Laurence Kotlikoff, economics professor at Boston University, writes an open letter to Lord Turner, chairman of the UK’s financial regulator, the FSA. Lord Turner examines Prof Kotlikoff’s proposal for a radical reform of the institutional structure for credit extension in a new book, The Future of Finance. This is the second of a two-part open letter. You can read the first part here.
The essential challenge indeed is that the tranching and maturity transformation functions which banks perform do deliver economic benefit, and that if they are not delivered by banks, customer demand for these functions will seek fulfillment in other forms.
As previously indicated, tranching (some investors taking more risk than others within a fund) is part of limited purpose banking. Indeed, CDOs are, to repeat, effectively mutual funds with this property. The fact that so many CDOs invested in toxic loans is because the loans were fraudulent, not because the loans were risky. We don’t say that stocks are toxic, even though the stock market has fluctuated dramatically since its peak. We say mortgage-backed securities are toxic because borrowers’ incomes were misstated, collateral values were misstated, and credit worthiness was misstated. Furthermore, tranching is just one way for some people to take more risk than others. A simpler way is for more risk-averse people to simply invest in mutual funds that purchase safer asset. I.e., tranching is not the end all and be all of risk allocation in the economy. Read more