investors can’t compare companies’ financials across borders. Banks have to prepare multiple versions of their financial statements in different countries where they have units.”
If the banks used international standards for derivatives and consolidated mortgage securitizations, the ratio for JPMorgan and Bank of America, the two largest U.S. lenders, would fall below 4 percent. It would be just above 4 percent for Citigroup and Wells Fargo.
That would make the biggest U.S. banks look no better capitalized, or worse, than European peers such as HSBC at 5.6 percent or France’s BNP Paribas SA at 3.9 percent at the end of last year. It also could require them to raise more capital. Spokesmen for all four banks declined to comment.
“The U.S. leverage ratio doesn’t capture off-balance-sheet risks,” said [former FDIC boss] Bair, now chairman of the Systemic Risk Council, a private regulatory watchdog. “Once U.S. banks start publishing the new Basel-mandated ratios, more off-balance-sheet assets will become obvious.”
Bair said she favors raising the simple capital ratio as high as 8 percent. Hoenig, the FDIC vice chairman, has called for 10 percent. U.S. regulators are still debating how to implement the rules. Because Basel isn’t an international treaty, each country needs to adopt its own version.
Progress on common standards slowed after Mary Schapiro became SEC chairman in 2009 and faced lobbying by companies opposed to what they said would be costly accounting changes, according to four people with knowledge of the discussions who asked not to be identified because the talks were private.
After failing to agree on common standards for derivatives netting and consolidation of securitizations, rule-setters are now heading in different directions as they debate how to account for loan-loss reserves.