Banks need fixing and capital markets need fixing. There's no debate about that.
Still, there's plenty of debate about what to do about it and too little agreement on exactly what to do about systemic issues, both in domestic and global markets.
But there is a solution – one so simple that if effectively implemented, market volatility will ease and investing will be more rewarding than day trading.
It could be dressed up in a lot of different ways, but ultimately it comes down to two things: transparency and uniformity.
We need transparency in the financial markets. After all, the murkiness of the derivatives market and other complex financial innovations played a crucial role in bringing down the entire global economy in the first place.
Nothing is workable if it's not transparent. Transparency has to be at the root of every resolution, of every solution, and in the construction of every fix to every issue.
Keep that in mind, because a lack of transparency is currently what's missing and what continues to hamper any workable solution to the problems we've been trying to tackle.
Specifically, when it comes to banks and capital markets, it's the lack of transparency that got us into the mess in the first place, and only by hammering ineluctable transparency back into our financial system can we ever climb out of our deepening hole.
We need transparent, globally agreed-to and enforced financial accounting standards and transparent, globally agreed-to and enforced bank capital requirements and regulations.
Transparency and Uniformity
The good news is we're already taking steps to fulfilling these two critical goals.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has promised that by the end of this month it'll decide on whether U.S. companies will be able to abandon Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) for International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).
Right now, most Group of 20 (G20) nations embrace IFRS, which are standards drawn up by the International Accounting Standards Board. But in the United States, most companies, including banks, use GAAP accounting mandated by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB).
FASB rules have been the predominant set of standards adhered to in the United States since 1973. The FASB is overseen by the SEC, which has final authority over listed companies' accounting rules but defers to the FASB almost all the time.
It's not worth arguing about variations between the two sets of standards. All that matters is that we have one set of accounting rules for every person, every company — and especially every bank.
Of course, those rules should make transparency their number one goal. We need to agree on exactly how to account for derivatives and counterparty risk. We need to agree on how to risk-weight assets, and how to mark them and every other attendant accounting rule vital to transparency and gives regulators, analysts, and investors an apples to apples comparison of companies – especially banks.
Second, we need one uniform set of bank capital requirements and measures.
The good news is that the Bank for International Settlements (sort of the central bank for central banks) has been convening meetings in Basel, Switzerland for years. From those meetings have come what the world knows generally as the Basel Accords, or Basel Agreements.
Again, there's plenty to argue about when it comes to what capital requirements should be, how to make any of the necessary measurements attendant to calculating them correctly, or who may or may not benefit by them. But, that's not the point. Those things can and will get worked out through tough negotiations.
The point is that we need a singular set of rules for all banks.
We need bank transparency so regulators, analysts and investors can compare them to one another and measure their health and risk to the financial system.
Is it so hard to ask our government to demand that the banks it is responsible for safeguarding the public from are transparent enough to measure?
By having transparent uniform accounting standards and transparent bank capital requirements and metrics, global capital markets would become more stable because investors could far more accurately price risk and reward.
Sometimes the best solutions to complex problems are the simplest ones. Transparency as a starting point has to be goal number one. But uniform accounting standards and capital standards in an increasingly interconnected world would also be a huge step forward.
News and Related Story Links:
- Money Morning:
Are You Outraged Yet?
- Money Morning:
Honesty is the Best Policy…
- Money Morning:
The Goldman Rule: Don't Let This Puppet Master Pull Your Strings
- Money Morning:
How JPMorgan Aided and Abetted the Largest Municipal Bankruptcy in U.S. History
About the Author
Shah Gilani boasts a financial pedigree unlike any other. He ran his first hedge fund in 1982 from his seat on the floor of the Chicago Board of Options Exchange. When options on the Standard & Poor's 100 began trading on March 11, 1983, Shah worked in "the pit" as a market maker.
The work he did laid the foundation for what would later become the VIX - to this day one of the most widely used indicators worldwide. After leaving Chicago to run the futures and options division of the British banking giant Lloyd's TSB, Shah moved up to Roosevelt & Cross Inc., an old-line New York boutique firm. There he originated and ran a packaged fixed-income trading desk, and established that company's "listed" and OTC trading desks.
Shah founded a second hedge fund in 1999, which he ran until 2003.
Shah's vast network of contacts includes the biggest players on Wall Street and in international finance. These contacts give him the real story - when others only get what the investment banks want them to see.
Today, as editor of Hyperdrive Portfolio, Shah presents his legion of subscribers with massive profit opportunities that result from paradigm shifts in the way we work, play, and live.
Shah is a frequent guest on CNBC, Forbes, and MarketWatch, and you can catch him every week on Fox Business's Varney & Co.