It Wasn’t the Butler

By Karen and Basil Petrou

Summary

In the raft of crisis retrospectives released during the ten-year anniversary of the Great Financial Crisis, general consensus continues the conventional wisdom that subprime mortgages were the spark of the subsequent conflagration.  A new study from the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and New York mobilizes formidable data to show that hapless subprime purchase-money borrowers were victims, not perpetrators.  The borrowers who did the damage that precipitated the debacle were, they find, prime borrowers whipped into a speculative frenzy by the combination of low rates and flagrantly-unwise mortgage lending.  Theoretically, post-crisis reforms have solved for this.  Actually, maybe not given the exodus of mortgage securitization from regulated entities, sharp rise in cash-out refis, and investment-focused borrowing with house prices well above affordability thresholds in many major markets.  Continue reading “It Wasn’t the Butler”

Public or Perish? The Future of Public Banking

By Karen Petrou and Drake Palmer

“Public” banks have been touted since before the U.S. Revolution as a remedy for a variety of common financial ailments, most recently as a cure for private banking’s presumed indifference to public purpose in order to protect personal profit.  The 21st-Century Equality Bank we previously outlined is one way to align a bank’s private interest with public purpose without public subsidy.  Is it enough or are public banks also required?  The public-bank scorecard documents several centuries of well-intentioned financial institutions brought down due to immunity from effective regulation and a lack of market discipline.  Given the renewed interest in public banks, will this time be different?  We doubt it.  Continue reading “Public or Perish? The Future of Public Banking”

Disquiet on the Home Front

By Karen Shaw Petrou and Basil N. Petrou

On June 20, FRB Chairman Powell said, “Nine years into an expansion that has sometimes proceeded slowly, the U.S. economy is performing very well.”  Although Mr. Powell noted low labor participation, puzzling inflation, and problematic wage growth, he said that all will come right as long as the Fed stays the course.  No mention was made of unprecedented U.S. income and wealth inequality or of a housing market serving mostly the oldest, wealthiest, and most coastal among us.  Too bad – inequality and the impediments to effective monetary-policy transmission it erects are among the most important reasons that the nine years Mr. Powell cites have seen the slowest recovery in decades in concert with new threats to financial stability. Continue reading “Disquiet on the Home Front”

Guarantees that Deliver the Equality Goods

By Basil N. Petrou and Karen Shaw Petrou

At a recent meeting with senior White House and Congressional budget experts, we revisited the benefits of using federal guarantees to drive private capital to public need.  Much of the discussion centered on taxpayer protection, a significant challenge due to risk-taking incentives baked into the federal budgeting process.  There are many reasons – billions of them in fact – to reject the budgeting approach mandated by the Federal Credit Reform Act (FCRA) in favor of a fair-value methodology.  Less known and not discussed is an issue of equal importance:  getting guarantees right not just for taxpayers, but also for the regulated financial companies from which the private capital for successful guarantees must come.  Here, we lay out principles for equality-enhancing guarantees that meet needs ranging from sound mortgage lending to translational biomedical research. Continue reading “Guarantees that Deliver the Equality Goods”

Very, Very Safe Banks and a Very, Very Unequal Economy

By Karen Shaw Petrou

On April 13, federal banking agencies released their plan to require regulatory-capital recognition of the FASB’s new current expected credit loss (CECL) accounting method.  Doesn’t it sound technical, dull, and irrelevant to economic equality?  The integration of capital regulation with CECL is indeed technical and often dull, but it’s absolutely critical to the ability of U.S. banks to make the long-term, higher-risk loans essential for reversing at least some U.S. income and wealth inequality. Continue reading “Very, Very Safe Banks and a Very, Very Unequal Economy”