Poole’s Market Solution to Fix Banks

Former Fed Governor William Poole

Here is a proposal, not at all original but deserving of serious public discussion. As a condition of enjoying the benefits of a bank charter, every bank must issue 10-year subordinated notes equal to 10 per cent of its total liabilities. The specification can be adjusted, but this one serves to illustrate the proposal. The subordinated debt would be unsecured; holders would stand last in line among all creditors in the event that a bank had to be shut down. The sub debt requirement would be in addition to existing requirements for equity capital.

Genuine reform requires that four minimal requirements be met, and the sub debt proposal qualifies. First, banks need more capital to protect the federal deposit insurance fund. Second, there must be more market discipline: each bank would be forced to roll over maturing sub debt equal to 1 per cent of its liabilities each year. Third, financial stability requires that a bank not be subject to runs. Sub debt cannot run, because of the 10-year maturity.

Fourth, and critically important, some creditors and not just equity owners must be at risk, which is clearly the case with sub debt. Sub debt provides much more market discipline than equity, because a bank in trouble with a weak share price is not forced to do anything. Maturing sub debt, however, does discipline the bank and if the bank cannot roll over the debt, it must shrink by 10 per cent to live within its remaining outstanding sub debt. This system is stable because any bank can contract by 10 per cent within a year by letting loans run off and/or by selling other assets. It is highly desirable that contraction be managed by the bank itself and not by regulators.

Full discussion can be found t the FT


A market solution to secure banks’ future
William Poole
FT, May 20 2009 23:07

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