by Dr. Andrew D. Schmulow
The Conversation, (2017), published electronically.
Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) chairman Wayne Byers has made it clear the bank regulator will be cracking down on bank capital levels this year.
Bank capital reserves are a loss-absorber, designed to protect creditors if banks suffer significant losses. That protection, in turn, will – ostensibly – prevent panicked withdrawals by depositors, thereby preventing financial contagion and financial crises.
Byers has decided that Australian banks’ capital levels must be “unquestionably strong” in keeping with the findings of the Financial System Inquiry. But how much capital equals “unquestionably strong”? We don’t know.
What we do know is that the inquiry handed down that finding in November 2014. More than two years have passed and only now is APRA getting a wriggle on.
The problem is that, according to the IMF, when it comes to Tier 1 bank capital, this time last year Australia was ranked 91st in the world. That puts us close to the bottom of the G20, the OECD and the G8. Our position has fluctuated, but at no time during the preceding four quarters have we risen above 60th. Ranked above Australia were Swaziland, Afghanistan and even Greece. That sounds like, at best, unquestionably ordinary. Maybe even unquestionably weak. But definitely not “unquestionably strong”.