Leveraged loan risk not enough to warrant new rules for now: Basel official

June 13, 2019

By Huw Jones

LONDON (Reuters) – Regulators are stepping up checks on the $1.3 trillion leveraged loan market for threats that echo the subprime mortgages which defaulted 10 years ago, but new rules are not needed for now, the Basel Committee’s secretary general said.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney and others have raised concerns about the huge growth in loans to highly-indebted, non-investment grade companies.

“More does need to be done and we are doing it, but don’t confuse that with the knee-jerk reaction that we need regulation as a response,” said William Coen, who heads the Basel Committee’s secretariat, a body that sets capital rules for thousands of banks across the world.

“There are different ways of dealing with emerging risks,” Coen told Reuters.

An implosion in U.S. subprime home loans in 2007 led to a global financial crisis and a welter of new capital rules. The committee’s “hot” concern is now over weaker underwriting standards in the leveraged loan sector.

“There are some parallels with subprime, but I do think the best approach right now is carefully assessing growth, underwriting standards, and getting a better handle on who are the ultimate investors,” Coen said.

    “I don’t see the need at this point for a global policy response,” he added.

The sense of urgency during the financial crisis that drove through new rules has faded, along with the appetite in countries like the United States for more reforms, making it harder for Basel to find consensus to act.

Coen said it was a “marvel” that regulators agreed on tougher capital rules, leverage ratios and liquidity requirements for banks, the latter an elusive goal since Basel was created in 1974.

“We have done everything that we want to do in response to the financial crisis, but then there is the all-important implementation, and some people are concerned about backsliding, delays and dilution,” Coen said.

“Are there going to be new or revised standards to respond to issues arising from the crisis? I don’t expect there to be,” Coen said.

(graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2X7v3jc)


Basel will focus on implementation and supervision, but there is pressure from some countries and banks for rules in the growing crypto assets and fintech sectors.

“I don’t think we are there yet on whether a policy response is needed for fintech and crypto assets. We need better data and we are doing a stocktake,” Coen said.

Basel will consider later this year whether more specified treatment of crypto assets is needed.

It has been criticized for not requiring banks to set aside capital against holdings of their own country’s debt, an issue during the euro zone debt crisis, but the prospect for action is slim.

“The sentiment that we expressed in 2017 discussion paper still holds today and that was there was no consensus to make changes to the regulatory framework, but consideration of this important risk class will remain on our agenda,” Coen said.

A 20-year veteran of Basel and due to step down at the end of June, Coen faced intense lobbying by banks arguing that tougher capital requirements would crimp lending. It is a claim he says will again be refuted in a report from Basel shortly.

The committee’s relations with banks are much better these days, with rule-making discussions more focused on data rather than hearsay and speculation, he said.

“Some people make the mistake of thinking this is a negotiation between the authorities and industry. It’s not.”

(Reporting by Huw Jones; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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